Welcome to the world of kart racing! Many would have experienced this unique genre thanks to the Mario Kart series which has reigned on many platforms today and back throughout the gaming industry. What we expect as gamers/customers in the 21st century is for popular genres to hit everybody’s modern day standards and for everybody to have a fair choice and variety in the genre. The simple yet effective way these games make us happy is evident, it’s fun driving little carts and shooting slap-stick style weapons but when a preference or theme is introduced it gives an already much loved formula a bit of weight/content to please our more demanding needs as consumers in today’s world, even our children’s minds.
Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing is a perfect example of this forward and modern type of problem solving.
You can get straight into the action with a variety of Sega’s legends big and small with ease as the controls are so smooth and user friendly. You won’t have trouble weaving through traffic or dodging the many colourful and bizarre obstacles that are on these well designed tracks, which leaves you to concentrate on thrashing your friend’s or the A.I, not just controlling your kart. The effective control scheme instantly gets you ready for the finer parts of the game, collecting power-ups, hitting boost panels and anything else you can interact with isn’t held back by too much logical thought, only fun works here.
There’s 20 characters to choose from (some must be bought from the Sega store) they range from Sega’s finest examples of creativity like Sonic and AiAi, but you also have some of the more forgotten characters like Billy Hatcher and Big The Cat. I do like all of the characters (Bar Alex the Kidd, weird child) and the variety from popular to not so popular, it’s not hugely important who they are as they all have karts and not their original skills. Sega still manage to capture the originality of the licensed characters but In the 360 version you do get a couple more to choose from. In the 360 version you get to race with your avatar, racing with your little friend brings more of a customised feel when you race and your avatar looks cool when you do a little winning or losing action. You also have the famous duo Banjo and Kazooie to race with, though it doesn’t make a huge impact to the game overall it’s good to see abit more choice being shoved into the title. As you progress you will receive Sega credits that you can use to buy the locked characters and there’s some great purchases to be had in the form of Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue and Jacky Bryant and his bud Akira Yuki from the Virtua Fighter series. All these characters are designed well and have some of that attached nostalgia from the series’ they come from, there are one or two weird choices but weird is good.
The 24 vibrant tracks you have to race on all follow this vibe, Sega and Sumo have taken the things we love including those iconic levels and have brought them to life. The general feeling from the original levels shines through in track form like House of the Dead’s Curien Mansion levels, they catch the feeling of the original level/scene with all of the objects around the track. You will find at least one track that you will relate and recognise to the point where you feel really happy, the objects and details are taken from the original level, not the entire series. This helps capture that memory you have from playing the original but also incorporates all that karting madness, it was refreshing to play even for me.
The tracks do vary in difficulty and tactics, some will involve lots of weapons, some encourage you to boost and get your timing right, and some are just hard to focus on like the levels Roulette Road and Sunshine tour as they have flashing imagery. Some levels I found I would crash alot as the distractions where ironically distracting me, the second time I went round these tracks I nailed it but the distractions are still noticeable. You won’t find one track that you can’t master without a second try; this shows me as an adult that children will be able to play too. The tracks themselves aren’t super hard it’s your opponents that are the problem normally, kids can play with other kids or A.I and will find it alot of fun because of this fair bench mark the game has. I do think 5 more tracks would have been fair but the tracks you have are quite expansive for a fun racing game, maybe one or two extra characters too but that’s the only fault I’ve found with the games content. I did worry that Sega might have held back alot more on all of the good content but thankfully that isn’t the case.
When you’ve had a chance to use a few different characters and mastered a couple of tracks you will notice the smaller details in the game, it does have them to bring the format up to today’s high standards. It’s important to give gamers enough to think about while playing a game, too much especially in a game like this will spoil it. The developers have added subtitle features for you to use or not, you won’t fail if you don’t. If you do decide to use these little bits of detail you will find you can catch up to the leader or retain you lead easier, this also spices up the rivalry when smarter or veteran gamers play the game. The smaller features include drifting; drifting has been improved in the karting format by Sega’s title having a boost system as you drift. The longer you drift the better the boost you get, this is in a three stage tier – drift any longer and you will get nothing for your efforts. You can also shoot weapons behind you (Yes like in Mario Kart) this was obviously a must have feature but works just as well in S&SASR.
This game is made to play with friends online or off but there’s some options if you fancy a go on your own. Grand Prix mode offers 3 difficulties with 6 events in each. They’re made up of 4 races each, however there’s not a great deal to actually complete but the harder difficulties will have you retrying some events. The harder difficulties will irritate you slightly just because of the amount of bumps you have, it just makes the fun crashing part a little less fun as it’s harder to compete against the A.I to start with. There are the obligatory Time Trial and Single Race modes to try, they are what they say on the tin but they lack a little bit of interesting content or a twist, seeing the same modes over and over in every game gets old. There is a mode that might shake your experience up a little as once you have completed the Grand Prix mode there’s not much else to complete. In Mission mode you are given a set character to complete an objective with, it’s normally beat another singular character, a group knockout race or something along those lines. They’re a nice break from event races and online play and bring more diversity, not just straight out races and you get 64 missions to plough through. The only problem with these modes is lack of content (apart from Mission mode), they just seem a little short from a fair amount of challenges and things to complete.
Single player is bundles of fun but not as fun as the multiplayer, the A.I in any game can’t make up for real players. Unlike most 360 titles S&SASR comes with a split screen option, bringing fun back to families or a group of friends on one sofa. It was a game I was expecting the split screen feature from and it’s good to see it’s still thought about by developers. You can play with people around the world with the Play With Anyone option; it will bring up all available races if you don’t have your buds with you. S&SASR will also give you the option to look who’s playing the game on your friends list before you open your menu system to check, cutting out a bit of hassle. All of the matches I have been in have been lag free, I’m sure it’s out there but seems controlled and regulated well in S&SASR. If you host you can change the amount of laps, which is normally necessary for good games as the tracks can be completed quickly. Most importantly you can change the Catch-Up option, some gamers don’t like it others do, the choice is yours. What would have benefitted S&SASR is more online multiplayer modes, this would have made the online almost perfect.
Overall the game is almost perfect and original, which must have been a hard job with that other kart racer normally dominating everything it touches. S&SASR has managed to keep all the great things about the karting format and gently adds its own touches and themes, making a seem-less game. Controls are smooth and easy enough to use to your advantage, weapons come in different Sega shapes and sizes and the general look of everything seems colourful, vibrant and top quality. The only thing I can knock the title for is a slight lack of content and things to complete, there are however other things to keep you happy in the form of 64 mini missions and Sega things to purchase. I got a great feeling playing it and one I can’t place anywhere else in other titles, the bright colourful look Sega have always had makes a welcome change to realistic colouring and similar shades you get in every other title out there. If you fancy an upbeat change or something reliable for your children then Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing is for you and friends!