Sonic Riders, the purest definition of missed potential, not by just Sega, but also the fans.
For over a decade this game has generally been associated with the era known as “The Dark Age of Sonic”. While some die-hard fans casually enjoyed the game, critics panned it for un-intuitive game design and steep learning curve. And so Riders was forgotten as yet another one of the increasingly lackluster pile of releases under our beloved IP. 2020 is the year this will change.
In late 2016, Armando Carrozza, better known as “Protag” began his campaign to change the world’s opinion on his favorite racing game. However, this wasn’t any keyboard warrior simply arguing with people in the comments section of a Game Grump’s video. No. This was someone with a vision, and an ambition to actually reach it. He noticed something about the game that the rest of the world didn’t quite catch; Sonic Riders has the potential to become an esport!
The Genesis of Competitive Sonic Riders
There are some interesting points of contention with Sonic Riders. Were many of the game’s mechanics/design choices really crap factors that had to be adjusted to? Or was it, in reality, a game that invited players to refine themselves, to reach a higher skill ceiling akin to that of a fighting game?
“Sonic Riders was a sorely misunderstood game, its in-depth mechanics and skill ceiling actually have real competitive potential. We truly believe we can change the world’s opinion on this game, and reworking it into an esport is the way to go.”
Protag begins to recount his story, “Riders was generally dismissed as an unfulfilling casual experience. When my close friend Mikey came over one day, usually to get some practice in whatever fighting game we were into at the time, we instead decided to pop in our old childhood racing game.“
“When we started playing, Mikey was obliterating me. He was tearing up the tracks in a seemingly effortless fashion as I would often air out at every hairpin turn. It was odd, I wasn’t demoralized… I was absolutely amazed! It was surreal how good someone could be at this game. I started asking some questions, and getting some answers. This game appeared to pique my interest in nearly the exact same manner any other fighting game we played would.“
“And so the training began right away! The next couple of days consisted of grinding against my newly acquired extreme gear sensei. As I would improve, he would continue to beat me in spectacular displays. Even though I’ve learned all the tracks and gained a good grasp of the controls, he was still destroying me. But it wasn’t with broken items he was handed from randomly generated boxes like in a Mario Kart game. He would read my aggressive attacks thrown at him by observing my habits. He then would proceed to place tornado traps at the exact position I’d run into. This wasn’t Mario Kart, I was being outplayed. That’s when I realized, there was more to this game that the rest of the entire world didn’t quite see.”
Protag built his community on the belief Sonic Riders had hidden potential simply waiting to be unlocked, much like another GameCube title, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Sonic Riders’ In-depth mechanics facilitate a higher level of play than most racing games. Similar to Melee, Riders has a plethora of “exploits” or “advanced techniques” that players can refine to achieve a similar intrinsic reward system. That same internal feeling of competence one would get from refining their movement or reading their opponent.
“Whether these exploits were intentional or not is irrelevant, this gives the game the high skill ceiling competitive players are hungry for.”
In a multiplayer setting, it became very apparent of the unprecedented amount of player interaction the game offered. The type of player interaction you’d find in Sonic Riders is astonishingly familiar to games you’d find in Evo’s lineup.
With Protag’s vision of filling stadiums of people watching competitive Sonic Riders, the underground competitive community was born in early 2017 via the creation of a discord server. After putting together a development team, Protag and his comrades formulated the structure of the competitive community and began development on their flagship project, the most ambitious Sonic Riders mod so far. Sonic Riders was already moderately successful as a speedrunning game, but a viable esport is a different beast entirely. The game had potential, but after much competitive labbing by some of the world’s greatest known players, duking it out in 1 on 1 races, it became clear that the game needed a little push if it was to become successful.
Enter Sonic Riders Tournament Edition
Sonic Riders Tournament Edition (SRTE) is a tournament mod of Sonic Riders that “gears” the game towards competitive play. The project is primarily led by Protag, with his trusty companion Airking, the lead coder, & head of balance. Protag’s team also consists of some notable heavyweight titans such as Sewer56, known for his mod loader “Reloaded II“, & Yacker, the man behind the fan game “Sonic Journey“. With balance changes, some tweaked mechanics, helpful features, and additional content, the mod not only aims to enhance competitive multiplayer but to also create the definitive Sonic Riders experience. For the past 3 years, Protag & company has been hosting online netplay tourneys for this modded version of the game to spark the competitive community and make improvements.
“Sonic Riders is so unique compared to other racing games, and we continue to flesh out and enhance these unique aspects to create an even better experience. It’s got a lot to offer that you won’t find from other racing games, from resource management to intense skill-based player interaction.”
Did this catch on? Do other people think Sonic Riders is actually competitive?
The Sonic Riders Competitive server is one of the biggest Sonic The Hedgehog related discord servers sitting at a staggering 7,000 members as of the time of writing this article. The community is incredibly active. Whether you see streamers grinding individual level runs on Twitch or the vast player base conversing in voice channels, and exchanging advice to train up for the next online bracket. Plenty of YouTubers have also been covering the mod extensively.
Viewers watching our extreme gear competitions have grown fond of certain players and have drawn their signature character and gear combos.
I wouldn’t necessarily state that the presence of resource management and skill-based player interaction is “unlike” other racing games. (i.e. Mario Kart) Certainly doesn’t diminish the value of this project, of course! Personally wishing Protag and his crew the best of luck!
Also, wonderful article! Super excited for this website. 🙂
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