The Stars Shine Bright
I think it is fairly safe to say that Sonic has been having a rough time on home consoles since his golden 16-bit days. Sure, he’s had some shining moments such as Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 for the Dreamcast and a few successful crossovers with his old nemesis Mario, but for the most part Sonic fans haven’t had much to get excited about. For this reason, it wouldn’t be hard to overlook Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (SSASR) before playing it, labeling it as just another terrible game with Sonic’s name pasted on the front in order to sell more copies to fans who desperately want this beloved character to return to his glory days. Of course, preemptively dismissing this title would be a huge mistake, since it is easily one of the best Sonic titles to be released in the last decade.
Now before Nintendo fans cry out that this game is just a blatant rip off of Mario Kart… well, I guess it somewhat is. To be quite honest, almost all of the elements that make Mario Kart the series that it is are also present in SSASR. However, while this may be the case, there are a few good reasons why this is really a moot point. Firstly, I’ve not seen another title that was attempting to reproduce the Mario Kart formula do as good a job as SUMO Digital has done with SSASR. Secondly, this is a complete non-issue for PS3 and Xbox 360 owners who may not even have a Wii, leaving them without the option of playing Mario Kart. Lastly, there’s something to be said about being able to play SSASR in true HD, which just isn’t a possibility in Mario Kart given the Wii’s own technical limitations. With all that being said, I’m not insinuating that SSASR is somehow better than Mario Kart, just that it is a well done game in the same genre that also deserves to be played and enjoyed.
As previously stated, the formula for this game should sound pretty familiar to anyone who has played a Mario Kart before. Players will choose a driver from a cast of recognizable and historic video game characters, then battle their way through a plethora of races that require as much luck and combat as they do driving skills. The characters that SEGA offers up in SSASR are pretty diverse, ranging from oldies like the Bonanza Bros. to more recent additions like AiAi from Super Monkey Ball. While some of these characters, like Sonic and his friends, you would expect going in, there are also a few really odd choices like Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue and Akira and Jackie (in the same car) from Virtua Fighter thrown in to round out the crew.
After making this difficult decision, it’s time to finally hit the track and race. The mechanics of racing are actually quite simple, yet work incredibly well for the most part. Just steering around obstacles and bends won’t be enough to place well in a race. Instead, you’ll need to master the art of drifting in order to charge up turbo boosts. The longer you can hold a drift, the more turbo you’ll accumulate, which will drastically speed up your vehicle once you finally stop drifting. Players can also get some extra turbo by performing stunts after going airborne from a jump by pressing the same button they use to drift. In fact, if you’re doing it right, you’ll spend almost as much time pressing and holding the drift/stunt button as you will the gas button.
Luckily, this game’s twenty four tracks have all been very well designed for both the speed and drifting that placing in these races requires. Here you’ll find an abundance of tracks ranging from ones taken from levels in previous Sonic titles to Jet Set Radio and House of the Dead-inspired courses. My personal favorite track came from Samba de Amigo and had a giant floating head watching over the race. Many of the tracks are also very visually appealing and often rather busy, with things like whales jumping over the road, poker chips landing on the course, and traffic to navigate around. Some of the more demanding tracks may call for a bit more memorization or precision timing and steering than others, but, thankfully, at no point did they ever really feel cheap or unfair.
Your ability to use weapons will also make up a large part in what place you wind up finishing a race. Much like in Mario Kart, power-up bubbles (not question mark boxes) litter every race track and will award you with a random item to use. These range anywhere from concussive horns that blast any nearby rivals to heat-seeking rockets that will chase down whoever is directly in front of you. For the most part, all of these are just SEGA versions of the weapons you’d find in Mario Kart, with the exception that there is no cheap blue shell to be had. In its stead is each character’s All-Star move, which you’re more likely to find the worse you’re doing in a race. These timed items rarely come up, but when they do they can certainly help you catch up with the pack. Some of the more memorable All-Star moves include Billy Hatcher’s vehicle turning into a giant egg, which he then uses to roll over rivals, and Akira/Jacky’s move, which has Akira jump out of the car to give it a powerful shoulder check, sending the vehicle into a super turbo boost.
Since the races are actually quite fun, it’s good to see that there are a ton of modes in which to enjoy them. You’ll have the option in single-player to take on Time Trials, Single Races, Grand Prix, and Missions. The sixty plus missions are actually rather good, throwing various objectives at you that not only introduce you to the game’s many characters and courses, but also go a long way to teaching you how to better play the game. Tasks such as shooting down targets while racing, collecting coins that just so happen to be placed on the good driving lines on courses, and drifting challenges, to name a few, are good ways to polish up your skills while also still managing to be fun. However, once you’ve mastered the single-player experience, you’ll also be able to enjoy a decent multiplayer offering in split-screen as well as online flavors. Unfortunately, the split-screen modes such as King of the Hill and Capture the Chao aren’t available for online play. Instead, the only thing you can play online are straight up races, which isn’t all that bad considering that this is easily the best part of the game.
In the end, SSASR is a great alternative for those who’ve already clocked a ton of time racing through the Mushroom Kingdom or those who simply don’t have that option. With its tight controls, slick HD visuals, well designed courses, gamut of both obscure and popular characters, and enjoyable modes, SSASR is simply a wonderful racing experience. It’s been a long dry spell for the Sonic fans craving a console game involving the character that didn’t disappoint, but thankfully, that wait has finally come to an end.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
The cars, characters, and courses all look great in HD and have a distinct SEGA flair to them. 4.2 Control
While some vehicles understandably handle better than others, you’ll always feel like you’re in control. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Character sounds can get annoying eventually, but the soundtrack is full to the brim with classic SEGA goodness, including a host of unlockable classic tracks. 4.2 Play Value
There’s plenty to do when playing alone or in split-screen multiplayer. The only real downside is that the online multiplayer is restricted to just racing. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.