Sega and developer Sumo Digital take a stab at kart racing with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, a chance for Sega characters great and small to, for some reason, get together and settle their difference in go kart competitions.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is Mario Kart for the gamer that aligned itself with Sega in its former rivalry with Nintendo, a brightly colored, simple arcade racer that follows the gameplay of long-running Mario-starring series closely. All-Stars Racing taps into 25 years worth of Sega memories for a high-speed racing game that's heavy on both Sonic the Hedgehog and the more obscure mascot who couldn't hold his own against the all-powerful Mario. The game features 20-plus characters of varying familiarity and two dozen Sega themed tracks on which to race them.
If that Nintendo versus Sega feud was still roiling, how would Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing hold up in debates with the Mario Kart fan?
Sega Nostalgia Bliss: Perhaps the primary reason to own a copy of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is the high-grade hit of pure Sega nostalgia, administered by a cast of characters that ranges from the popular—you know Sonic the Hedgehog, right?—to the currently obscure—Alex Kidd, Billy Hatcher, Opa-Opa. Sega fans will bask in the characters, soundtrack, levels and Achievement/Trophy names unearthed just for them while getting a chance to revisit game properties like Jet Set Radio and The House of the Dead (or, as Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing calls it, the safely E-rated "Curien Mansion.")
Sega Does What Nintendoes, Competently: Where Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing doesn't innovate, it wisely imitates, giving the kart-racing fan who may not already have a Wii, GameCube, Nintendo 64 or SNES a very capable, competitive casual driving game. Mechanically, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is rather simple, requiring little more than a constant pull on the accelerator and liberal use of the game's drift button. Many of the game's power-up pick ups have Mario Kart equivalents—boxing gloves for blue shells, missiles for red ones, rainbows for Blooper ink—but some, like the track flipping attack, feel less like swipes from Nintendo's famous kart racer.
Blue Sky In Games & Casino Nights: Many of the game's levels, which draw inspiration from game franchises like Super Monkey Ball and Samba de Amigo, look amazing, a chaotic spectacular of Sega references and well-designed tracks. Also, there are bright blue skies with characters wearing bright red shoes beneath them. It's the Sonic the Hedgehog tracks that impress most, particularly the casino themed courses, filled with bright Vegas strip lights, oversized poker chips and kart launching bumpers. The Sonic courses offer enjoyment far beyond the Monkey Ball inspired tracks, which employ too many sharp, 90-degree angle turns.
All-Star Moves: While they may not be so lovable when one is on the receiving end of an All-Star move, when a player is in last place and is offered a powerful, character-specific opportunity to boost ahead, these power ups feel great. That they're of the more obscure nature, like Shenmue star Ryo Hazuki's vicious forklift attack, makes them that much better.
Color Commentary: What is it with Sega and grating color commentary? Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing's announcer delivers a constant spew of annoying quips that wear thin quickly, offer no laughs (OK, maybe one) and aren't delivered with the same speed a game of this pace requires.
Meager Online Options: While online multiplayer is fun and functional, there's just not much meat to it. It's little more than a chance to compete in one-off races with other Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing players, with no tournament or Grand Prix options. Getting into matches is also frustratingly slow and sometimes unnecessarily difficult, as it may take multiple attempts to find a worthy match.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing succeeds in evoking fond Master System and Dreamcast era memories while delivering a competent kart racing game. It may not exhibit the same level of polish that its Mario Kart competition can, but given Sega's platform agnostic stance and Sumo Digital's attractive game, we're more than willing to forgive a fluid frame rate and a lack of innovation.
The kart racing mechanics are solid and cameos from fondly remembered characters go a long way to making Sumo Digital's effort a worthy purchase, but Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing feels slightly underexploitive of Sega's past. Sure, the inclusion of a playable Opa-Opa is welcome and Bonanza Bros. fans must be ecstatic to see Robo and Mobo return. While the character roster delves deep into Sega lore, the game's music selection and race track collection don't, relying too heavily on a short list of games. It would've been great to see the developer experiment with less well-known franchises here as well. Perhaps our Sega nostalgia will be further stoked with inevitable downloadable content, scratching that itch.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii on February 23. Retails for $39.99 USD to $49.99 USD. Copies of the game were given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through Advanced difficulty in Grand Prix mode, completed all Missions on Xbox 360. Tested Wii version and online multiplayer modes on Xbox 360. Unlocked Ulala as quickly as possible.
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