Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing may not be Sonic’s first attempt to recreate the thrills of Kart Racing games within his already fast-paced world, but it is the first time he’s brought along some of his SEGA stablemates. Additionally, Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing is the first title that truly shows the trust SEGA have built in Sumo Digital, handing over to them control of some of their most beloved characters and franchises.
After the success story that was last year’s SEGA Superstar Tennis, there was little worry about Sumo Digital’s involvement when SEGA announced Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing. Curators of the OutRun franchise for more than half a decade now, the Sheffield based team is certainly doing well to strengthen their ties with the Japanese publishing giant, and not simply through familiarity. Near everything Sumo Digital has developed under SEGA’s brand has been of respective quality to the franchise(s) that spawned it, and so it’s not only the publisher that’s come to love Sumo Digital, but their audience as well.
With that of course, Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing is launching on a good standing, but also with a great deal of expectation. Not only does it have to live up to the reputation of the games which have preceded it, but also as a Kart Racer featuring one of videogaming’s foremost mascots, it has to stand next to one of the most cherished series the industry has ever seen: Super Mario Kart.
The similarities to the genre pioneer go beyond cartoon-esque racing with comedy weaponry, right through to the organisation of single-player modes, unlockables and multiplayer battle modes. The bulk of the game lies in the Cup Races, offered at Beginner, Advanced and Expert levels, each containing a number of four-race Cup events. As player completes Cups, winning points in each race in much the same manner as the Super Mario Kart series, new and more challenging Cups are unlocked, in turn unlocking more tracks for other gameplay modes. Single Races, Time Trial mode, including pre-installed Ghosts, and an objective based mode are also available in single-player, the latter of which borrows the formula from SEGA Superstars Tennis almost wholly successfully.
The missions task the player to complete unique objectives in specially arranged courses, such as keeping up with a target, achieving a set amount of drift time or collecting a specific number of items littered about the track, and results are ranked on the usual Sumo Digital AAA scoring system. There are sixty-four missions in total, adding a great deal of longevity to the single-player portion of Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing.
The multiplayer aspect of Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing is well catered for, if somewhat disappointing in a number of areas. Offline split-screen gameplay is available for up to four players, and does an incredibly good job of maintaining the sense of speed without drastically dropping the visual quality. The lack of an option to compete in the aforementioned Cups with more than just a lone player is disappointing, and the quantity of loading screens between each individual race can be a barrier to an evening’s enjoyment. The Battle Mode options are also an anti-climax, as while they feature some original ideas, they simply don’t stand up to the extensive play of any of the Super Mario Kart titles. Online play is reliable and straight forward, though of course is limited by the same measures as the offline options.
The track design is pleasingly eccentric, taking inspiration from each of SEGA’s most-loved franchises. But while the visual quality is often a delight, the layout of the courses simply isn’t on par with Nintendo’s first class design. The twenty-four on-disc tracks provide plenty of variety, but few will catch gamers spending hours shaving seconds off their best time as has been seen with Ghost House 2 from the original Super Mario Kart. The weapons are pretty much lifted wholesale from Super Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing – bar the special attacks of course – and so there are very few surprises. The special attacks however, each of which are unique to each playable character, are an interesting counterbalance to that vehicle’s weaknesses.
Twenty-two characters are included on-disc, and of course, this being the Xbox 360 version, Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing features the ability to play as your Xbox 360 Avatar or Banjo and Kazooie, of RARE’s Banjo-Kazooie fame. The characters meld well with SEGA’s vast assortment of colourful personalities, and though no question remains as to why Microsoft only granted permission for the duo to be used in the Xbox 360 version, it’s more of a wonder as to why SEGA didn’t pursue other exclusive characters for Nintendo and Sony’s formats. Sackboy would undoubtedly have been a prize coup, and while Nintendo may have been reluctant to allow Mario to jump Kart Racer ship, the B-Movie stars Fox McCloud and Kirby would fit as well hereas Sonic in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing is a cheerful looking game, brimming with colour and charm at every step. The dramatic quality of the courses feels suitably “SEGA”, and the crisp and functional presentation of the menus will be familiar to players of any of Sumo Digital’s previous works on SEGA franchises. The soundtrack is fantastic, though is marred by a commentator who isn’t so much irritating as pointlessly under equipped for the action at hand.
As the latest joint venture between SEGA and Sumo Digital, Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing fulfils all the expectations placed upon it; an involving videogame experience that is packed with alternative ways to play. Entertaining in all aspects, though stronger in some areas than others, the game takes a winning formula and does well not to tamper too greatly. Without bringing too many new ideas of it’s own, Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing has managed to comfortably reach the top of the Kart Racing tree on Xbox 360, though as with many of it’s peers, going head-to-head with Nintendo’s pioneering series would inevitably lead to it’s downfall.