Mario Kart’s New Competition
The so-called kart racing genre is by nature a raucously fun style of gameplay. So it almost seems like faint praise to call Sonic & SEGA All-Stars a very fun kart racer. However, not all arcade racers are created equal, and even when considered next to greats like Mario Kart DS, this is one of the very best handheld kart racers we’ve played in years.
The key to making an incredible game of this type comes from several key features: track design, interesting racer personalities, speed, and a pitch-perfect balancing of items and power-ups. On every count, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (S&SASR) exceeds previous standards, and even one-ups Mario Kart DS in some ways.
Perhaps the best thing that S&SASR does is its level design. Its courses are based on classic SEGA games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Samba De Amigo, and even House of the Dead. But, these tracks are more than just fan-service; almost every level is uniquely designed, with different challenges, and drastically different layouts. The Sonic and Samba De Amigo levels are particularly awesome, and anybody remotely familiar with these series will recognize the influence; though, my personal favorite was the House of the Dead level with its errant zombies wandering about throughout the course.
Some were skeptical that the strength of the SEGA brand wouldn’t be enough to carry this kind of game on its shoulders. After all, we’re used to seeing Nintendo’s games chock-full of classic game characters, and there’s no way SEGA could compete with the sheer star power of Mario Kart. However, that doesn’t mean that the game’s characters aren’t awesome. It’s really kind of a thrill to ride down the track as Samba De Amigo, flanked on both sides by Shenmue protagonist Ryo Hazuki, and Ulala from Space Channel 5.
What makes playing these characters even better is that they each have a very unique kart to race in. This isn’t like Mario Kart where everyone has a kart that’s relatively similar to the others. For instance, Shadow the Hedgehog and Ryo Hazuki ride awesome motorcycles, Tails flies a plane, and Ulala has a floating spaceship. They’re all tethered to the ground, and most drive similarly, but there are subtle differences, and it’s all about displaying the personality of the character.
Also great is the soundtrack used throughout the game. This aspect hardly takes center stage (though who would expect it to?) but there are some genuinely entertaining songs found throughout.
However, all of the branding and presentation in the world couldn’t save a junky game, and it’s in its rock solid gameplay that S&SASR seals the deal. After all, the appeal of racing as Sonic would wear off pretty quickly if he was frustrating to control or kept getting bombarded with imbalanced power-ups.
The game itself is structured much the same as a classic kart racer. There are a series of championship cups that consist of four races. You win points according to your placement in the race, and the best combined score after all of the races are complete, wins the cup.
There is also a surprisingly long set of challenge missions which add a ton of value to the overall package. There are 55 total missions which feature an ever-changing cast of characters taking on challenges like completing a race while almost constantly powersliding or shooting a bunch of a certain type of enemy on the track on your way to the finish line.
Everything is based on the central racing mechanic of the main game though, so it’s a good thing that it’s as fun as it is. Similar to most kart racers, there are capsules strewn throughout the level that can be driven through to obtain items. There are some standard items like homing missiles, but also some more unique ones like a rainbow that obscures an unlucky driver’s vision and a remote controlled missile that detonates on your command.
The placement of all of these items is practically perfect as well. The amount of offensive weapons seems to ramp up during the last lap, which always ensures that the ending of each race is intense and close. Also, the type of item you get is dependent on your position in the race. Since it wouldn’t make much sense to give homing missiles to players in first place, instead they’re mostly given shields to protect them from the onslaught of offensive weapons coming from the rear.
To add an extra layer of skill to the game, Sumo Digital has included a boost ability that is obtained only after powersliding for a set amount of time. Skilled players will be able to gain an edge on the competition by taking perfect turns and emerging from the corner with an extra burst of speed. When used effectively, it can be the difference in a close race, or it can lead to a blowout victory. When ignored, it doesn’t make that much of a difference; you can still be competitive just by taking tight corners and making some well-placed missile shots.
Rounding out the package is a fairly robust set of multiplayer options. There is a standard multi-cart local multiplayer mode and Wi-Fi multiplayer as well. Plus, there is even an option for single-cart download play that lets two people play with just one game cartridge downloaded to a second DS, which was common early in the DS’s life span, but has fallen by the wayside in recent years.
We were pleasantly surprised by this game. SEGA has tried before to emulate Nintendo’s success with its character-mélange games with mixed results, but this game is nothing but fun. If you’re looking for an enjoyable, frantic arcade-combat-racer then look no further because this is one of the best you’ll find on any handheld.
Ultimately, this may be the definitive version of this game. It may not sport the flashy visuals of its console counterparts, but it sports much of the same great gameplay plus it fits in your pocket and can be bought for nearly half the price of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Some of the levels are beautiful, and all of the racers are detailed and easily recognizable. The SEGA brand looks great on the DS. 4.5 Control
The controls are very simple, and work pretty well. The touch screen is even used well, with Astro Boy’s many powers lined up for simple one-touch access. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There’s a nice soundtrack that puts a little bit of funk in these races, and all of the sound effects are right where they should be. 4.6
There is a good amount of single-player content here, including multiple difficulty levels, and a large number of challenge missions. The inclusion of Wi-Fi multiplayer and single-cart game sharing rounds out this package as a must have for kart racing fans.
4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.