Riders may look pretty cool, but looks can be deceiving.
The story in Sonic Riders is absolutely terrible. Sonic is made fun of mercilessly by the annoying Jet the Hawk, whose voice cracks every 3 syllables, for being SLOW, of all things. Jet leads the Babylon Rogues, who are basically a band of three annoying thieves who think they're all that. Eggman holds a tournament to see who's the fastest on extreme gear (hover boards): the entry fee? Oh, just a measly chaos emerald. You know, the ones he's ALWAYS trying to collect and take over the world with? Yeah, those ones. But, wait, Sonic and friends just give the chaos emeralds to Eggman this time, rather than protect them, so they can race in a silly tournament where the winner supposedly gets all the emeralds. Did Sonic suddenly lose his brain or something? This is just painful! Long story short, the ancient city of Babylon emerges when the seven chaos emeralds are united with Jet's mystical blue cube, and you go in and race a genie and that's the end of the game. The story is so not Sonic-like, has so many ridiculous plot holes, and is so totally unfitting to a racing game that it's just a pain to watch, and the absolutely DREADFUL voice acting drags it even lower. The story can be completed in less than 2 hours, which is bad because the game is so outrageously short but also good because it makes the story end sooner.
But seriously, who plays a racing game for story? I, for one, play for the races, and Sonic Riders has its strong points and weak points in that area. The races are mildly exciting as you perform cool tricks and boost your way through the game's 7 courses, or 14 if you count the juiced up night versions of each. The gameplay has some exciting moments, namely while performing flips and spins in midair, which are executed with simple tilts of the control stick. The concept of racing on hover boards is really cool in itself, too, and causes a little bit of fun on its own. It gives the game a futuristic feel, kind of like F-Zero, only without the overabundance of quality racing or sense of speed.
Like F-Zero, Sonic games are all about going fast, but Riders pretty much fails to deliver that sense of speed. The speedometer says you're going about 200 mph most of the time, but it feels like you're still flying through at less than 100 mph. The remaining gameplay mechanics don't work very well, either. Boosting barely increases your speed for more than a second, turning is a serious pain, you have to take pit stops, and riding turbulence (caused by other racers' boosts) causes too many frustrations that are out of your control. You often get caught in a strip of turbulence when you don't want to, causing you to miss a needed pit stop or rings. Pit stops also slow the game down considerably. You have an air meter, which increases as you level up by collecting rings, and when you run out of air your character gets off his or her board and starts running on foot until you get some more air (at a pit stop, or by going off a jump and doing some tricks). The concept of an air meter really hurts the concept of hover boards, making the gameplay hard to call good or bad. Consider that alongside the lack of a sense of speed, and really it's just average.
Sonic Riders also has a wealth of other modes, whose quality can only be judged by each individual player. Mission mode offers a lot of gameplay, but the missions are very repetitive and don't vary much at all. Earning gold medals on each mission can be fun, but it doesn't take long to get tired of mission mode all together due to the sheer repetition. Tag mode pairs you up with another racer and you share an air tank and can't get too far away from each other. I found this mode to be a pain for obvious reasons. Survival mode is probably Sonic Riders' strongest mode. The special race type here involves one player holding an emerald and going through gates while holding the emerald, and the other players frantically trying to get the emerald because once a player passes through 5 gates while holding the emerald, they win. There is also a battle mode under the Survival mode, which I didn't understand in the slightest but it appeared decent enough for some people to enjoy.
In action, Sonic Riders looks pretty nice. The graphics are very smooth, animations are very nice and everything looks good. During an average cutscene, the graphics look a tad choppy. In the rare CG cutscene, however, the visuals are very sharp, and look about as good as an animated movie (although nowhere near Pixar quality, of course).
Still, during the cutscenes it doesn't really matter how good they look because of the dreadful storyline and horrible voice acting, which brings us to the area of sound. The voice acting is dreadful; the lines are said in the cheesiest ways, the voices are really poorly done, and there are voice cracks galore. The sound effects sound good, though, catching turbulence actually has a really cool sound and everything sounds like it should. The music is really fitting to the game's semi-futuristic concept, but as far as fitting the courses they fail. Hearing the same kind of music on a jungle course as a city course just doesn't make much sense. None of the tunes are memorable by any means, either.
Overall, Sonic Riders is just not a very good game. The exciting moments and cool concept can't save it from its lack of control, shortness, and many frustrations. Riders doesn't bring Sonic down or up from where he is now, it just solidifies his position as a character who can star in a game of any sort of quality, whether it be good, bad, or just so-so. As far as Riders is concerned, it's just so-so.
+ cool racing concept
+ some really fun moments
+ Survival Mode is pretty solid
+ animated cutscenes look great
- TERRIBLE story starring even worse voice acting
- outrageously short story (although that can be a good thing, too)
- very few courses
- no real sense of speed
- too many things can happen that are out of your control
- pit stops
THE FINAL VERDICT: Sonic Riders has a cool concept and some fun moments, but that can't save it from the lack of control, general shortness, and plethora of frustrations. Riders is best left on the store shelf.