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Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (PlayStation 3) artwork

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (PlayStation 3) review


"Tracks are more than eye candy. You'll find compelling venues that accommodate an absolutely essential drift system. Your opponents will generally spend more time drifting and boosting than they do driving in a straight line. When you try to mimic their vehicular wizardry, you'll realize just how ingeniously the environments were developed. Ramps, fences, wide bends and hairpin turns mean that the fastest way through nearly any situation is to slide into an expert drift, then use the resulting energy to boost through a curve or over a ramp... where it's possible to launch into acrobatics that charge you up for a new boost once your wheels touch the ground."



Super Mario Kart remains one of my favorite games of all time. I can play it at a moment's notice, have a total blast and keep doing so long after everyone else in the vicinity is ready to head to bed or work or whatever it is that normal people do. While I've enjoyed the many kart racing titles that followed, none of them have lived up to the original in my eyes. I began to believe that I was destined to never find a game that even came close to rivaling the beauty of plumbers, dinosaurs and turtles tooling around the Mushroom Kingdom that I remembered from my youth, not even one produced by Nintendo itself. Then SEGA released Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing.

Developed by Sumo Digital, the new title brings together many of the best elements from the stellar first two titles in the Mario Kart series, mixes them liberally with elements from Mario Kart Wii and carelessly throws everything into a pile of cherished mascots that I only just barely recognize from old gaming magazines and my collection of Dreamcast games. That all sounds like the perfect recipe for a competent but ultimately forgettable "me too" title, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that there are moments when this unassuming new title almost matches the best that Mario Kart has to offer. Almost.

The good news is that Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing features 20 familiar racers and 24 tracks to match, with most of them taken from Sonic Adventure and the like. There's also a selection of other familiar faces, including B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, Ulala from Space Channel 5 and even some lesser-known characters from titles such as Shenmue, ChuChu Rocket, Bonanza Bros. and House of the Dead. Each character comes with his or her style firmly in place, by way of special moves specific to individual racers, plus there's familiar music and the environments are modeled after settings from games like Jet Set Radio and Billy Hatcher & The Giant Egg. For the truly nostalgic SEGA fan, I'd imagine that the available selection of racers could be one of the most exciting things about the whole package. That's the good news.

The better news is that you can have a great time even if you don't care about any of that. Tracks are more than eye candy. You'll find compelling venues that accommodate an absolutely essential drift system. Your opponents will generally spend more time drifting and boosting than they do driving in a straight line. When you try to mimic their vehicular wizardry, you'll realize just how ingeniously the environments were developed. Ramps, fences, wide bends and hairpin turns mean that the fastest way through nearly any situation is to slide into an expert drift, then use the resulting energy to boost through a curve or over a ramp... where it's possible to launch into acrobatics that charge you up for a new boost once your wheels touch the ground. The challenge of chaining together boosts and drifts adds a welcome wrinkle to tracks that engage you even when they're navigated the old-fashioned way. The system ensures that players of all skill levels can truly find a challenge.

A variety of powerful weapons adds an extra layer of complexity to all of that, though you may get the feeling that there's too much of a good thing. This isn't Mario Kart, but you'll sometimes believe that it could have been. The effects of firing a red rocket aren't terribly different from hefting a red shell at a bullish turtle, after all. Globs of ink don't trickle down the screen as they would have in Mario Kart Wii, sure, but here you'll find your view obstructed by rainbow-colored hues that can make a tense situation downright nightmarish. Not every move available here is a carbon copy, though; there's no unwelcome equivalent to the spiked blue shells that hone in on the race leader, plus Sumo Digital included a neat new attack that flips everything upside-down for unfortunate drivers who fall victim to it (while reversing controls at the same time). I don't recall seeing anything like that in Mario Kart.

Track and weapon complexity can take awhile to sink in, but you'll likely find yourself immediately impressed by the character-specific attacks. Each racer possesses an attack that matches his or her own style, whether you're bowling down enemies as AiAi and friends (encased in ball-shaped shields, of course), squashing everyone with Amy's over-sized hammer or barreling down the track as B.D. Joe with a series of ridiculous boosts that send rival racers flying every which way but forward. Clearly, the people at Sumo Digital are intimate with their source material and they know how to translate that into good gameplay... most of the time.

I say "most of the time" because things do occasionally get a bit muddled. I'm a huge fan of those special moves that I just mentioned, for instance, but it can feel a bit cheap when you can count on seeing the computer use them two or three times a race (probably screwing you over in the process, unless you weren't running with the pack of racers who were battling over the lead position). On the highest difficulty setting, securing a first-place finish can seem nearly impossible, especially on the last three cups, because you can find yourself inundated with unavoidable special attacks that somehow manage to strike just before you cross the finish line and thus permit your adversaries (who always seem to be just behind you thanks to brutal rubber-band AI) to pass you at the most crucial moment. I've found myself in eighth place on occasion and still the other drivers were banding together to pelt me with special attacks. It feels a bit ridiculous sometimes.

Any problems that I have with the occasional cheapness disappear the minute I find someone willing to play the game with me, though, because Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing features some of the best multi-player potential that you'll ever find in a PS3 release. There's split-screen action if you want it, for up to four local players, or you can head online and compete either with trusted friends or with the Internet population at large. The latter option guarantees stiff competition and will likely keep you busy for hours if you're ready to put up with occasionally inept matchmaking and irritating delays between races.

I could write hundreds or even thousands more words detailing features that Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing has that I wound up loving, and just as many comparing those to what the Mario Kart games offer, but I don't suppose that there's much point. The main thing you need to know is that if you're willing to overlook some flaws rather typical of the genre, this is an exceptional kart racer that offers tremendous value whether you take it online or just play locally with a few buddies. You'll probably be able to unlock everything in less than 10 hours of play and maybe even master most of the tracks within that same time frame, but the fun that comes from racing with your friends doesn't have to end until you're ready for it to.

There's a new game in town, Mario Kart. It's not yet as good as you, but you'd better watch your back if you want to remain king of the heap!

Rating: 8/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 04, 2010)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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Feedback

If you enjoyed this Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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zippdementia posted March 04, 2010:

Great review, Jason. Got me excited about a game I would never expect to be excited about.
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pickhut posted March 04, 2010:

Not one mention of Alex Kidd?

You are dead to me.

Dead!
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JANUS2 posted March 04, 2010:

I agree with Zipp. I'd written this game off as another waste of space from Sega, so it was interesting to read someone write so convincingly about why it's worth a shot.
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honestgamer posted March 04, 2010:

Thanks for reading and commenting, guys! I was pretty happy with how this came out, and with how the game came out (as you read). I've been playing it a lot lately for an assignment and it remains entertaining.

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