[14 May 2008]
An object’s velocity is equal to its displacement divided by the time of travel. This means that an object which starts and ends its voyage at the same position has a velocity equal to zero. Now, let’s say that that object A is Sonic the Hedgehog riding a hoverboard. Object B is a robot chasing object A in the story mode of Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity. Both objects start at position X and end at position X, giving both of them a velocity of zero miles per hour. The story mode, like Sonic on his intergalactic hoverboard, goes nowhere.
Sonic’s distinguishing trait has always been his speed. He was fast without any technological aid. That was the point. He was able to use his natural skills to defeat Mr. Robotnik, or Eggman, who was obsessed with technology. This racing-obsessed version of Sonic does not appear to be made within the same continuity as the original Sega titles. It fails in its inability to retain the spirit of the Sonic franchise. Sonic doesn’t need a vehicle, he needs to run and jump and spin fast. Eggman has become comic relief. Because the story mode has to be played through to unlock features of the game, there should have been some course alterations so that the races would feel like a natural progression of the story.
When the game sticks to racing, it’s tolerable. The courses play differently for different characters, and a slow motion “drift” function is well designed. Sometimes gameplay is exciting. The courses play differently for different characters as long as you stick to Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. The “Rogues” are feathered mirror images of the mammalian main characters. The racing is fast and there are many gimmicks which work well and many gimmicks that don’t. Because of the gimmickry, there is not an even playing field, meaning that this does not make for a good party game. Once a course is played through with each character, it loses its charm.
Like its intended tween audience, the Sonic franchise is going through an identity crisis. Does Sega keep churning out Sonic titles that no one cares about until people just start ignoring him and pretending he doesn’t exist? Will Sonic someday have MTV Made help get his singing career started? Too bad these questions could not have been addressed earlier, before Sonic reached his mid twenties.
As someone who grew up playing Sonic the Hedgehog (yes, I was that kid who had a Sega Genesis instead of a Super Nintendo), it was hard for me to play Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity. I am going to keep typing that name, because it is part of the problem. My generation grew up on side scrollers and 2D first person shooters. Most of the time we had no idea what the plots of the Sonic games were or if they even existed. Then, it didn’t matter. Now it does.
Art builds upon its predecessors. It doesn’t rely on nostalgia to retain an aging audience. It connects generations while creating gaps between them. Art causes friction. Art makes us question our limits as a human race, our future, and our past. With all the mediocre, thoughtless, effortless, useless titles I play, such as Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, the more I wonder if I was wrong about stating that video games are art. Maybe, like Van Gogh, this game won’t be appreciated until the Sonic franchise is finally dead.