Over the years the kart racing genre has been dominated by a certain plumber that seems to be the only one who knows how to get the formula right. There have been exceptions of course, most notably Naughty Dog’s classic Crash Team Racing, but for the most part Mario has certainly dominated. This has really taken its toll as most companies don’t even bother anymore. SEGA has decided to take another stab at it and this time they hit the nail directly on the head. Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing is a damn fine clone that manages to get everything right, while still retaining some originality to create magic of its own. Pay attention PS3 and 360 owners, this is the closest you will likely ever get to the glory of Mario Kart.
Think of this game as a giant compilation of SEGA fandom built around the Mario Kart legacy and you have a good idea of what to expect. One of the things that made a title like SEGA Superstars Tennis so appealing was the fan service. All-Star Racing continues the trend with a massive roster of SEGA favorites including the cult-favorite Ryo Hazuki of Shenmue fame. Just about every franchise is represented here including music, special attacks and of course tracks built around their games. It is hard not to get excited when you hear “The Concept of Love” as you blast around futuristic Tokyo from Jet Set Radio (yes I still refuse to call it by its terrible American name).
One of the biggest problems games like this fall into when attempting to create a solid kart racer are fluid controls. It is such a simple concept that sometimes developers over-think the process. All-Stars Racing is definitely easy to pick up and play, but also designed around the idea of mastering the powerslide; the quintessential kart racing tactic. You can literally use this move to power up and endless amount of boost, but it takes some time to master the art of powersliding down a straight path. The beauty of this is that the game is designed with a great catch-up mechanic that, when turned on, gives even the most inexperienced players a chance at taking home the gold.
It is sometimes impossible to balance a game like that. You can of course tweak that by turning off catch-up for when you are playing it solo or of course when playing against other racers of equal skill. It also helps that the controls are about as tight as Nintendo’s effort. Each kart has minor intricacies, but all of them handle so well that switching between racers is never an issue. If you hit the wall you know it was your lack of skill, not poor controls. And of course there are a plethora of weapons at your disposal that generate based on how well you are doing in the race. First place usually doles out defensive weapons, while being at the rear will sometimes net you the ultimate All-Star move that can change the tide of a race in a split second. Each character has a unique All-Star move, and it really is worth seeing them all as they are definitely a cool visual piece.
The most impressive thing about the game though is the tracks, each one more impressive than the last. Taking some of the most iconic ideas from the SEGA universe and turning them into racing tracks leads to incredible enjoyment. There are a ton of Sonic themed tracks of course, but all of them are so well done it’s hard not to appreciate them. The Samba de Amigo tracks feel like something out of a 70s drug flick, and will definitely mess with your senses. The Monkey Ball tracks are the most challenging as they contain tons of 90 degree corners that will test your skills. Each track also has a host of shortcuts and subtle nuances that make them unique. Out of the 24 included tracks there is not one I did not enjoy racing on; and that speaks volumes about a racing game.
The cavalcade of characters is great, but it will be lacking a few well-known faces. Virtua Fighter is represented along with the aforementioned Shenmue, House of the Dead and Chu Chu Rocket to name some of the more obscure ones. Sonic is overloaded with Big the Cat, Amy, Shadow, Knuckles, Tails and of course the blue blur himself. Other oddities include Billy Hatcher and BD Joe from Crazy Taxi. Wii and 360 owners can also use their virtual avatars in the game, while 360 owners also get the exclusive Banjo Kazooie in their roster. The palette is nicely laid out with plenty to choose from, but some omissions are simply mind-boggling. As you blast through the game you earn what are called SEGA miles that act as your currency. You can use these to purchase new music, characters and of course tracks for use in single race and online modes.
Speaking of unlockables All-Stars Racing is packed with stuff to do. The SEGA miles also work towards various licenses within the game. In addition to traditional racing you also have Time Trials that let you race against online ghosts from developers. There is also a set of 60 challenges that have you performing tasks like collecting coins or avoiding pots. Finishing all of these and taking down the time trials, plus blasting through the standard Grand Prix mode will offer up multiple hours of gameplay, not to mention the inclusion of online play. You can hop online with up to seven friends for standard racing. The online mode is very bare bones, but still a blast to play. You can opt in for AI opponents if the room doesn’t fill up, and from sessions the lag was all but non-existent.
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is the kind of game that you expect to be yet another failed attempt to overthrow Mario Kart, but it ends up giving it a run for its money. It is certainly not as deep or as finely tuned, but it is definitely one of the better kart racing games to come along since the notorious CTR. If you have any love for the SEGA world, or simply do not own a Wii this game is a must own. It is the closest the two HD consoles will likely ever get to the classic franchise, and quite honestly it is better in some aspects.