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In Sonic Nexus Riders, there are several gameplay elements that make a return from previous games, as well as a few new additions to emphasize on the sheer intensity and high-octane action of each race in the game.

Gameplay Elements

Energy Core

The Energy Core is the most vital part of any Extreme Gear as it is pretty much its main power unit. The core takes damage by taking attacks from rivals, being hit by an item, or slamming into a wall at high speeds. A Gear's core can only take so much damage before it explodes, causing the player to either respawn or be immediately booted out of the race, depending on the race settings.

Take note that the Ultrasonic Explosion will immediately destroy the target's Gear, regardless of its condition. However, the Energy Core can be restored by entering Pit Stops, which also refuel the Air Gauge, or by using Boost Charges to revitalize it, even if it is hit by an Ultrasonic Explosion, since the game slows down whenever the Gear is about to explode.

Air Gauge

Like first and third games, the Air Gauge is a highly crucial part of the gameplay. However, you can still race on your Extreme Gear if you run out of Air, but will still be unable to perform most actions, thus leaving the racer at a major disadvantage until the tank is refilled. The Level Up mechanic allows the maximum capacity of the Air Gauge to increase upon collecting a certain number of Rings in a race, and the gauge can be replenished in a number of ways such as grabbing the Air Boost item or successfully landing Trick Actions.

GP Gauge

One thing to note is that Leonidas and the playable Nexian Soldier do not ride Extreme Gear; therefore, they do not use Air to perform actions in a race. Instead, they use the GP Gauge from Zero Gravity to do so. However, it works very differently than from the aforementioned game.

The biggest change is that their GP Gauge also doubles as their vitality, making performing said actions a case of the Cast from Hit Points trope. This means if Leonidas or the Nexian Soldier are running low on GP, they may find themselves in a pinch, and since they do not use Extreme Gear, their gauge is not refilled by successfully performing tricks or entering Pit Stops. Thankfully, they can still regain their energy by successfully attacking rivals and picking up the GP Boost item.

Attacking

In Sonic Nexus Riders, a rider can unleash two kinds of attacks: the Side Strike and the Tornado.

The Side Strike has a character attack any rival right beside them and is performed by double-tapping the R1 button while moving in the direction you wish to attack. If done successfully, along with dealing slight damage to their Gear, the target slows down and loses a number of Rings. You have to time it just right, however, since you'll slow down to a near-crawl if you miss.

The Tornado is a move where the rider performs a 360-degree spin with their Extreme Gear, leaving behind a twister that slows anyone caught in it down but also decreases the user's momentum, similar to how the move worked in the original Sonic Riders. It is done by double tapping the R1 Button while holding the analog stick downward, and doing so consumes a large amount of Air. Leonidas and the Nexian Soldier have their own version of the defensive Tornado maneuver called a Void Disruption, but it functions identically to the Tornado maneuver with a few visual differences and consumes an equal amount of GP instead of Air.

There is a third type of attack that is only accessible by obtaining a certain item called an All-Out Attack. Obtaining the All-Out Attack item covers them in a glowing aura that matches their color (i.e. Sonic gains a blue aura) and has them blazing through the course at full speed with no way of stopping momentum. Upon closing in on a rival, the rider swiftly strikes them with their signature attack (i.e. Sonic's Spin Dash).

Gear Actions

Trick Actions

Performing Trick Actions is done by holding down the jump button upon approaching a ramp and releasing at just the right moment. The rider can perform more tricks by inputting directional commands while in the air.

The rank of the Trick Action is determined by how many tricks were performed and if they made a smooth landing (i.e. not landing in the middle of a trick). Making a crash landing or not performing any tricks at all means an automatic C Rank.

  • - Obtaining this legendary rank requires a lot of skill to pull off. Gives out +100 Air.
  • S+ - A fairly hard rank to pull off. Gives out +60 Air.
  • -  The easiest of the higher ranks to obtain. Gives out +40 Air.
  • A+ - A much better trick rank that maintains momentum and gives out +30 Air.
  • - Fairly favorable since momentum is somewhat maintained. Although, it gives out a somewhat low +25 Air.
  • B - Not the most favorable Rank, since it kills some momentum and gives out +20 Air.
  • - Obtaining this rank is really bad sine it absolutely destroys your momentum and gives out only +10 Air.

Turbulence

The Turbulence mechanic from the original Riders makes a return in this game. It works exactly like it did in said game - trails of wind are sometimes formed by riders traveling on Extreme Gear at high speeds. While riding on a rival's Turbulence, the rider riding it moves at a steady pace and accelerates further by moving left and right. A rider can also manually exit a rival's turbulence by double-tapping the R1 Button.

If you can reach the source of the Turbulence, you can overtake them. However, the source can interrupt the Turbulence by jumping off a ramp, jumping into a Grind Rail, or flying off of an Accelerator ramp.

In certain conditions, you can also perform tricks by simply moving to the very edge of the Turbulence, gaining Air in the process. This can sometimes lead to landing on higher ground.

Boosting

There are three kinds of boosts you can perform: the Charged Boost, the Slide Boost, and the Hover Boost.

The Charged Boost works similarly to boosting in F-Zero in that instead of boosting whenever you want, you have a limited Boost Charge count. In a race, you earn Boost Charges by performing well in the race in various ways such as not hitting the sides of the track or attacking rival racers. Although, they usually work best in straightaways, leave a lot of Turbulence and also consume a significant amount of Air. In addition, you can only keep a maximum of three Boost Charges at a time.

Another technique derived from the Charged Boost called the Double Boost, which is performed by using two Boost Charges at once, but it's a lot more dangerous to use since not only does it consume twice as much air, it also takes away a small portion of the Gear's Energy Core, indicating just how much strain using the maneuver puts on the Gear.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Boost Charges can be used to restore a portion of the Gear's Energy Core by pressing the Circle button. This is especially important to remember if the Gear is in especially critical condition and vulnerable to being destroyed.

The Slide Boost, as the name implies, gives you a short burst of speed after performing Air Slide, while the Hover Boost is simply the aerial counterpart of the Slide Boost.

Air Slide and Hover

The Air Slide is a maneuver that allows riders to take on those super sharp turns with ease and is performed by holding the R1 Button while turning left or right. Holding the slide long enough will trigger a Slide Boost upon releasing the button. 

The Hover action allows a rider to suspend their Extreme Gear in midair for a few moments before launching themselves forward with a Hover Boost. The action itself can be easily compared to using Gravity Control, which Leonidas and the Nexian Soldier use instead, after jumping on a ramp in Zero Gravity.

Wall-Riding

Speaking of Zero Gravity, riders can ride on walls by jumping off of certain ramps and using the Hover action to reach them, granting them access to pathways they likely haven't seen before. It should be noted that some wall routes in the game can only be accessed via jumping off of a rival's turbulence.

Level Up

Similarly in the first Riders and Free Riders, Nexus Riders sports the feature of allowing Extreme Gear to Level Up in the middle of a race. As was the case in the previous installments, having a Gear level up requires collecting a certain amount of Rings scattered around the track. Upon doing so, the Gear in use receives a small boost to either its acceleration, top speed, or durability. The Gear's Air Gauge also sees an exponential increase upon levelling up, allowing racers access to more fuel to perform Boosts, Air Slides, etc. It should be noted, however, that the effects of the Gear Parts that affect these respective factors of the Gear do not increase the same way upon levelling up.


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