Lets be honest here for a second, Sonic has never been able to compete with Mario. Anything Sonic has done it’s highly likely that Mario has done it better whether it be platforming, racing. sports, partying or hand-to-hand combat. Ironically despite Sonic’s profound speed Sega has failed every time they‘ve tried pit sonic against his buddies in a race. Over the years Sega has desperately tried to differentiate their mascot themed racers from the Mario Kart series. They’ve tried foot races with Sonic R and Sonic Riders introduced hover boards in to the mix but both efforts were abysmal. Rather than constructing a new gimmick, this time around Sega took a completely different approach and decided to copy as much from Nintendo as humanly possible. Developed by Sumo Digital, the folks behind the recent OutRun games, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is essentially Mario Kart re-skinned and in HD. Any PS3 or Xbox 360 owner who has been holding their breath for a Mario Kart equivalent to arrive on their console can finally inhale some sweet, sweet air. Not only has Sega delivered the experience we’ve been waiting for, they have also out-done Nintendo on a multitude of aspects making All-Stars Racing one of the of the best arcade racers in years.
If like me you’ve been sleeping on this title in the past let me fill you in on a few details. Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing is (surprise, surprise) a racing game starring Sonic, his annoying friends and a bunch of random characters from the Sega universe including AiAi, Alex Kid, Beat, B.D. Joe, Amigo, Billy Hatcher, Ulala, Akia Yuka (who shares a ride with fellow Virtua Fighter Jacky Bryant), Ryo of Shenmue fame and more. As you can probably tell the line-up is pretty disappointed with classic franchises like Street Of Rage, Golden Axe, Comix Zone, Phantasy Star, Altered Beast and Toe Jam & Earl all being ignored. Instead of tearing the track up as the Golden Axe dwarf riding a fire-breathing Dragon you’ll have to put up with Big The Cat, Shadow The Hedgehog and other characters who should have never made it pass the concept art phase.
The single player offering in All-Stars Racing is incredibly generous with 6 Grand Prix cups to race through, a handful of Missions to complete and a in-depth Time Trail system in which you can compete against yourself, staff ghost or even other online players. The Grand Prix mode is surprisingly more fun than it has any right to be. The cars handle brilliantly, the courses are generally action-packed and most the weapons you collect are excellent. Although most of the weapons are proxies for items already available in Mario Kart, Sega has added a few unique weaponry to their arsenal which are among the best in the game. Rockets, KO Gloves, Speed Shoes, Rainbows and Mines are variants of Red Shells, Green Shells, Mushrooms, Bloopers and Bananas respectively but there are also Giant Rocket which travel down the track and can be denoted at your leisure, Confusion Stars which flip your opponents screen upside down and Speed Horns which emit a loud blast damaging all near by racers. Each selectable character also has their own All-Star move which is usually awarded to players who fall behind the pack. These moves are designed to help trailing players catch up to the action and are great morale boosters when playing against casual gamers. Graphically the game is very appealing with a heavy emphases on bright colours through-out. The track designs are generally good but the repeated themes quickly become tiresome. Once you’ve seen one Casino themed Sonic level you’ve pretty much seen them all.
If the thought of playing alone doesn’t appeal to you there is an array of split screen multiplayer modes for you and up to three buddies to enjoy. Single Race mode (as the name suggests) has you and your friend(s) competing in single race events, Battle mode places you in confined arenas in a fight to the death, Capture The Chao is a variant of capture the flag, King Of The Hill once again places you in to arenas but this time to capture bases and my personal favourite Knockout continually eliminates the player in last position every 15 seconds until there’s only one racer remaining. If you don’t have any friends beside you and would like to race-off against players across the globe prepare to be disappointed. Online matches only offer Single Races which can only be accessed by trolling through the prehistoric lobby system. Once the single race is over all players are then booted back to the lobby where the process repeats.
Additional characters, courses and music can be purchased via the in-game store and Sega has stated that the game will support DLC which should give the title plenty of longevity. Factor in the robust split screen modes and lengthy single player options and what you have is the best mascot themed racer ever to grace a non-Nintendo platform. The races are frantic, the cars handle sublimely, the graphics are great and there is plenty to see and do. Put simply, if you want Mario Kart on your Xbox 360 or PS3 you need to buy this game. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve enjoyed a console game with the word “Sonic” in the title but Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is an excellent game which finally puts Sonic’s speed to good use. The lacklustre character roster, barebones online component and repetitive level design prevents Sonic from the number 1 spot away from Mario but Sumo Digital and Sega deserve a to be congratulated for obtaining a very close and admirable 2nd place.