Sonic in a racing game. Youâ€™d think itâ€™d be a natural fit, but youâ€™d be wrong. There have been several botched attempts at bringing the speedy hedgehog into the realm of laps and tight corners, but to date they have all failed dismally. Trust me, Iâ€™ve played them all â€“ I even paid good money to import Sonic R on the Saturn. So I approached Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing thinking, â€śThis game surely shouldnâ€™t existâ€¦but Iâ€™ll probably end up enjoying it more than I should simply because itâ€™s better than Sonic R.â€ť
Whatâ€™s weird is that I did end up enjoying this game, and not just because of my hideous nostalgia for all things Sonic. No, honest â€“ this is actually a competent kart racer. Yes, it steals almost everything good from Mario Kart, but thatâ€™s why it works. And considering I donâ€™t have a Wii in my lounge, Iâ€™m glad thereâ€™s now a decent kart racer available for any drunken escapades with friends, if we can stay away from Rock Band for long enough.
So yes, S&SASR (what a funny initialism) isnâ€™t bad. It certainly nails the presentation, although I would like to strangle the commentator. The game brings together a pretty eclectic cast, mainly from Sonic games but also including characters like Alex Kidd (yay!), Ryo from Shenmue (yay?), and the ship from Fantasy Zone (???). Likewise, the tracks are inspired by levels from Sonic, Super Monkey Ball, House of the Dead, and more. Itâ€™s sort of, kind of a Sega fanâ€™s dream â€“ but if I can think of half a dozen characters, tracks, or songs Iâ€™d like to see included; Iâ€™m sure other fans can think of more.
At least what is in here is generally of a high quality. Aside from the annoyingly sharp right-angle turns in the Monkey Ball levels, the track designs are well thought out, and the environments themselves look lush and pretty. Itâ€™s just a shame that the frame rate is far from steady in places, but it doesnâ€™t generally affect your performance.
I expected Sega to nail the presentation of this game, but I wasnâ€™t expecting the gameplay to feel so solid. Driving your kart around the track feels just as it should, providing a very arcade-y feel that doesnâ€™t feel too floaty. Drifting is firmly encouraged, and provides a satisfying speed boost when pulled off. Most of the time, youâ€™ll be able to concentrate on the simple fun of pulling off corner after corner, overtaking opponents just before the finish line.
Of course, it wouldnâ€™t be a Mario Kart clone without weapons, and itâ€™s here the similarities are the mostâ€¦similar. Seriously, for every weapon in Mario Kart, thereâ€™s an equivalent to be found here. The arsenal includes homing rockets, shields, stars that flip the opponentsâ€™ screen upside down, and the All Star power-up. That last one is pretty cool â€“ it temporarily transforms you into a super version of yourself, allowing you to steamroll the opposition.
Of course, itâ€™s more fun in multiplayer. You can race online or through splitscreen, which has the added advantage of being able to distract your fellow racers at crucial moments. Either way, the options available are good but not perfect â€“ thereâ€™s no real Grand Prix equivalent here, so youâ€™ll have to make do with single races or one of the other modes like Battle. That mode, just as in Mario Kart, gives you a finite number of lives, and has you racing around an enclosed arena trying to blast everyone else away. Itâ€™s fun, but hampered by the fact that there are only three arenas to play in. Likewise, modes like Grab (where you need to grab and hang onto Chaos Emeralds) are a fun distraction, but probably wonâ€™t keep you entertained for long. Still, itâ€™s all robust enough for a casual sit down with some mates (or your Sonic-loving children!).
So are you hankering for a kart racer, but donâ€™t own a Wii? And did you maybe grow up playing your Master System or Mega Drive until it broke? Then Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing is worth taking a look at. If youâ€™re a Nintendo nutter at heart (boo! No, I kid), thereâ€™s nothing here that you havenâ€™t seen before â€“ but for everyone else, this is a solid, if not perfect, racing game.