11 Mar, 2010

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Review

360 Review | Can it outrun Mario Kart?
Kart games are a very odd sub-genre. Why? Firstly, because there are very few of them, and even less that are any good. Secondly, because the majority of those very few are from one series, which of course is Mario Kart. There have been other decent entries into the world of kart racing, including Diddy Kong Racing and the criminally underrated Crash Team Racing, but the crown undisputedly belongs to Mario Kart. Leaving out perhaps the divisive Double Dash!! on Gamecube, Mario Kart has conquered each console generation since the SNES. So it isn’t at all surprising to learn that Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing very literally takes the Mario Kart template and fries it in Sega’s succulent juices. The result is something you’ve definitely tried before, but it’s tasty nonetheless.

The one area Sega doesn’t quite mimic Mario Kart is in its roster. For that job it has looked to another Nintendo title, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The result is a pretty excellent 22-character roster that should cater to most Sega fans. Naturally the Sonic series is well represented, with the likes of Dr Eggman, Shadow, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy all appearing. Far more interesting though are the diverse range of characters taken from other Sega titles. There’s AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue, Beat from Jet Set Radio Future, Ulala from Space Channel 5… even Akira Yuki and Jacky Bryant from Virtua Fighter feature. For the older Sega fan there’s Alex Kidd… young’uns, look it up. If you own the Xbox 360 version of the game you can play as your Avatar, and Banjo/Kazooie are included too, which is actually rather apt because Banjo actually made his first ever video game appearance in a kart title; the aforementioned Diddy Kong Racing. In the Wii version you can play as your Mii, but no exclusives for PS3 owners, sorry. Each character has a personalised vehicle and these are nicely designed and tie into the character. A big tick then for a great roster, and the character bios are very helpful if you’ve never heard of Robo and Mobo from Bonanza Bros. or Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone. It’s worth noting that Nights makes an appearance as flag waver, but it’s a shame that he/she wasn’t a playable character instead.

Just like in real life, Tails gets teased for driving a hybrid.

Just like in real life, Tails gets teased for driving a hybrid.

As mentioned before, All-Stars is very much a Mario Kart rip-off. On one hand this serves it very well; the gameplay is rock solid, just like Mario Kart. On the other, there are really no fresh ideas at all. This is most evident in the range of weapons you’ll have at your disposal. Virtually every one of them is the equivalent of a weapon found in Mario Kart. You have green boxing gloves replacing green Koopa shells, with homing missiles replacing red Koopa shells. Instead of banana peels you leave safety cones, instead of the ink blot you can obscure your opponent’s screen with a rainbow. Don’t be fooled by the fancy sounding All-Stars move that each character has. Though each with a different animation, these all equate to the Bullet Bill catch-up move in Mario Kart, where you’ll charge up the field, leaving spun-out opponents in your wake. The sole original weapon All-Stars has is a star which causes your opponent’s screen to flip upside down temporarily. It’s really disappointing that this is the only original weapon in the whole game. It’s one thing to borrow from the best, but the direct copy and paste that has occurred here is pretty cheap.

But does any of that matter if the gameplay is good? No, we guess not. Fortunately then for All-Stars, the gameplay is very good. The controls are extremely simple and work a treat. The right trigger accelerates, the left trigger drifts and can execute tricks mid-air, while weapons are launched from a face button. The sheer simplicity of both the controls and gameplay means anyone can pick up and play with ease. The only trick to learn is how to drift, which, surprise surprise, is the same way you drift in Mario Kart Wii, though it’s more tightly executed here than it was in that game. Drifting can earn you up to three turbo boosts depending on how long you drift for (which is further influenced by which character you’re using) which will be used up as soon as the drift stops. There’s little else to say about this mechanic other than that it works really well. Drifting and boosting very quickly becomes second nature and it’s very easy to transition from a drift in one direction to a drift in another. Racing itself is very smooth and reasonably fast, though hitting something hard enough and at enough speed will cause you to spin out rather than bump harmlessly off. It’s also worth noting that should you collide with a mid-road obstacle, the process of reversing away and proceeding forward again seems needlessly slow. All in all though, the gameplay is rock solid and very enjoyable. Drifting and boosting around corners and launching weapons is a simple pleasure that never really gets old.

The tracks are loving homages to the games on which they are based.

The tracks are loving homages to the games on which they are based.

Visually All-Stars is quite good, with all the radiant shine you expect from a Sega title. There are some hitches though. Bright areas are extremely bright, dark areas are extremely dark, rendering a brightness adjustment an impractical solution. There are also instances on a few of the tracks where the lighting will suddenly and obviously change. This always seems to happen in the exact same spots on the same tracks and it’s quite jarring. Other than these minor qualms however, All-Stars is a good looking game. The character models and vehicles are great and the tracks are quite lush and detailed. The game’s sound is solid too. The cheesy commentator is kind of annoying, but in a way it really fits with the whole Sega aesthetic. The soundtrack is derived from songs across the various games featured, and there are bunch of extra songs to purchase and unlock.

As for the tracks you’ll be racing from, there are 24 in all. Much like the various stages in Smash Bros. they come from a variety of different games. Unfortunately the variety here is much smaller than the variety in characters. Most of the tracks are Sonic-based, themed on either beaches, a giant casino or a sinister fortress. There are also tracks based on Jet Set Radio Future, House of the Dead, Billy Hatcher & The Giant Egg as well as some delightfully vivid Samba de Amigo tracks. The variety over the tracks is decent, and the tracks themselves are quite good, most featuring gimmick obstacles and shortcuts.

Banjo and Kazooie had to switch games to get away from Gruntilda.

Banjo and Kazooie had to switch games to get away from Gruntilda.

All-Stars features six different cups with four tracks each, with three different difficulties to conquer. Beyond this though is the rather substantial Mission mode, which has a total of 64 different tasks for you to get through. These are each based on a set character and have a minimal but fun description tying the character to the event. Missions can range from winning a miniature grand prix, to trying to navigate a course without breaking jars, to flying high above the course and trying to bomb other racers. They also have you sampling some of the multiplayer modes.

All-Stars supports four-player splitscreen and has a variety of multiplayer modes beyond regular races. These include traditional battles, as well as king of the hill and capture the flag variants. There’s also a Burnout-style knockout race in which the last-placed racer gets eliminated until one remains. Strangely, none of these quite decent options are playable online, which offers straight races only. The fact that you can’t even do a four-race cup seems to be a real oversight. The online works well, with minimal fuss and minimal lag, but this is an area that could have done with taking more cues from Mario Kart Wii.

What we have here at the end of the day is a thoroughly solid kart racer, that while almost entirely unoriginal, delivers solidly when it comes to gameplay. The nostalgia factor is strongly delivered; less robustly than Smash Bros. but certainly more than Mario Kart. Whether it’s a better game than Mario Kart or not probably depends more on whether you’re in the Nintendo or Sega camp moreso than the gameplay, which is more or less identical in both titles. If you’re a big Sega fan or a fan of kart racers, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing will do the job nicely.
The Score
It’s Mario Kart with Sega characters, trading off originality for simple, enjoyable gameplay with a nostalgic twist.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Content

Banjo and Kazooie challenge the blue hedgehog
17 Dec, 2009 As playable characters in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing screens
02 Dec, 2009 Sonic and Co. take it to the streets.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing screens
06 Jun, 2009 Broom broom.
4 years ago
Thing is, I've been wanting a good quality kart racer on next gen consoles (or are we calling X360/PS3 current gen now?) for ages.

I love the fact that it's effectively a direct rip from Mario Kart but in higher res, different characters and different circuits.

You could make it more complicated with a bunch of different weapons or power ups/downs, complex circuits that are confusing to some, incomprehensible storylines that get in the way of the action, but for a kart racer, I personally don't want that stuff.

It's like reading a review on the third game in a series where the reviewer says "more of the same - Crash/Spyro/Ratchet/blah spin/jump/break crates just in different environments" - for a fan, that's usually music to their ears.

Reading this review was very much like that for me - all I can think is awesome.
4 years ago
MrAndyPuppy wrote
Thing is, I've been wanting a good quality kart racer on next gen consoles (or are we calling X360/PS3 current gen now?) for ages.
They're definitely current gen now.

I love the fact that Alex Kidd is included in this. Brilliant! Also love that Tails kart is actually a plane. Heh.
4 years ago
Great little game.Thanks Sega.

Only gripe i have is with the stupid 90 degree corners in the desert circuit,other than that good fun all round.
4 years ago
I've been thrashing this in splitscreen for the past week, definitely the best Mario Kart clone I've played.
4 years ago
I'm pretty keen on getting this actually.
4 years ago
slapshakle wrote
I've been thrashing this in splitscreen for the past week, definitely the best Mario Kart clone I've played.
crash TR says hi icon_wink.gif
4 years ago
Just downloaded the 360 demo - the framerate was pretty choppy. How bad is it in the full title on most tracks?
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  01/01/2010 (Provisional)

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