Since some higher-up boffin got the idea of sticking their mascot in a Kart for a certain Super Nintendo game, it seems that every major character or franchise with appeal to the younger crowd has tried their hand at a dash around the track; be it Digimon, MySims, Bomberman, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Chocobo, and even, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Mortal Kombat. Mario’s rival-turned-sports-buddy has also tried his shoes at a racer too, in Sonic Drift on Game Gear, but judging by the lack of said series in the modern day you can guess how that one turned out. Never one to let an unsuccessful concept deter them, however, SEGA are giving it another go, this time with a multitude of franchise representatives alongside their main money-maker. So then, how does Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing fare on Nintendo’s Dual Screen wonder?
It goes without saying that story is a completely minor part of this game, so minor to the point of being non-existent; for whatever reason that even Sherlock would have trouble deducing, Sonic the Hedgehog has taken to the track in his own car racer to take on other big names from SEGA’s illustrious past. Keeping in line with the previous 'All-Star' games, retro-heads will be delighted to see Alex Kidd rear his over-sized noggin again, and the many who were wanting a trilogy conclusion will be heartened to see SEGA haven’t forgotten Shenmue with Ryo’s inclusion. Along with Ulala from Space Channel 5, the mice guys from Chu Chu Rocket, Amigo from Samba de Amigo, and many others too numerous to name, are Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Virtua Fighter, Billy Hatcher & The Giant Egg, House of the Dead. It’s quite an extensive list, and one any SEGA fan will drool over.
In fact, there is such a large list of franchises embedded in one game, that it is a shame to see how such a high number of them see little viewing aside from their main characters. Understandable that the Sonic stable would see the most headlining time, given that it is SEGA’s most popular and profitable one, and is one half of the game’s title, but it feels like a wasted opportunity when a third of the available courses and music tracks are taken directly from the Sonic Universe, and the remaining number are only from a few other franchises. Granted, Jet Set Radio, Billy Hatcher, House of the Dead, Super Monkey Ball and Samba de Amigo are very good choices for track variation, but given the extensive air-time of Sonic games in general, and the comparative lack of the others in nowadays' games, it would have been a big boost to the game’s identity to allow all of SEGA’s history a chance to shine, instead of just allowing the game to become a Sonic racer with extra characters.
Getting down to the racing itself though, Sumo Digital have completely nailed the feel of a great kart game. Unique tracks, themed weapons, and the hectic flurry that results from them. There is an unclear weight class between characters, so each handles slightly differently, and each rides a vehicle based on their subsequent personality, so Shadow takes to the track on his infamous motorcycle, Eggman has his trademark machinery, AiAi uses a Banana-shaped Kart, and B.D Joe from Crazy Taxi makes use of his, erm, Taxi. For authentic karting feel, it is difficult to criticise Sumo on this one; all racers handle fine, the drift mechanic, given a lot of use due to track designs, works just fine, and even the trick mechanic, whilst somewhat unnecessary at first, adds an extra bit of flair to the game. The visuals themselves are also of high quality, with 3D surpassing even that of Nintendo’s mascot DS racer.
Not to say that Sumo’s design is flawless, however, since when seeing courses from a broad standpoint, it would be easy to nitpick. Despite the low number of franchise representations, there is a wide range of different course designs to enjoy racing in, from the lush Green Hills and Casino stylings of Sonic lore, to the modern suburbs of Shibuya and the colour explosion of Samba Studio, and in this regard, in terms of the background design and theme there is little to complain about. What is a little off, though, is how the track runs itself. In just about every course, each one is more or less a regular run on a standard looping track, with a few exceptions like Sonic’s loops, or Monkey Ball’s higher platforms. Over repeat play, even with decent background variation, racing will get boring. A few added elements to spice things up a little; say like a portal opportunity into the Special Zone for a shortcut chance, or some means to shooting obstructing zombies to earn a speed boost, would have worked wonders. As they are, the tracks on offer still hold entertainment value and are of good variation, but there is still a feeling that more could have been done.
The music on offer here is in the same boat really; that is not to dismiss its quality, as there are some excellent tunes here (including a version of ‘Can You Feel The Sunshine,’ minus lyrics that will please a lot of fans), but they are equally as limited to certain game representation. The weapons on offer are another good example of missed potential, as many of them, boxing glove and shield included, feel like generic additions to what could have otherwise been plucked out of SEGA's past. The High Speed Shoes, Mines, and view-obstructing Rainbow items do feel more original, but none more so than the All-Star item. Gaining one of these breaks out a character’s exclusive ability and theme music temporarily, such as Sonic’s Super Form, Billy’s Giant Egg, Amigo’s Conga Line, or Alex Kidd’s Helicopter, and it is these that draw out each character’s individuality; a shame then these items are rarely seen beyond last place. Still, weapons in general work well, and whilst Missiles can sometimes act a little too cheap, there is no Blue Shell alternative here.
The display for races echoes that of Mario Kart DS, with all the action on the top ccreen, and a handy map on the lower touch-screen. Like Mario’s offering, the game is completely button-based, with touch control relegated to menu use only; a wise decision given past attempts like Ridge Racer’s touch-controlled wheel. Visuals are bright, colourful, and crystal-clear, and the music is of a similar level of quality, albeit a little too reliant on repetitive voice samples.
Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing has a lot to keep players going. Aside from the six main cups, all of which have Easy, Medium and Difficult options attached, there is an online mode that offers a good race once you actually find opponents, outside of Friend Code-enabled buddy matches. Time Trials are here too, and in a nice touch, records are uploaded to the Internet’s leader-boards when you connect to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. A considerable bulk of the game for the single player lies in the Mission Mode, with a large amount of varied tasks to complete with separate characters, and finishing them yields Sega Miles points (also rewarded for completing cups), that you can spend on unlockable characters, race courses, and music tracks in the shop. Multiplayer is certainly not an after-thought here, as two DS owners can race with one copy of the game, and up to four can duke it out on the track with a copy each. Heck, even Rumble Pak support is thrown in, though suffice to say DSi owners will be missing out here (though having a DSi XL shaking in your hands would probably give you a stroke...), so while certain areas of All-Star Racing may feel too scaled back, Sumo Digital have done an admirable job of making a game that doesn’t cower in the shadow of the kart racer genre’s King.
Everything is where you would expect on the dual screens, and control is flawless. Some of SEGA’s franchises are given unfair priority over others, and the drift mechanic can be easily abused to the extent of 'snaking', but what is on offer here is of enjoyable quality.
Luscious 3D that never dips below a consistent frame-rate, even with anarchy happening on the track. Course backgrounds are striking and awe-inspiring, if let down by bland track design.
Some very good choices here for the backing tracks on stages, with considerably popular Sonic themes being the highlight, and All-Star moves bringing even more variety. Voices can grate after you hear ‘I’m Sonic! Sonic the Hedgehog!’ at the start of practically every race, but you get used to them.
There is a considerable amount to play through here; Online Modes, Multiplayer, Cups, Missions, Time Trials, and Unlockables to strive for, that will keep any die-hard racer busy for a sufficient amount of time.
Sumo Digital have managed to craft a 'Mascot Racer' that aside from numerous pitstops, manages to be a worthy alternative to Nintendo’s own high profile effort. Limited history showing and bland track creation let the team down, but what’s left is still a considerable option for both gamers new to SEGA lore and history buffs alike.
Nice stuff Shane, doesn't seem too bad!
Considering getting the Wii version myself, didn't even realise this was out!