Sonic’s pals finally feel the need for speed
Considering the average life-span of a hedgehog is around 8 years, it’s no wonder that after 20 years sprinting on a diet of Starbucks and Relentless that Sonic needs some help getting around these days. A stream of mediocre to God awful transitions to 3D have left a small hole in his pension fund, and Sega can only compensate by giving him a small blue kart to do his weekly trip to Somerfield in. Give an ego driven blue maniac a vehicle, and no matter how old they are, they’re going to want to throw down a racing challenge to all their enemies to prove that the roads were built for them, Sonic being absolutely no different. Dragging plenty of pals from other Sega franchises out from the tennis courts, it’s time to see who’s the fastest on the track when the playing field is level in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing.
Over the years, Sega have created a wealth of recession proof enigmas (apart from Shenmue’s poor old Ryo), and despite some rocky patches remains of the elder gamer’s ageing inner child. From the much loved to the cult celebrity, an impressive roster of characters arrive to battle it out for racetrack supremacy. The enigmatic cast are headed by a majority of entities from the Sonic series, yet the list spreads to even some of the vaguer corners of Sega HQ.
Some of the more down to Earth celebrities are to have something of a culture shock when they’re thrown onto the abstract tracks on offer. No matter where you end up, worlds look incredibly lush and each track is surrounded by vibrant environments which don’t distract, yet do enough to give all course a sense of identity. Even The House Of The Dead courses find themselves in a comically slapstick world of dim goggle eyed undead. Despite the general lack of gore and decapitations in said worlds, it’s whimsical level design such as this which serves to please both the young Smarties addicted racer to the dedicated archive lustful gamer. All-Stars Racing also delves deep enough to uncover some classic music tracks from the company’s career, only to be squandered by the commentator. A man filled with so many one liners he feels the need to scream them every 5 seconds whilst sounding like he’s falling down a bottomless pit desperately in need of wire mesh. Despite his brash ‘trying to be the class clown’ voice, his evil manages to convince you not to unmute him, as he’ll occasionally warn you of oncoming dangers that could destroy your chances of winning.
An impressive roster of characters arrive to battle it out for racetrack supremacy.
It’s a shame that with a vast back-catalogue of Sega references are accompanied by an array of generic weapons to boot. A basic array of rockets and mines litter tracks, and the only basic weapon that shows minimal operation is a pocket rainbow, that when left on the track and skidded into will cause a psychedelic dream beam to block the screen with minimal enthusiasm. Perhaps a little bit of imagination in the minor projectiles would’ve squandered the so-called ‘All-Star’ moves. Tactical or just plain poor driving ability will land players with this handy power-up, and although it always basically translates to a ‘Barge all opposition into ditches’ lifeline, each character has their own personal dynamic mass slaughter. From Super Sonic’s dabbling with Chaos Emeralds, to Aiai’s transition to signature Monkey Ball, all are enjoyable to scavenge and behold…mainly because they always guarantee a place at the front of the queue.
Without the ‘Get Out Of Last Free’ card in hand, there may even be times where a players’ driving ability will be called into question for 1st place prizes. Despite the lack of variation in each drivers’ race style, play runs smoothly and always strikes par with what should be expected from a karting game. Wielding the acceleration pedal to the floor the entire time won’t win races, as impressive drifting around corners and bends rewards determined drives with enough boost to see them to victory. Races are always fun to take part in, with the tension felt in each one strongly leashed to the chosen difficulty level, and with the victorious (and even those trailing behind) winning ‘Sega Miles’ after each event to spend on more characters and tracks, each lap feels all the more rewarding.
Despite the ocean of tires and chequered flags, as well as the subtle use of the word Racing in the title, a majority of time will actually be spent in the ‘Missions Mode’. Naturally consisting of a few races, the additions main objective is to test your karting abilities through drifting challenges, collecting rings under the watchful eye of a ticking clock and generally blowing an enemy to pieces. It’s easy to get lost in your progress of these bite-size tasks, and even those who don’t have the obsessive attitude to blitz all of these with perfect AAA grades will find them a welcome break if any Grand Prix becomes too easy to excite or difficult to entertain.
Despite a few bland niggles, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing ticks all the boxes to make a great karting game from beginning to end. Yet it’s this ‘Follow the trend’ attitude which leaves it with some shortcomings. Despite the imaginative tracks and surreal mix of characters, it feels like the brand could’ve been expanded upon in even further aspects such as weapons or more themed worlds. As it stands, it looks like Sega held back due to fear of looking arrogant, yet really should’ve pushed the boat out on such aspects. Of course these ramblings may only fall upon the deaf ears of a DLC stoked development team, but as it currently stands, ASR is a respectable online pastime, a great single player experience and a title that’ll proudly be hogged by kids and adult alike.
The Bad: Mediocre weapons hinder the SEGA back catalogue, Commentator filled with over-used one liners, Characters driving styles can either be incredibly similar to each other or completely useless in competitive racing