Reviews// Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing

Posted 1 Mar 2010 17:24 by
Let's get the important question out of the way first. Why is Sonic the Hedgehog in a car? I don't know – it's probably the same reason why humans go jogging instead of cycling. Sometimes it's just fun to go a bit slower. That and if Sonic was on foot, he'd win every race and that wouldn't be very entertaining at all.

Such is the world of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, where classic characters from the publisher's history come together to race in souped up driving machines. There are colourful courses, red missiles, trap mines, drifting boosts and various shortcuts, along with Grand Prixs and Time Trials as gaming options.

Wait a minute... this all sounds very familiar to another high profile driving game. Yes, one would have to be blind to not notice a similarity with Nintendo's own mascot racer, Mario Kart. But then that's the point isn't it – you can't make an MMO without drawing inspiration from World of Warcraft, or an FPS without channeling elements of Perfect Dark and Halo.

Like the platformer, Nintendo introduced the cartoony racing game in the early 1990s - but back then people didn't complain that Sonic the Hedgehog was a Super Mario Bros. ripoff. For some reason, Mario Kart has been the holy grail from which everything must be compared. And it's a fallacy.

While we can certainly see why people still swear by Nintendo – nothing can touch the SNES original, and the N64 update is buckets of fun – it's time to admit that the series just can't throw its own weight anymore. Mario Kart Wii, despite its astronomical sales, is a depressingly underwhelming experience compared to past efforts. And don't get me started on the snore-inducing Double Dash.

What Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing has to worry about isn't whether it's a retread of the karting genre – why don't we just say King of Fighters is 'derivative' and call it a day? – it's whether it can be an entertaining and engaging addition to the genre in its own right. A little more Sonic the Hedgehog and a lot less The Great Giana Sisters. And here, Sumo Digital succeeds.

In fact, it's fair to say that this game out-Mario Karts Mario Kart. Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing maintains all that was great about the genre that the SNES established, coated with some fantastic SEGA graphics and sprinkled with some elements from the aforementioned Outrun to make the experience its own. The result is a game with arguably more soul than Nintendo's own.

Whether you recognise the rag-tag collection of characters is besides the point, as like Mario Kart you learn to 'know' them and pick a favourite (not everyone is a Mario fan either). The roster will certainly impress those who followed SEGA throughout the Mega Drive, Saturn and Dreamcast era, with mascots Sonic the Hedgehog and Dr. Robotnik joined by BD Joe from Crazy Taxi, Jacky and Akira from Virtua Fighter and Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue.

Each character has their own vital statistics that make them handle differently on the road – Big the Cat's heavy bulk results in a motorcyle that's difficult to corner, but zippy with the boosts, while Ulala (Space Channel 5) hovers in a funky white craft which makes her drift easily.

Key to each SEGA legend is a specific 'All-Star Move', which is activated whenever you're lagging behind in a race. Collected from an item capsule, the most braindead way of describing it is relating it to the blue shell in... yes, Mario Kart. But this works a little differently - better, actually. Rather than cheaply targeting the guy in first place, the All-Star Move actually helps you move up a few places on the board.

Each All-Star Move uses references and skills related to the character using it. So Sonic will turn Super Sonic and zoom ahead, allowing you to zap opponents along the way; Ryo Hazuki will hop into a forklift truck, lifting foes behind him; Billy Hatcher will run on top of a massive egg and squash those in front.
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