March 03, 2010
This game is not Mario Kart. Allow me to repeat that: this game is notMario Kart. It seems that the second anyone releases a cartoon style racer, the comparisons are all anyone can talk about, but the original Mario Kart is in the distant past and surely it is time to move on. Here then is a game with probably one of the longest titles ever (if you include the ‘featuring Banjo-Kazooie part), but is it going to have long term appeal? Considering all of the triple-A racing titles that people look forward to, it may be more pertinent to see if there is still a market for this kind of over the top arcade racing.
Developed by long-term SEGA favourites, Sumo Digital, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is a game that strives to offer something original although at the same time it still feels like it is trying to pull itself out from another game's shadow. This game was never going to win a prize for originality, so instead it has to stand on its own two feet and sell itself on the gameplay alone. Sadly the road to racing nirvana never runs smoothly.
Like all arcade-style racing games, this one is all about the fun aspect rather than the serious competition. All-Stars Racing boasts the usual array of SEGA suspects for you to control, from the obvious such as Sonic, to the slightly more bizarre, Opa Opa, although maybe that says more about which SEGA games I used to play back in the day more than anything. You have 22 racers in all including your own Xbox Live avatar should you wish – though sadly the option to pimp your ride is not available. The problem with them all is that, other than the car/bike they ride, there doesn't seem to be any discernable difference between them. They may have minor fluctuations in speed and acceleration, but you really cannot tell once you take to the track. So the thrill of choosing your racer is kind of defunct from the off.
Once into a race though, the real fun begins as all of the participants handle like a dream. The controls are ludicrously simple and all you really need to master is the drift function for corners. Drift enough without hitting anything and you will build up your boost to accelerate you ahead of the pack, though obviously your rivals can do the same, so it becomes about building up enough drift on the corners to send you careening down the straights. You can also access a plethora of weaponry with which to slow down or antagonize your foes, with the coup de grâce being the All-Star moves which are unique for each individual. You tend to get these mostly when you are languishing at the back, though they do tend to propel you forward to first with surprising ease.
So far so generic, but the real letdown other than the samey racers, is the lack of real punch to any of the weapons. The All-Star moves are perhaps too powerful as a player can literally go from last to first in the blink of an eye, but the rest of the ensemble seems fairly lightweight especially against the AI. Get hit with a missile or star yourself and you will be all over the place, but the computer AI seems to shrug off such attacks. It is also almost annoyingly predictable how many times you will get hit and overtaken on the last corner, even if you had a seemingly insurmountable lead. This in turn leads to the other niggle - the rubber band effect. You can seemingly turn off the auto catch up feature in the options, but that does not seem to affect the computer who will always stay within touching distance no matter how perfect your lap or how many weapons you deploy. It is frustrating and a touch unnecessary.
Aside from the AI though, you can actually have a great time here, as many of the courses look amazing and are designed to perfection. If anything, they may be a touch on the easy side, with only a couple of them truly testing you, but at least they are inventive and fun to race around. Plus, you can waste plenty of time just searching out optimum routes on them all if you're sick of sticking to the standard route. If you get tired of merely racing, either on single tracks or in Grand Prix mode, you can always tackle some time trials or the various missions on offer. The missions are what make the game a breath of fresh air as you take on challenges from simple races to destroying crows or bombing your opponents. The variety is spot on and you can lose hours in this mode alone. Not to mention, the tough nature of some of the tasks will help you to hone your racing skills.
Obviously a game like this will live and die on its multiplayer options, and it just about delivers. In split-screen mode you can take on up to three other players in races, battles and so on. Sadly some of the modes seem a bit light in the maps department which hampers things a bit, but you will probably be having too much fun battering each other to notice. You can even race against the top players in the time trials by adding in their ‘ghost’ cars, plus, you can also head online to take on up to seven other competitors too. Online things run extremely smoothly for the most part, although the game did freeze up completely once or twice with our time in the game. All-Star moves are disabled online, so it comes down to skill, rather than luck of the draw in terms of power ups. Be warned though, some players know the tracks inside and out already and will basically destroy all who cross them.
Achievement wise this is a very well thought out list, though you will have to grind up a bunch of miles to get all of the licenses on offer. The missions can also stray into annoying territory after a while too, with a seemingly random mix of tough levels followed by remarkably simple ones. The time trials are all eminently doable and you can even tackle the Grand Prix mode on easy if you are not up for a sterner test. Overall though you will be rewarded for just playing and enjoying the game, plus venturing online is relatively painless. Just beware though, the list looks a lot simpler than it actually is.
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is the perfect game to play with a bunch of friends; either on or offline, and is recommended for that reason. The single player modes - aside from the missions - soon get a bit dull and repetitive with a seemingly bizarre AI that is easy to beat in one race, but annoyingly amazing the next. This may well only drag you away from other games for a short while, but you will certainly be entertained during that time. The game is lush to look at and enjoyable to play – what more can you ask?
The old school SEGA tunes may be there for a reason but that does not stop them from being awful at times and genius at others.
Lovely characters and tracks that are brimming with colour and inventiveness. There are a couple of glitchy moments, where you may fall through the track or have the screen freeze up, but these are thankfully few and far between.
Easy to pick up and play, not to mention fun too. The weapons are too lightweight however and the characters offer no real differences between one another.
A solid racing game and one that will appeal to kids and adults alike. You may well have seen it all before though, so do not expect anything new.
As lists go, it is fairly decent, though having to grind out the miles, missions, moves and more soon gets old.
A lot better than some people would give it credit for and a pleasant change from all the driving simulations out there at the moment. The fun may well be too short lived for most though, with only the most dedicated achievement hunters putting in the required time to unlock everything. While it lasts though, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing can be a barrel of laughs – it's just not quite Mario Kart... damn.