No, don’t fall into the obvious trap of thinking this is your typical mediocre Sonic the Hedgehog game. Yes I know there have been many and although there have been fairly recent exceptions to this terrible truth, the bargain bin is still heaving with titles that us SEGA fans would much rather forget ever existed on our cherished gaming shelves.
Developed by Sumo Digital who have had success with SEGA character based games in the past, boldly undertake this latest SEGA project with both hands, presenting us with what actually turns out to be a big surprise for the many, like myself, who usually fear anything that features Sonic in the title.
So no doubt your first Nintendo inspired thought will lead you to the apparent similarity to Mario Kart. It is all our favourite characters in one game, racing around various wacky tracks, collecting and using weapons, ludicrous jumps and the list could go on. Of course this conclusion would be accurate, but let’s brush that aside and look to what Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing actually boasts.
Speed and lots of it…
Mario Kart may be your family friendly version of cute and cuddly simplistic racing, but really if I am completely honest and not fearful of the Nintendo faithful, I would be as bold to suggest that Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing is actually, dare I say, more fun! You can take this paragraph with a pinch of salt if you wish, but for me, the pull to race at this frantic speed and adrenaline pumping style driving is sublime and cheekily lends a nod to its inspiration while adding a little flair for good measure.
Characters include Tails, Dr Eggman (Robotnik), Knuckles, Shadow, Amy, Big the Cat and of course Sonic all from the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Beat from Jet Set Radio, ChuChus from ChuChu Rocket, B.D. Joe from Crazi Taxi, Alex Kidd, Ryu Hazuki from Shenmue, Jacky and Akira from Virtua Fighter, Amigo from Samba de Amigo, Ulala from Space Channel 5, AiAi from Super Monkey Ball and although you may scratch your head wondering who on earth Billy Hatcher is, the line-up is pretty impressive and there are still more lurking to be unlocked.
With so many games covered (although no doubt you will cry foul at your SEGA classic being missed anyway!), the result is a ton of themed tracks, vehicles and cameo appearances that all lend to the nostalgic factor. There is even an appearance of Banjo and Kazooie courtesy of Rare in the Xbox 360 version.
The idea of the whole game is to drift. Holding the left trigger on a corner will result in the desired drift and although your brain first tells you “hold on a minute this is usually brake!”, you soon become aware of the advantages of such a set-up. It adds a different twist, as not only are you conscious of the weaponry locations and important speed ramps, but also how early you can drift into the next corner. The reason for this strategic thinking is that drifting gives your vehicle a boost in speed, depending on how long you manage to perform this action without letting go of the left trigger, until you are sure you have enough thrust to propel you ahead. It doesn’t end there though; when you find yourself in the air after a large leap, pressing the left trigger again and successively if possible will also result in a speed jolt due to the on-screen skills. If you time either drifting or skills incorrectly you will be punished and your opponents will fire everything they have to prevent you achieving this.
Many of the courses, characters and even musical soundtracks are carefully locked away from the start, forcing you to give in to temptation and spend accumulated SEGA Miles. SEGA Miles is the currency you earn when racing, be it in single player or multiplayer modes, giving you further desire to push on and reveal the full extent to the game.
The course design as you would expect benefits from SEGA’s rich heritage and just like SEGA Superstars Tennis, it steals, oh I beg your pardon, borrows assets such as music and characters from the best. There are some bizarre ones lurking in the selection screens, however you will instantly recognise the series from which many of them derive. Most of the tracks are shockingly colourful, with dancing buildings, spinning mechanisms and jaw dropping eye candy not to mention the insane jumps, cunning short-cuts and topsy-turvy structure. All of them are a delight to race around and although some will inevitably mimic others in the selection screen, this doesn’t put you off the stellar action, the on-screen loveliness of the visuals or the insanely paced action.
Unfortunately the smoothness of Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing isn’t one of the game’s strongest points. Although very playable and extremely entertaining, the stages will vary a fair bit in their frame-rate elegance. This is not a major issue and is certainly not as bad as noticed in the single level demo, but it does detract from the pure thrill you are used to compared to other racers.
The weaponry also feels a little feeble at times, lacking the precision or inventiveness I would have liked, borrowing far too much from the Mario Kart legacy. Instead of dropping banana skins, you release traffic cones and other items will have distinct flashbacks from Nintendo’s faithful. What is new though is the unique per-character power ups that will have Sonic turning into Super Sonic, ditching his car for a true blue hedgehog sprint knocking competitors out of the way, similarly other selections also have their own interesting way of expressing their might.
There is a wealth of options including your typical tournaments which increase in difficulty, Time Attack and even a Mission area allowing you to progress through an impressive long list of set scenarios. Even with the masses of single player extravagance there is still plenty of room for double helpings in the Multiplayer area. Here you can select from one of the SEGA or Rare characters and if you really want to show off, how about selecting your Xbox 360 avatar. Alas on-line as brilliant as it all is, there is no ranking system or tournament mode that would have really added icing to this already impressive cake.
A fantastic triumph at long last with Sonic as the star with all his SEGA friends. What almost seemed impossible with such a long line of bad to darn right terrible games featuring Sonic in the title, this prized gem arrives for all to enjoy and you would be very wise to take notice.
Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing may not be perfect, however it shines in all the right places offering hours of endless next generation entertainment and adrenaline pumping racing that even the mighty Mario Kart would be envious of. It is time to dash to the shops and take a spin with our blue hedgehog friend yet again as SEGA fans like myself can finally hold our head high thrusting our fist into the air with a huge sense of relief and joy. Yes Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing is actually worthy and will hopefully help raise the bar for future releases.