I've been a Sega fan ever since my father came home with a Sega Master System Plus (Safari Hunt and Phaser included) on my ninth birthday. Sure I had tons of Game & Watch titles and a Commodore 64, but getting a Sega system at the time in Sweden meant you became a member of a very small group. And when you're a member of a small group loyalty is important.
I've owned every Sega system since (with the exception of Saturn), and to me characters like Alex Kidd, Wonderboy and Sonic are just as iconic as Mario, Link and Kirby. That's why Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing brought a smile to my face the first time I laid eyes on it this summer, and it continues to do so after a few hours of spinning in my Xbox 360.
This is a piece of fan service to all Sega fans out there who still clings on to a silly notion that some day in a not too distant future Dreamcast 2 will arrive and set things straight. And as such it is brilliant, 22 characters ranging from the obscure Opa-Opa and Bonanza Bros, to the classics Alex Kidd and Ryo Hazuki, and commercial flops such as Billy Hatcher and Ulala.
Of course there can never be enough fan service. I would have love to have seen Wonderboy, Vyse from Skies of Arcadia, Toe Jam and Earl, Axel or Blaze from Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star themed tracks, the list goes on and on. Still, it is clearly evident that Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was a labour of love and that a lot of heart went into selecting the characters and designing tracks and special moves.
At its core Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is similar to Mario Kart. The drifting mechanics may set it apart somewhat, but everyone who plays it will immediately compare it to Nintendo's popular franchise. And this is a problem. Because it is so similar, everything that is different will feel wrong or out of place, even if it really isn't a problem once you have gotten used to it. I'm not a huge fan of how bumping into someone cause you to drift in the opposite direction, and the way you are penalised for hitting railings on the side of the track also feel a bit off. And while I'm really enjoying the weaponry after a few hours, at first I just longed for the familiar arsenal of Mario goods to shoot down the track.
There are 22 characters and 24 levels to race around with in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. There are six cups to compete in at three difficulty levels ranging from very easy to surprisingly hard. There are also 64 missions tasking you with a variety of objectives, from beating a rival, taking out crows, collecting rings, drifting around a track or simply win races. You can race single races online, offline or split screen and there are also a number of specific multiplayer modes such as Knockout, Battle, and Capture the Chao. Overall, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing offers a very compelling package that is bound to last for hours and hours.
Whatever you do in Sega & Sonic All-Stars Racing you unlock "Sega miles", these can be used to purchase playable characters, tracks and music in the shop. It's a nice system that allows younger and less skilled players to eventually unlock all the content on their own without having to win grand prix cups at the hardest difficulty level. However, it should be noted that you're going to have to play for about ten hours to unlock all the characters, tracks and music, which is a little annoying as it will limit your selection of riders and tracks while playing with your friends at first.
While the game offers a lot, it must be said that some of the levels fall short of the mark. Perhaps Sumo Digital tried a little too hard in trying to create some of them, or perhaps its just that this player is used to how Mario Kart tracks usually are. Most levels are however great and offer a lot when combined with the rather nifty drifting mechanic. As you drift you fill your boost meter, release the drift and boost is activated. This enables you to drift/boost around certain tracks clocking ridiculous times. Sonic is especially effective with this tactic. The characters are fairly balanced, although personally I don't like to ride with characters on bikes such as Alex Kidd. Not only are you easily shoved out of the way, but you are also going to have a harder time picking up item boxes. It feels as though I'm getting penalised twice.
I haven't gotten around to mentioning the All-Stars moves that hold such a prominent position in the title of the game. If you fall behind you have the chance of picking up a special move that is designed to slingshot you back into contention in the race. Billy Hatcher rolls on his giant egg, Alex Kidd rides his pedocopter, Sonic goes Super Sonic, Amy bangs her giant hammer, Beat uses his spray cans to diffuse the vision of your opponents... of course, I know nothing of these things as I'm speeding ahead leaving the rest of the field behind. Ehum...
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing may fall short of Mario Kart, but it still manages to entertain in its own right. If you're a Sega fan like me, you are going to enjoy it tremendously, and you might want to add a point to the overall score if that is the case, and fans of Mario Kart who have grown tired of Nintendo's latest offering may also want to check it out. It is very similar to the Mario Kart, but adds a different twist with how the drifting and boosting works, and the overall package is very generous.