Review: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

The kart racer most certainly is not dead, and nor should it be. As someone who is quite averse to realistic sports in video games (real world sports do not interest me either), I continually find myself drawn to the colorful and unpredictable world of cartoon racing, whether it’s Mario Kart and Skunny Kart from my childhood or, more recently, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. As I am continually explaining to my more athletically-inclined friends my sports need an injection of magic and wackiness to keep my attention. I’m loud and tacky, so I like my sports to follow suit.

Nintendo and Sega have been at the forefront quite some time now when it comes to releasing sports titles that I can really sink my teeth into, such as Mario Tennis and Sega Superstars Tennis. Fast-paced, simple, and tons more fun than you can have within the confines of real world physics. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is the latest in the long line of mascot sports titles, and if you’re a fan at all of mascot kart racers, then you owe it to yourself to give this a try, even if you’re a waning Sonic fan. I promise this is no Sonic the Hedgehog 2006.

Far from it, in fact. This racer is, for all intents and purposes, Sega’s answer to the wildly successful Mario Kart. As a longtime Mario fan I can’t definitively choose a side, but I’ve always favored Sega’s cast to the hackneyed Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser combo in each subsequent sports/minigame release, so it’s nice to see another installment that follows up with the previous tennis outing.

When you hop right into the game, you’ll note that, upon choosing a character, the roster is packed to the brim with plenty of memorable characters. You have the obvious Sonic favorites such as the blue blur himself, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Eggman, and Big the Cat. Even the angsty Shadow make an appearance. Beloved personalities such as Ulala (Space Channel 5), AiAi (Super Monkey Ball), and Beat (Jet Grind Radio) make the scene as well. It’s an admirable mix of superstars, to be sure. And to sate our appetite for more Sega favorites, some more obscure personalities round out the list, such as Fantasy Zone ship Opa-Opa and Virtua Fighter’s Jacky. As you progress throughout the game, earning what’s known as Sega Miles, you’ll be able to purchase different racers to give you a reason to keep coming back and see what else the game has to offer — and believe me, you’ll want to see. You will note that Banjo and Kazooie are not included as playable characters. Yes, the Xbox 360 version was graced with the presence of one of gaming’s most famous duos, but the PS3 version is obviously without the zany pair.  If you want Banjo and Kazooie or the ability to play with your Xbox 360 avatar, then make sure to opt for Microsoft’s release when purchasing. Unfortunately, neither the Wii nor PS3 have special guest characters of their own.

Each character’s jalopy is suited to their personality and is split into three types: cars, bikes, and hover crafts. Each vehicle performs differently when faced with specific types of terrain. One must also take into consideration the heft and shape of the chosen car, since different choices have different ramifications. For instance, bikes are smaller and more lightweight than their companion choices, but can also be knocked out of the loop and into last place much quicker than a regular car. Hover crafts accelerate quite poorly, but are built like a tank. It all comes down to your preference, and even which character you want to side with, as there is a fair mix between all of them.

Getting into the action is ridiculously simple. If you’ve ever indulged in a kart racer, you should feel right at home here. Accelerating, braking, and powering up are all you need to know, with one button mapped to each. The rest is up to you — maneuvering around the track, implementing well-timed boosts, and deciding which item will put you the furthest ahead from the rest of the pack. And yes, there is the Sega equivalent of the blue turtle shell, just so you know. Activating your kart’s boost that will give you that edge to get ahead of the rest can be a bit difficult to master, but doing so is the key to victory time and again.

Failing boosts, you may always fall back on each character-specific All-Star move, much like we saw in Sega Superstars Tennis. These are all quite predictable (Sonic transforms into Super Sonic, and so forth) but offer reliable and quite hilarious ways to get back up to speed (if you catch my drift — I’m here til next Wednesday, guys!) if you find yourself skimming last place just a little too often. These moves offer some quirky variety and surprising last minute victories if you’re not careful — some of them can pack quite the punch! These are not featured in online matchups, though, so as long as you can gauge your computer opponent’s actions, winning despite the rampant use of All-Star moves is still cake.

There is a glorious mix of tracks spanning several Sega games, including Samba de Amigo and even House of the Dead. Throughout the game and the purchase of Sega Miles, you’ll be transported throughout the golden years of Sega titles past and present, and you’ll be treated to some surprises, too. Unfortunately, the game’s multiplayer modes do not make proper use of them, instead relying on the same recycled maps over and over in order to provide a more general, all-purpose approach to the different game types. Among the more standard options such as Arena and Free Race, modes such as Battle and King of the Hill mix things up a little. Battle sees you attempting to thwart other players’ progress by harassing them with powerups and All-Star moves. King of the Hill, well, is just what it sounds like. You may also collect emeralds or Chaos in the other two game types, but from my experience it’s best to go full out race mode here to test your skills against the rest of the world.

The game looks great, though does occasionally suffer from frame rate issues. These are minor and can be overlooked in scope of the beautiful, vibrant stages and fluid renderings of all of your favorite characters. Simply the brightness and fantastical design alone should be enough to win you over, or perhaps the remixed and excellently orchestrated themes from familiar Sega titles — welcome to the Fantasy Zone!

What we have here is a polished and zany kart racer that knocks another one out of the park for the “Superstars” line. It’s deliberate fan service for Sega devotees, however, and most of the younger set will take one look at the varied cast included and wonder who in Kratos’s name the rest of the motley crew even are. It’s unfortunately an obstacle that may prevent this title from selling as well as it could amongst the children that it’s obviously being marketed to who have missed out on Sega’s golden years. Lucky for us, that just means less of the obnoxious little slogs online in the game’s multiplayer mode. Whether a new or old Sega or Sonic fan, this is a great way to spend your time and money if you’re not digging the whole “realistic racing” thing or if you need a new online go-to game for you and your friends. I hope to see the Superstars line continued in subsequent titles featuring different sports in the future, as Sega is really doing a great job with them.

That said, who wants to take on my Ulala?

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