Sonic has had his fair share of racing games. Game Gear’s Sonic Drift, Sonic R on the Sega Saturn, and the recent Sonic Riders games are some prime examples. These racers tried something different (with the exception of Drift, really) and while interesting, didn’t really provide a stellar gaming experience. As much as I personally love Sonic R, turning corners and holding down that B button can be a right pain sometimes – and the fun’s over too quickly. Sonic Riders was… well, that was Sonic Riders.
In 2010, Sumo Digital has taken a punt at a Sonic racer, and instead of going for something different (although they did toy with a Sonic R-esque gameplay mechanic) the studio went with something a bit closer to what gamers knew best – a karting game. Why is Sonic, in fact, in a car? The answer is – who cares, really? Comparisons are inevitably going to be drawn with Mario Kart, but is Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing a fun game in its own right?
So it’s Sonic the Hedgehog (and friends) in a car, or plane, or bike of some kind. Some may call that an unoriginal and, dare I say it, ‘derivative’ approach, given that many mascot racers have tried – and failed – to match Mario Kart.
The way I see it, there’s no way of escaping the Nintendo formula if you’re making a game of this kind. As much as the platformer genre involves jumping on floating blocks, so too does the cartoony kart racer require recognisable characters, crazy power-ups and colourful locations.
Sumo Digital has proved its Sega knowledge before with Sega Superstars Tennis (a game that I suppose could have been ‘derivative’ in the face of Mario Tennis, but funnily enough people enjoyed that game and didn’t make that connection), and given its OutRun history a Sonic racer was the next logical step.
Sonic suits a car quite well actually – especially given former Sonic Team head Naka-san’s love for Ferraris – but it’s not just a representation of Sega’s mascot I approve of here. It’s the re-introduction of long lost Sega characters such as Alex Kidd, Opa-Opa, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi and – most impressively – Ryo Hazuki of Shenmue fame. For the Sega fan, this is a real treat.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE SCENE: To be honest, we can only really say the opening scene here, can’t we? Still, it’s ruddy good.
The whole game is presented with that classic Sega sheen, right down to the menus. The attention to detail in each of the courses is stunning – Sonic’s Seaside Hill has never looked so good! Using Sumo’s own Sunshine engine, everything radiates with the warmth of the sunny blue skies that beams on almost every track.
With a range of courses covering various Sega franchises (Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Monkey Ball, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, The House of the Dead, Samba de Amigo, Jet Set Radio Future) there’s a lot of nostalgia-riding going on here. At first glance though, it doesn’t seem there’s a lot of variety in the tracks – especially given that we have characters from Shenmue and Virtua Fighter here. But this is made up for in the atmosphere and design of each course.
Sonic’s tracks range from the sunny Seaside Hill to the dark, gloomy Final Fortress, while different districts of Tokyo-to each has its own feel and surroundings. It’s awesome to be driving full throttle through a psychedelic Samba de Amigo course too – Sumo Digital has not only done its homework with these tracks, it’s put real thought and care into how to best use Sega’s brands. It’s truly a great quality to have.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE BIT: Crashing through the billboard in Shibuya Downtown and watching you fly over the cityscape.
A true mish-mash of classics from SEGA’s past. Darting through Seaside Hill while listening to Can You Feel The Sunshine from Sonic R is nothing short of delightful, and each of the games represented in All-Stars Racing have brought with them a substantial amount of tunes to keep the action pacing. Some of the choices are a bit predictable – a lot of Sonic Heroes music is featured, and it was the de-facto soundtrack to the Sonic side of Sega Superstars Tennis – but you barely notice that when you’re going hell-for-leather online.
Voices are less keen to get you going, unless your race is blessed with the comedic delights of Ryo Hazuki. Most of the voice work has been pulled from past Sega titles, leaving quotes like Sonic’s zinger “Aren’t You Worried?” to terrorise brain cells with its irrelevance. Big the Cat and Beat, for example, feature fresh recordings so it’s not all stuff you’ve heard before. Hazuki’s Shenmue quotes have to be the best thing that’s ever happened to the voice work in this game.
There’s also an announcer that sounds like a cross between an American surfer dude with constipation and Krusty the Clown. Thankfully, you can turn it off.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Hearing Sonic R tracks in my 2010 game – surprise!
Being based off of the Mario Kart formula means that Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is already quite solid. But one area that makes this unique is the drifting mechanics. Sumo has taken its experience with past driving titles and introduced a modified system from OutRun. The L2 button (or the Left Trigger) is context sensitive, with drifts performed in combination with a turn on the analogue stick. Hold the trigger down to keep sliding, and adjust the angle with stabs on the accelerator.
It’s a system that feels natural after a few races. Drifting gives you up to three levels of boost, which is vital to staying ahead of the pack. L2/Left Trigger also acts as a trick button when driving over ramps, and as a brake when no direction is held. With only one other button (besides the accelerator) being used to fire weapons, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing has a control scheme that’s simple to pick up – but the tracks and missions make it hard to master.
The great thing is, the action is balanced very well. Even with the ‘catch up’ option set, there’s no real rubber-banding going on – computer controlled opponents are fairly matched against human players. Once you break ahead though, it’s likely that nobody will be able to catch up to you – but it’s a preferable situation to having cheating AI. Once you get knocked back a few places though, you can expect a deluge of revenge tactics from friends and CPU alike.
It keeps the action exciting, and the tracks themselves are brilliantly designed – offering shortcuts and opportunities for stunts and chain drifting. You’ll want to replay the courses again and again to discover new ways of taking advantage of the corners and jumps. The power-up items are your standard karting fare – rockets, shields, speed ups.
The most noteworthy item to have is the All-Star move, a unique ability for each character that allows them to move up a few positions on the track if you’re falling behind. Each require skill and timing to pull off though, so it’s not a sure-fire way of getting from last to fourth. It all adds to the balance that Sumo has created in the game. You’ve got to work for your meal, which makes the gameplay – and the winning – so much sweeter.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE PART: Drifting around the bends in the Casino Park tracks, boosting out of them and passing opponents. Pro.
The amount of content crammed into this title will ensure you’ll be playing Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing for a long time. On top of the expected Grand Prix and Single Race modes, a lengthy missions mode challenges you with increasingly difficult tasks, while Time Attack puts you on worldwide leaderboards and against Sumo Digital’s ghost times. In multiplayer, you can take on up to three other players with Battle, Capture the Chao, Emerald and King of the Hill modes. They provide nice diversions in split-screen, but you’ll be mostly going back to the Races mode to conquer the track.
Online, things are a bit more restrictive. There’s no mode to play other than Single Race, which is a little bit disappointing as it would have been cool to play some Capture the Chao games over Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. In addition to this, All-Star moves don’t exist online – it’s a total bummer, but understandable given technical limitations. Besides that, playing online is perhaps the most fun experience in the game and will keep you coming back to it long after you’ve unlocked that last Achievement or Trophy.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE TIME-WASTER: Playing Time Attack for a lap, and getting sucked into getting a better time again. And again.
T-Bird: I never got a chance to play this game at SoS and hadn’t downloaded the demo, so release day was my first opportunity to play this game. The controls (for a non-seasoned racer) initially came across as a tad odd, particularly seeing as there is an emphasis on learning to drift early on if you want to really sneak around impossible corners. In this sense the game is frustrating at first, but once you’ve completed a Grand Prix and accomplished a handful of missions, you really start to appreciate the high-end tuning that has gone into each individual character’s handling on track.
The courses really do feel like they have been snatched from many SEGA universes, and I think this is a testament to the amount of thought and attention Sumo Digital have invested in the game. Granted there are a few points on a certain Billy Hatcher stage that have me screaming as Amy careens off into the lava, and I think the omission of All-Star attacks in multiplayer (or an option to have it) is a little disappointing, but overall this really is nit-picking at what is a very highly polished, fun game to play.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
+ That Sega has an equal to Mario Kart.
+ Drifting and using the unique power ups.
+ All the Sega characters lovingly revived.
+ Earning Sega Miles as you play with friends.
+ Racing online – it’s great fun.
– A lack of online options, and no All-Stars online. We know it was explained, but still.
– Few Sega franchises to race through, despite the variety in presentation.
– That a lot of the gameplay is a bit too familiar.
– The unbalanced bikes against cars.
– Loading times.