You know… Every time I hear the words “kart racer” I always have a negative thought. Am I wrong to do that? Let’s think about it for a moment. How many times have we seen a random character or series suddenly decide that they can make a video game? The result is usually a random party game or… “kart racer”. Crazy Frog, DreamWorks Super Starz Kartz, Wacky Races, Beanotown Racing and even Disney have made either a very poor or incredibly average “kart racer”. Yes, there are some very good kart racing games out there, but considering how the bad vastly outnumbers the good, I can’t be alone with instantly coming to a negative disposition when I hear “there is a new karting game starring *insert character/series here*”.
So here we go again; Sega’s stars are entering the racing world once more. Is Sumo’s new offering one of “those games” I listed earlier? A shining diamond in the rough? Or is it something else entirely?
The premise here is remarkably simple: “The stars of Sega are going to race each other in vehicles that transform into cars, boats and planes! And they’re driving on tracks based on Sega’s most iconic franchises!” And… that’s it. Alrighty then, is that a problem? Not initially, we’ll come back to this when I talk about World Tour mode.
If you’ve played the original Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing, you should be able to get the hang of this game very quickly; the controls are similar to the original, though there are a few changes here and there which have been made for the better. There is, however, one instant difference you’ll notice: each character has an XP/level up system. This allows each character to use mods which alter how their car handles, but there is one drawback to this. XP is locked to the character you use; the only way to get all mods for each character is to play as each one for a long period of time.
But the biggest change is the game’s main selling point. You are no longer tied to the land; cars can now transform into sea and air vehicles via the use of transform gates. Usually when a game tries to offer you multiple forms of travel, one method is usually quite poor, but this is not the case here. Whilst I’m sure people who fly planes or pilot boats will say “it’s not acting as it should”, for someone who doesn’t use those vehicles, the planes and boats handle very well.
They handle as I imagine they should, even when drifting or performing impossible moves. I was honestly expecting one of the transport methods to be terrible or lacking, but I really can’t find anything wrong with them. Whilst you may take a bit of time to become accustomed to the boating sections, it does handle very well. Full stars to Sumo for doing this, as this isn’t an easy task to do. Many, many games fail when going down this road.
As with the last game, there are weapons and items to pick up. The typical ‘boost’ power up is here along with a range of offensive weapons. Quite a lot of thought has gone into these. One such weapon, the blowfish, looks and acts like a “mine” – press the item button and it drops behind you. Then, I discovered you can actually fire it off in front of you and behind – it’ll even bounce off walls – turning what was a defensive weapon into an offensive one.
They’re all useful in their own right, and many can be used as a defense against oncoming enemy projectiles. However, they’re not very iconic; I doubt in the years to come many people will be raging or raving about how they loved the firework or the drone. Though I do wonder if anyone else out there says, “Not the bees!” every time they encounter them on the track. Whilst they’re not based on Sega objects, you’re quick to understand what each one does and there is a degree of tactical deployment to them all.
All Star moves return and can even be used online this time around! However, some are more useful than others and on many occasions I couldn’t see much of a use for them other than as an extremely long “boost”. Unless your attack actually hits an enemy, you might find any ground you made up being lost very quickly. Though, the spectacle of transforming into your All Star move is quite a sight, especially as the final character.
With a game like this, be it a racing game or a brawl fighter (which seems to be the new trend these days), the roster is normally what sells the game to people. So what of it? Is it amazing? Depending who you ask, Sega has been around for several decades, creating hundreds of memorable characters, so “what of the roster?!” you cry. It’s… ok. You start off with a handful of racers, which is normal for a game like this.
But they’re so predictable. The only exception is Ralph from the new Disney movie Wreck it Ralph… don’t ask, just know that he fits in with the rest of the cast very well. Other characters are unlocked by collecting stars in World Tour mode, or “mission mode” as it’s known by everyone else. Stars are rewarded for completing missions on various difficulties; the harder the difficulty, the more stars you get.
But many people are going to find this a chore. The final character requires over 100 stars, and popular characters need around 60-80, meaning playing on harder difficulties or playing a huge chunk of World Tour mode is a must even if you just want to play online with friends. You have no choice to play World Tour mode and play the majority of it, or else you’re stuck with the default character list.
Whilst this isn’t unusual for games like this, World Tour mode is the only way to unlock characters. If, like me, you find Hard mode too easy, you’re going to be extremely bored by the time you unlock Expert mode. It can become very repetitive and it takes a long time until you beat it to a point that you have every character unlocked.
In many ways, both World Tour mode and the roster feels like a missed opportunity. Look, the player has to play this mode to unlock the characters right? Well… why not make it more interesting for them? For starters, the entire thing feels a bit random: even though there are several missions that feel close to a boss battle, they appear quite randomly.
So how about instead of the random tank battles, you keep the concept but instead have a villain from the world you’re fighting on as the target? Imagine chasing down Death Adder on the Golden Axe stage for one thing. I’m not even expecting a new, fully animated 3D model either. In fact, part of me thinks that if you had him in sprite form as he appeared in the original game, that would have more impact. The player then knows that the Cup is going to end with a boss fight, but it’s something different each time. There’s a reason to beat the Cup other than “I’m just doing this for the unlocks”, but that there’s something at the end other than a “well done, here is the next cup”. Or, dare I suggest a story mode?
The roster? Again, feels like a missed opportunity. Whilst I’m sure each character does have their share of fans, I don’t believe that the roster will get universal praise; it’s hard for me to get so excited over Pudding or Gum’s inclusion when we already have Beat and Ulala in there. Not to mention Danica Patrick. Whilst I am under no doubt that Danica is a great driver… exactly why is she in this game? No, really, have we actually been told the reason yet?
Out of the decades of Sega characters to choose from, we have “the usual suspects”. In fact most of the characters chosen have games that are already out, or are coming to an online service – Jet Set Radio and NiGHTS into Dreams… have only just been added to XBLA and PSN.
Whilst everyone will have their own suggestion, is there a reason why Altered Beast doesn’t appear? The whole “transformed” aspect would surely work fine with this franchise – heck, have the driver the muscular guy from the original game and have the car transform into the various beasts. It’s so obvious that it must have been suggested at one point. Sorry, Wonder Boy, Alien Soldier, Ecco, the crazy looking scientist guy from that strange Japanese puzzle game, his tiger and Blaze Fielding; maybe next time.
However, the characters that did make it do look amazing and all play differently. Whilst I won’t spoil it for you, the final character you unlock in World Tour mode… is absolutely incredible.
From the moment this game was announced, the whole “transformed” angle has been pushed a great deal by the publicity. “The cars transform and the tracks transform”. They certainly weren’t kidding with that. A typical race begins on land; however by the time you reach Lap 3, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re playing on an entirely different track.
To highlight one in particular, Panzer Dragoon, you begin with a simple land course. However, a section of the track becomes flooded turning it into a water course, then on the final lap a giant dragon swoops down destroying the roadway, and you get an air section where you fly through dragon-infested canyons above the waterway you just raced on. Another would be Golden Axe: by the time Lap 3 comes, an erupting volcano has destroyed the track, so you enter a flying section dodging giant rocks of molten lava that bombard the course.
House of the Dead goes a little further; it actually has a story to it if you look hard enough. Zombie couple Zobio & Zobico are getting married: in Lap 1 you see Zobio having fun on a bouncy castle, Lap 2 you see them getting ready for their big day, Lap 3 you actually pass through a church and see them at the altar. At one point you drive through a zombie disco, and they’re having a party to celebrate their marriage. There’s a reason for everything you see in this track; it’s not just, “okay, we have a House of the Dead-themed track… what do we need?” There’s more to it than that if you’re willing to pay attention.
For the track design itself, Sumo has produced a series of courses that range from being simple to challenging. To absolutely master these courses, you will really need to learn how to play the game, including taking your finger off the accelerator when drifting… even if every bone in your body is screaming “NO”. Whilst you do get the odd “how do you do this without crashing?” moment, which you’ll be shouting a lot on the Billy Hatcher stage, no two stages are alike. I’m not talking about scenery here, but the track design itself. Some have alternate routes, including shortcuts which are not as easy to take as you first think, and there isn’t too much that cheats the player into failing.
That said though, there are one or two moments which I think need looking at. There’s one jump in Golden Axe where no matter how hard I try or what speed I’m doing, I’ll always crash into the snake head when performing a jump. Fortunately there is an alternate route here which doesn’t have this problem.
While tracks and characters make the world, the music and sounds really help you get absorbed into it. One of my favorite driving games happens to be Batman Forever on the Mega CD. The driving mode in that game is not particularly good, but the one thing that stands out is the music and sound effects. They’re quite awesome. It turns what would have been forgettable into something very exhilarating.
ASRT could have repeated what it did in the last game; played it safe, a selection of already existing music, but instead it’s remixed all the original music into an updated piece. Richard Jacques is the mastermind behind these pieces, and he needs to stand and take a bow. Without question the music is something to be proud of. Now I won’t pretend to be an expert in music and explain why it works by looking at it from a technical standpoint, but let me explain it as best I can… When you start the After Burner stage, there’s opponents closing in on you, there’s explosions going off around you and the full glory of the After Burner theme kicks in… that’s it. You are no longer racing on a course, you’re in the middle of a war! Gone are the thoughts that you’re playing a racing game, you’re transformed into the world of After Burner.
Same thing with Golden Axe. Golden Axe for me has always been a game about a group of heroes going on a quest over the land to eventually destroy the ultimate evil. As seen with the elf sections between levels, this takes place over several days. It’s a slow paced game for the most part. So, driving at frantic speeds and hearing the Wilderness song in its quicker remix form, you will want to come to this world, you want a game set in the world Sumo have created. Whilst the track is the world of Golden Axe, the music by far is what captures you and brings you into this world. Especially online, you’ll be roaring with joy as you play online, starting at the back, see your enemies crushed, as you drive past them and hear the lamentations of their women as you return to the lobby. All the time, this music is pumping and urging you on.
It’s hard to explain, but Richard Jacques’ remixes almost have this uncanny ability to make both you and the game feel faster. No, really, try playing with the mute on and see how much slowly the game feels. Please, can we now have an OST CD release of this music? No, not iTunes, an actual physical CD that I can wave in people’s faces and say “I listen to this!”
There is one aspect of the sounds I utterly hate… the character dialogue. Here’s an example: Sonic makes this strange spluttering noise. The more you hear it, the more you realize just how out of place and stupid it is. Whilst I initially had a problem with his fourth-wall-breaking “You’re only going to get better” because it blatantly doesn’t fit, or the delayed “NO!” when you fail a mission, this “splutter” is terrible. It never sounds right when you crash or get hit by a weapon.
But Sonic’s splutter is nothing compared to how bad Shadow’s dialogue is in this game. We’ve already joked about “You’ve got dis Swanic!” from Sonic Generations, but I think I may have found something even more head-scratching that will become a bit of a joke. Shadow, why are you doing an impression of Christian Bale’s Batman? After hearing a few of lines from him in this game, I kept thinking “who does this remind me of?” Then I saw an advert for The Dark Knight Rises and it suddenly struck me. Shadow in this game sounds a lot like Batman from the new movies! It shouldn’t matter, but each time he speaks I just laugh and say “stop impersonating Batman!”
Either way, a lot of the dialogue choices for the characters simply don’t fit, or get old very quickly. Whilst it’s done because it’s easier and cost saving, over time it gets really annoying.
When it comes to multiplayer, there is a lot to offer you here. You have the typical online modes from the first game, as you’d expect in a game like this. However, by pushing a button on another controller… OH MY! SPLIT SCREEN! I’ve not seen you for years! Wait, I can do this with another two controllers… WHAT! FOUR PLAYER SPLIT SCREEN!? I thought… I thought you were dead?
Yes four player split screen is possible in this game. This can add a lot to the single player experience, so long as you have four controllers, and not of an age where asking three friends over to play video games will have you relegated down the social ladder. The offer to let you play the single player modes with other players is welcome, not to mention fun… or at least I would imagine it is if I had anyone to play local co-op with… foreveralone.jpg.
Unfortunately though, this co-op doesn’t apply online. So you’re relegated to always playing against your online friends instead of playing with them.
There is however a problem with this local co-op. If you don’t have people to join you locally, it makes the single player mode an extremely lonely experience. Remember at the start when I mentioned how the premise of the game was simple, and how this could be a problem? Well, once you master Hard difficulty, which I did long before I unlocked Expert difficulty, the single player mode becomes extremely boring. You’re effectively doing the same missions over and over again, just on different tracks.
But if I had friends here playing with me, chances are I wouldn’t be as fed up with the missions as I am. However, once I unlocked Expert mode, the joy I was having when I started quickly returned, mainly because it was a harder game to beat. Maybe the solution here is to have Expert mode unlocked from the start?
At times it almost feels like the game was designed to be played by a group of people over a single person. There’s even two trophies/achievements which can’t be attained without local co-op. There is a joke and a favorite put down which goes, “Why is Sonic in a car?” Yes we get it, Sonic can run really fast; aside from it being fair and all, a running character would look amazingly out of place. Maybe we’re asking that for the wrong reason. Why are they in cars? No really, why?
In the single player mode, World Tour becomes very boring once you master Hard difficulty and have yet to unlock Expert mode. You’re just replaying the same missions over and over so you can unlock game content. Maybe if there was a wider goal here – I don’t want to instantly suggest a story mode, but it would have given the single player audience something to play for other than “the unlocks”.
What if the bad guy from Comix Zone is trying to destroy the Sega universe, which is why the heroes came together to fight him? Don’t ask me why they’d be in cars to do this, I’ve not thought that far ahead yet. Or, like I suggested earlier, villain boss fights at the end of the Cups? Just something to give the single player a reason to keep going. However, if I had friends with me, this wouldn’t cross my mind; I’d be having fun with them. If only there was online co-op so it wouldn’t be as lonely a place. Online co-op for this mode would have been extremely welcome.
The actual online multiplayer itself is fun. Very fun in fact, if not a bit too simple. Selecting matchmaking, I found myself… in a lobby filled with people who had picked the characters I wanted to play as. Quitting and selecting matchmaking again… I found the same group of people. This happened another two times before I gave up and settled with playing as someone I don’t particularly care for.
Could we not have a system where we can select games that have open slots? Another problem I have with this is that no two players can be the same. Whilst I like this idea in theory – it makes more variety for races – the problem is that when you pick a character, that character is locked to you until you select a different one.
There are two big problems with this. When you start the game, you only have a small selection of characters to play as, earning XP for each character to unlock different mods for them. So you may end up playing in an online race as someone you don’t care for, or that you haven’t unlocked race mods with. The second problem? Nobody ever changes character! And why would you if you have who you want to play as? Unless you’re forced to change character, you’re never going to switch.
Online also has another really annoying problem: the cool down time between races. It takes so long after a race ends for another to start. Not just with the track voting time, but also, when you return to the character lobby before the race to start, there’s a 60 second timer that can’t be skipped. Really? If everybody is ready to start the race, why can’t we start the race?
Aside from these problems though, there is virtually no lag at all in the online. Whilst there are some frame rate slowdown issues which are to be expected (and for some reason even lightly crashing into your opponent causes both racers to spiral off like rockets in opposite directions), the online does work and is extremely fun to play. It’s worth getting a group of players together and just racing. There are a number of other modes like Capture the Chao and Battle, which again are both extremely fun.
Another mode in the game that I should mention would be the Time Trial mode, where you can race against Sumo Digital’s staff in the form of staff ghosts. If you think you’re a master at this game, play Time Attack and be put firmly in your place. The Expert ghost is the hardest challenge this game has to offer – it’ll make you realize that you have to play the game differently to how you have before. Not only that, it’s a great learning mode for you. Having a hard time on a particular stage? Play the time trial and watch what the ghost does; you’ll suddenly realize just how useful the risk boost actually is.
Depending on where you live, this game will have been out for just over a week (officially). Chances are you already have an idea as to whether the game is for you or not. But if you’re one of the few who are still undecided, this is one extremely well made game. From a little building in Sheffield comes one of the best games of the year and one of the best racing games in a long time.
During this review I’ve tried not to describe this game as a “kart racer”. Why? Because in many ways it doesn’t look, play or feel like one. It feels like it’s outside of the “kart racer” genre, the negative expectations one has when a game is described as a kart racer, this one destroys that notion. Is there a genre called “arcade racer”? Maybe it fits there, and it’s a very good one at that.
Whilst there are some annoyances that do grate on you which I’ve highlighted here – single player can feel very lonely and boring until you unlock expert mode, and the character roster feels like it should have a lot more characters from other franchises than it currently has – this is a very fast paced and exceptionally fun racing game. Sumo’s take on Sega’s worlds are fantastic, combined with Richard Jacques’ pumping soundtrack and a game which is very well made. What started off as being a tribute to Sega’s classic games has probably become a classic in itself.
Often, when a series is outsourced to another company, they’ll say “we understand this franchise” and give you something that just blatantly proves they didn’t *glances over at his copy of Sonic Chronicles* Well, let’s put it like this. To be this good takes ages; to make a game this good, takes Sumo.
+ Track design
+ Attention to detail
+ The final unlockable character
+ The music
+ Playing online with friends
– The disappointing overall roster
– The repetition in World Tour mode
– The character dialogue
– Waiting for online games to start
– Feeling lonely in single player
*Review based on the PS3 version of the game*