Review: Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing

It's been a sort of chaotic week. Between trying to find a job, writing, and getting sick, getting things done this week has been a little less streamlined then normal. But regardless, one of the great things that has occurred this week is the return of my freshly repaired X-box 360, which has allowed me to reopen a few games I haven't touched in a while, one of which I had deliberately walked away from just to see how it held up over time before I wrote its review. Now, after some extensive secondary play months after its release, I give you my results.

Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing
Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sega
Type: Kart Racing
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Platform: X-box 360 (Reviewed), PS3, Wii, DS, PC
Price on Amazon: $27.99 (Console), $19.99 (DS)
Similar Games: Mario Kart, Modnation Racers
Demo Available: Yes

Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing (SaSASR) was released in February of 2010 to some heated review scores and opinions, primarily because of its source genre. SaSASR is a Kart racer, a genre pioneered by Sega's one-time rival Nintendo with their classic and still selling Mario Kart series. The concept behind a kart racer is straightforward: Take some mascot characters, put them in go-carts with a large supply of oddball weaponry and and then let them loose on a crazy track to battle each other for the number one place. In many ways, kart racers are standard for any racer, but the environments are generally brighter, the characters reveal in ridiculous motions and weaponry (like Mario Kart's famous banana peels or green turtle shells) and easy to pick up gameplay.

Sega's entry into the kart foray immediately drew ire however because Mario has long been the undisputed king of Kart racers and many gaming journalists declared SaSASR to simply be Sega's attempts to mimic the Nintendo champions skills, going so far as the piecemeal their reviews into direct comparisons with Mario Kart's latest offering (Mario Kart Wii). It went so far that I even voiced an article concerning my worries that many game reviewers were simply giving Mario Kart too much credit and refusing to meet the game on it's own merits. However, I realized that my own opinions may have been tainted (as well as those who played with me) by the fact that SaSASR was a new title, so I decided to give the game some time to stew in my mind to see how much I really enjoyed it.

When it comes down to it, there really isn't a way to avoid comparing it to Mario Kart. After all, Mario Kart defined the genre. Much like many early strategy games were unavoidably compared to Command and Conquer, Mario Kart has remained a solid definition of what the genre is. Additionally, Kart Racers are not known for being flexible in several regards, as many aspects of the genre are also its strongest points, making it hard to manipulate them with too much flexibility, as the game may not be a Kart Racer if too much is modified. Especially true when most people think 'Mario Kart' upon seeing the genre. For this reason, you are going to see some comparisons to Mario Kart, usually in the form of genre specific cues, over the course of this review.

As a Kart Racer, SaSASR holds true to the basic tenants of its style. Players are given a wide variety of different characters selected from decades of Sega history as well as a wide variety of racing/battle modes and tracks based on popular Sega properties. Many of the modes and styles will be familiar to those that have played previous Kart Racing titles, such as Grand Prix Cups (of which there are six), time trials, or the standard battle mode. SaSASR also includes a few less then familiar modes, such as Emerald Hunt, Chao Hunt, or Knockout. All of these modes (save Grand Prix and Time Trail) are available for split screen multiplayer. Many of the new battle modes that we played in our time with the game were incredibly fun and lead to some heated competition, such as the aforementioned Emerald Hunt, which scatters the battle stages with 7 Chaos Emeralds. The players have 2 minutes to collect the emeralds and score points, the more emeralds they hold, the more points they gain as each second ticks by. However, the more emeralds you have, the slower you move, making you a more and more bloated target as you collect more and more emeralds. It only takes a single hit to scatter your hard earned emeralds all over the course, so the more emeralds you have, the larger chance that other players will team up on you and try to steal your emeralds.

Races themselves are fairly typical for the Kart Racing genre, but feature numerous small tweaks that accelerate the gameplay and balance it out quite well. For example, unlike Mario Kart which punishes players that fly off of the course with a long several second respawn, SaSASR cuts out with a brief transition and respawns the player back on the track in a single second, already accelerated to half speed. This eases the pain of flying off of the track or missing a jump, as even one second can make a large difference in SaSASR.

Much like many other racers these days, SaSASR rewards players for drifting and performing aerial tricks with boosts, and it quickly becomes clear that unless you drift and boost constantly, you'll find yourself at the back of the pack extremely quickly. SaSASR does put a downside to drifting to make it an appropriate risk. hit an object or another player and you could spin out, losing your speed. Even worse, get hit with a weapon, and you'll come out of your spin drifting the wrong way...usually right into a wall. Get in the back of the pack and a few well timed missiles could make all the difference. Which brings me to one area where Sega's offering eradicates Nintendo's: Weapons and rubber banding.

Similar to Mario Kart, SaSASR tailors the random chance of weaponry based on what position you're in. If you're in first place, you have a much higher chance of getting Shields, Cone Mines and single shot KO Gloves. Likewise, if you're in last place, you have a much higher chance of getting triple shot weapons, Boosts, and the more offensively powerful weaponry. However, unlike Nintendo's aggressively and overpoweringly cheap insta-hit weapons of which there are more and more with each release (such as the Blue Shell, which instantly seeks out and annihilates the person in first place without fail and is usually thrown out at least 2 or 3 times a race, or auto-driving moves such as The Bullet, which moves a player up a set number of positions, running over everyone on the way), SaSASR's weapons are tweaked to rely a bit more on player skill and use, not AI guidance. Even though many of the items are similar in scope, such as the KO Glove, which not only acts like a Green Turtle Shell, bouncing down the course with abandon but is also colored green so most players instantly associate it's function, they retain differences. The KO Glove is nearly three times as fast as a Green Shell when fired, making it a far more useful weapon, and ricochets so rapidly it can be quite effective for both offense and defense. The blue colored Mega Missile, on the other hand, flies down the middle of the track (running over anyone foolish enough to be in the center, watch the alert indicator!), but does not detonate until the player who fired it presses the item button a second time, making it a powerful weapon, but one that relies again on player skill. It's also hilarious fun in split screen, as everyone else hears the launch and immediately panics when you tell them who you're going to blast with it.

SaSASR also has All Star moves, character specific special moves you only receive after taking a heavy beating. While some of these moves are "auto drive", they only last for a short amount of time and often rely on player interaction, be it pressing A to boost or aiming the effect at other players, such as one duo who fly a blimp down the track and let the player toss bombs down below at opponents. I must make a note here that these are some of my favorite moments of the game, as not only do many of these events throw back to the characters origins, some of them are downright hilarious, such as Amigo's Congo Line, a move so amazingly hilarious it has to be seen.

I also mentioned rubber banding, a practice in which players are given a top speed increase based on how many players are in front of them in order to keep players together and competitive. Well, unlike Marion Kart, in SaSASR you can turn it off for some straight skill based play. While there are a lot more tweaks to the standard formula, they are far to numerous to go into detail with here, suffice to say that they are all beneficial to the formula, and future Kart Racers may want to look into emulating Sumo's choices.

The tracks available are well designed and quite fun. Each one draws from a certain series from Sega's long history, and you'll find yourself racing through everything from massive pinball machines and roulette tables to volcanic forts and zombie-infested graveyards. At the beginning of the game the majority of the tracks, characters and songs are locked, but within a few quick runs in any mode and you'll have earned plenty to buy new stuff with. I must say at this point however that one of the lows of the game was that there were only three battle stages and although good stages, with so many fun battle modes the game could have used far, far more.

Control of SaSASR is fairly straightforward with only a few buttons used outside of steering. One for go, one for drifting/tricks, and one for items. However, the game extends its life by dividing each of the characters into various classes of vehicles as well as weight, each of which controls, drifts and races in a different manner. Motorcycles can turn on a dime but lack speed, while flying karts are unaffected by terrain but fail to catch air on small jumps, limiting the boost they get from tricks. Since the vehicles all drift and turn differently, switching from one style to another can be daunting at first, but soon new players will find a style they are comfortable with.

Graphics and Sound
SaSASR's graphics are crisp, clean and sharp, with lots of bright colors (excepting the Curien mansion tracks) and plenty to see. In fact, some of the tracks (especially anything from Sambo de Amigo) are so bright and colorful you may find yourself tilting back from the screen. Both characters and the environment are highly animated, although this can be overwhelming, as several of those that played with me expressed annoyance at the constant antics of the characters, finding their waves, taunts and cheers distracting, especially in split screen, where they could sometimes obscure something vital. There is also a trace amount of framerate drop in particularly frantic split screen races, but of all the people I played with, only myself and one other noticed it, so odds are most won't notice the drop. The Sunshine Engine that Sumo uses for SaSASR does a fine job keeping the action moving and displaying a very clean and nice graphical world, with all sorts of things to look out and a sheer massive volume of reflections off of everything from water to the carts themselves.

Soundwise SaSASR has it's high points and it's low points. The announcers voice is gratingly annoying, and despite his use as to what occurs during the races, we all cheered when we realized we could turn him off. However, the music is something special. Unlike other Kart Racers, SaSASR features a huge supply of music, remastered and remixed from titles old and new across Sega's long history, which the player can select before the race starts or just let run on random. You'll quickly find favorites old and new as you race, and the large supply of music keeps anything from becoming too repetitive. Meanwhile, while most sound effects aren't really a concern, special mention must be made of the short character theme clips that play when an All Star move is used, which much like the rest of the music, tend to bring grins to the faces of those who grew up playing the source material.

Even after a several month hiatus, I've found SaSASR to be just as fun as it was when I first got my hands on the title. The gameplay is solid catchy and fun, the tracks are well designed and a blast to play through and the game as whole, despite having a few issues here and there (one character is broken, no way around it) it does nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the game. If you and your circle of friends and family love Mario Kart and other kart racers, you really should pick up SaSASR, its a solid title that should not be missed.

  • Lots of Classic appeal
  • Carefully tweaked weapons put a greater emphasis on skill then other Kart Racers
  • Great graphics
  • Wide assortment of characters and tracks
  • Multiplayer modes are a blast
  • Loads of extra missions and replay
  • Some balance issues (Bike characters, Shadow in particular, are slightly better)
  • Limited Online Multiplayer (Only race, no All Star moves)
  • Unlocking is easy...too easy, most players can unlock most everything in about six hours of play
Verdict: Buy

Like most titles, SaSASR does have DLC available for purchase, in this case an extra track (Death Egg Hanger) and character (Metal Sonic) being the primary items of interest. Is it worth it? Well, that depends, as many find both the track and character difficult. In this case I would say it is a solid case of "your mileage may vary". If you have $7 laying around you can give it a shot, but you may or may not feel that it is worth it.


Viking ZX said...

NOTICE: For the next two weeks, I will be going on a brief Hiatus while I am out of town. However, I will be back with a large and special article when I return, so look forward to it!

Viking ZX said...

Hiatus extended for another two weeks. Sorry everyone! It'll be worth it, I promise!