Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Review

By Michael Thomsen - Posted Mar 08, 2010

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is a good--but not great--kart racer. It borrows all of its core mechanics and items from that other kart racing series, but something gets lost in the mix. It's a great work of fan service for the Sega faithful, and there's definitely some fun laps to be had, just don't expect the infectious staying power of that little Italian guy's ride.

The Pros
  • Great Visuals
  • Missions are fun
  • Unlockable characters are creative
The Cons
  • The racing is lackluster
  • Sharp turns can be hard to see
  • Track settings get repetitive
  • Creativity is mostly visual, not gameplay-focused

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is a good--but not great--kart racer. It borrows all of its core mechanics and items from that other kart racing series, but something gets lost in the mix. It’s a great work of fan service for the Sega faithful, and there’s definitely some fun laps to be had, just don’t expect the infectious staying power of that little Italian guy’s ride.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

There’s no way around it: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is a brazen clone of Mario Kart Wii, given a fresh and surreal coat of Sega paint. The gameplay is centered around powersliding for speed boosts, collecting attack items, and finding hidden shortcuts to scoot past the mascot b-team. Almost every item in All-Stars has an equivalent in Mario Kart: Green boxing gloves work like green shells, homing missiles have a counterpart in red shells, rainbows distort the screen like squid ink, swap banana peels with traffic cones, and Sonic’s red shoes give a mushroom-like speedburst. Sumo Digital has cleverly added an all-star item that’s unique to each character, which turns you invincible for ten seconds, gives you a speed boost, and lets you hurl projectiles and other racers. Basically, these are a bunch of personalized variations on the Bullet Bill powerup from Mario Kart.

However, All-Stars is a bit more focused on racing and less so on zany items. The rubber-banding AI doesn’t feel quite as severe, which puts an extra emphasis on memorizing tracks, finding lines, and sliding around corners at just the right angle. Once you know a track well, it’s possible to pop out in front of the pack and cruise to victory. The downside is that it can be really tough to make up ground when you’re in the back of the pack.  Racers recover from item attacks rather quickly. In some cases, I’d nail the racer ahead of me with a homing missile or boxing glove and would still be just as far behind them as I was before I used the item. Unless you’re really close to the racer in front of you, the effect of items is much less helpful in finishing first than a clean racing line.

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The track design is fantastically over the top, with settings drawn from Sonic, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio Future, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, and House of the Dead. The backgrounds have a remarkable amount of detail, and the tracks are filled with environmental flourishes. The detail comes at a cost to visibility though, as there are a lot of courses where it’s difficult to pick out turns from all of the visual noise on screen. This is especially irritating in some of the Monkey Ball stages which contain hard right angles and bottomless pits on either side. For how creative the backgrounds can be, the tracks themselves are relatively basic in concept. There are automated jumps here and there, and the occasional environmental obstacle like a giant casino chip or volcanic boulder. There’s little of the creativity in Mario Kart Wii, with its tactical conveyor belts, tracks that deform after each lap, half-pipes, and varying terrain speeds. The tracks are nice to look at, and it’s always fun to do a corkscrew, but once you’ve memorized the layout, things get old pretty quickly.

You Can’t Go Hoggin’ Without the Hog

While the core racing doesn’t offer any surprises, there’s a lot of variety and extra content in All-Stars. There’s a traditional Grand Prix Mode where you’ll race in six different cups consisting of four tracks each. There’s a missions mode with over sixty entries reminiscent of the story sequences from F-Zero GX. You’ll be given a creative array of different tasks like helping a love-struck Amy Rose catch up with Sonic, or doing a certain amount of powersliding over a set distance. There’s also a multiplayer mode with 4-player splitscreen or 8-player online. You can also compete in Time Trials for leaderboard dominance, and there’s a cool option to race against other players ghost data or some saved ghosts from the development staff.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

As you sample all the different modes you’ll earn Sega Miles which can be used to unlock new characters, tracks, songs, and help upgrade your driver’s license. It’s a pretty generous system that will reward you with enough Miles to get something new after a few missions or races. If you’re a Sega lover there’ll be lots of neat reasons to keep playing. The unlockable characters are irresistibly bizarre, from Alexx Kidd and Opa-Opa (from Fantasy Zone) to Jacky Bryant and Akira Yuki form Virtua Fighter.

It’s not the most comprehensive character list in the world, but it’s always satisfying to see Shenmue’s Ryu Hazuki on a motorcycle scooting past Ulala from Space Channel 5 as if they’d grown up in the Green Hills Zone together. It would have been great to see more variety in the actual tracks. All 24 Grand Prix tracks are drawn from the same five games. I would have given up a few of those Billy Hatcher-levels for something inspired by Space Harrier, Shinobi, Altered Beast, Golden Axe, Phantasy Star, or Fantasy Zone.

Start Your Multiplatforms

Sumo has done a fantastic job of delivering equivalent quality to all three console versions of the game. The PS3 and 360 versions look fantastic and are feature identical. You can race as your Mii’s or Avatars in the Wii/360 versions of the game, and the 360 version also has a bonus character of Banjo-Kazooie.

The Wii version of the game also has terrific visuals. You’ll definitely notice some aliasing and framerate drops if you have an HD screen, but the game looks nearly as impressive as the HD versions when played in SD. The Wii version’s online mode lacks the ability to download ghost data from other players for Time Trials, and the cumbersome friend code system is in place, but otherwise the experience is the same.

The Wii version supports motion control, but it’s not nearly sensitive enough and makes the game unpleasantly difficult. Stick with the Wii remote and Nunchuk of the Classic Controller (the GameCube controller isn’t supported). You’ll be well served on all platforms, though if you’ve got an HD monitor and are hoping for lots of online play the PS3/360 versions will be better choices (but only just barely).

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

Settling For Second Place

It’s easy to forget that Sonic began life as a response to Mario, offering a substantively different approach to mascot platforming.  All-Stars Racing is the opposite, a predictable clone of Mario Kart with a rainbow-colored splash of Sega bizarreness thrown on top. It’s more focused on technical racing than the chaotic item bonanzas of Mario Kart. The sense of déjà-vu with most of the power-ups and track ideas is also a little disappointing. On the other hand, the kart racing genre is not exactly a bustling hive of creative competition. It’s either Mario Kart, Sonic, or something involving M&M’s. Given that choice, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing occupies a familiar and comfortable middle ground. There’s several hours of fun and hi-jinks to be had in All-Stars, but once you’ve been around the track a few times, you won’t find much in the racing mechanics and outrageous items to merit return trips.