Before Sonic Riders
hit the shelves, StarScream
pointed out a bit of irony to me; what is the point of having characters whose main ability/characteristic is speed and sticking them all on snowboards? I'll admit, it does seem to just be a way to put a well-known name on what could be a very generic racing game, and quite frankly, I don't think the game would have had nearly the attention it has had if it didn't have the Sonic
Sonic, Tales and Knuckles have been coerced into participating in a massive Grand Prix put on by none other than Dr. Robotnik. The entry fee for each group is one chaos crystal and whoever wins the tournament wins all of the crystals. So Robotnik is putting on a race ... how can he possibly expect anyone other than the fastest hedgehog alive to win? Easy -- the races aren't on foot, they are on air-boards.
Sonic Riders takes some old elements from the Sonic series and mixes them with new ones (like the air-boards). The old elements are the different classifications of characters. A mechanic that was introduced in Sonic Heroes, characters are either Strong, Flying or Fast, is used and each characteristic opens up particular shortcuts and strategies.
For instance, flying characters can stay in the air longer and hit booster-rings to fly over some of the obstacles, while strong characters can plow through traffic and knock obstacles out of the way.
New elements include three new characters: Jet the Hawk, Storm the Albatross and Wave the Swallow. These three birds are Robotnik's flunkies in the races and instantly become Team Sonic's rival. You will even get to unlock other SEGA characters like AiAi (the monkey from Super Monkey Ball).
Now on to the races themselves. Racers ride air-boards down tracks. These boards have to have a fairly constant flow of "air" (oddly enough the board doesn't get this air just by riding around). This air acts as fuel and has to be fairly constantly maintained. You gain air by pulling off tricks in the middle of a jump (a la SSX Tricky style), picking up rings or going through obstacles. Also there is at least one point per race where you will have to rotate the analog stick as fast as possible to build up air.
So not only do you have to worry about your speed going through curves, enemies and their attacks and your position in the race itself, but you also have to constantly monitor your board's air intake. At times, it just seems like too much and you may become a bit overwhelmed.
Another drawback in Sonic Riders seems to be a lack of variety in the game. It seemed like every other Grand Prix event had me going through the same seven or eight tracks, just in different orders and combinations. It was hard to tell, but the game didn't feel like it had any more than a dozen or so tracks -- for a racing game that isn't very much. Even if there were more than that, because of the structure of the game, it sure didn't feel like there was.