Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is pretty much a big love-in for longtime Sega fans. Half of the roster hasn't appeared in a video game for years, and while the title features a hefty assortment of Sonic characters ranging from Amy to Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman, as I guess he's called nowadays), the rest of the crew isn't going to be recognizable to anyone aged 12 and under, who is most likely the target audience. With that said, even if the roster isn't nearly as endearing to casual fans as that of Mario Kart Wii, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is a really solid racer in its own right and shouldn't be dismissed like Sega Superstars Tennis.
The developers, Sumo Digital, have already proven themselves to be old-school Sega fans. They've worked on various Outrun games that have been either really solid ports or excellent games in their own right, a couple of Virtua Tennis titles, and the previously mentioned Sega Superstars Tennis. Of course, a love for Sega's franchises doesn't necessarily translate into a great game, but I think Sumo Digital really knocked it out of the park with this particular release. The controls, speed and overall look of All-Stars Racing feel spot-on when compared to its competitor, and barring some frame rate issues and lackluster multiplayer modes, it's really nice to have something else to play in this particular genre. Kart racers have been pretty sparse during this console generation; the only other game I can think of is Madagascar Kartz, which is pretty awful, but even with a slim selection, All-Stars Racing is a solid entry.
For further proof that Sumo Digital is a Sega fan, let's take a look at the roster. On the Sonic side, you've got Sonic, Amy, Big the Cat, Eggman, Knuckles, Shadow and Tails. Granted, I could do without another Shadow appearance, but hey, the kids like him. Aside from the Sonic crew, you're headed in a much more diverse direction. You've got Billy Hatcher, star of the not particularly popular GameCube game of the same name. There's the diminutive monkey Samba from Samba De Amigo, which saw a Wii release in recent years, along with simian relative AiAi from the popular Super Monkey Ball series. From there, you'll encounter the more obscure cast, like Ulala from Space Channel 5, Beat from Jet Set Radio, and even B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi. Those games should be pretty recognizable to most of the gaming populace, but what about the rest of the crew? There's Zobio and Zobiko from House of the Dead EX, a game that never even made it to western shores, and Opa Opa from Fantasy Zone, which is an arcade title from 1985 and has only seen a handful of ports over the years. There's also Alex Kidd, who is probably recognizable in name but hasn't had a dedicated game in over a decade. Finally, there are the mice from ChuChu Rocket on the Dreamcast, and a couple of Virtua Fighter combatants. There's even Ryo Hazuki from the well-loved Shenmue series, whose last sequel only saw the light of day on the original Xbox in North America. If that's not an incredibly diverse cast of characters from the Sega vault, I don't know what is.
A big roster of Sega favorites doesn't necessarily equate to a great game, so how does it all play? If you're already familiar with the Mario Kart Wii formula, it's going to be pretty easy to get into All-Stars Racing. There are eight racers on each track, with your tracks themed after stages or locations from popular Sega titles like the Sonic series, Super Monkey Ball, or even House of the Dead. These tracks feature multiple paths, shortcuts, item pick-ups, boosts, etc., things that are considered as staples in kart racer games. To a certain degree, I suppose I should give the game some negative marks for not trying to be innovative aside from its use of drift and boost. Most of the weapons are cribbed straight out of Mario Kart Wii, except with a different visual attached. Speed boosts come in the form of Sonic shoes, turtle shells have been replaced by green boxing gloves (that doesn't even make sense), red shells have been replaced by red homing rockets, and squid ink has been replaced by a rainbow effect. The only thing that even stands out as being unique in the weapon selection is the upside-down star, which flips the track upside-down for the player it hits; it's a really irritating and difficult adjustment to make. There's also All-Star power, which is a character-specific ability that you can get through item jars, but they tend to be rare and only reserved for players who are doing a horrendous job at the moment.
The big component of the racing comes from the drift and boost relationship. In All-Stars Racing, to become an effective racer and do well in the harder difficulties and online, you need to drift almost constantly. To do this, you hold down the brake button as you go around curves, tapping the gas to keep yourself from careening into a wall, and the longer you drift, the more boost you build up. Once you come out of that turn, let go of your brake and you'll automatically trigger the boost, which will propel you forward at differing speeds, depending on the selected character and how long you drifted. It's not a hard system to figure out, but it is difficult to become good at it, especially when it comes to drifting when it doesn't seem like you should be able to. There are three difficulties to check out, and while the AI is pretty lenient in Beginner, the other two difficulty levels require you to have some mastery of drifting. Online races are a completely different beast, and while it's fun to check out, I couldn't clear third place on my best race, so be prepared for some stiff challenge.
Finally, there are the unlockables, of which there are quite a few. A lot of the racers I mentioned earlier are unlocks, but there's also a huge variety of tracks and music unlocks, all of which can purchased by using your earned Sega Miles. You generate Sega Miles for everything you do in the game, whether it's single races, Grand Prix races, challenge modes or online play, so no matter what you do, you're on your way to unlocking something. It's a nice incentive to check out everything the game has to offer, but if you're strictly looking to play the Grand Prix mode or race against friends, you won't miss out on any content, either.
If you enjoy Mario Kart Wii, you'll enjoy Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, so to speak, but it takes the classic kart racer formula that Nintendo established on the SNES and runs with it. It's definitely going to appeal more to hardcore Sega fans, and I'd consider myself as one, but it's nice to see that attention has not only been paid to fan service, but also to the game's actual playability. All-Stars Racing is a great kart racer with some fantastic visuals on the Wii, and it's well worth your time.
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