With a dab of Mario Kart and a dab of OutRun, Sumo Digital has created a fun racing game that will make Big the Cat say "Goodie."
Nintendo more or less created the mascot racing genre in the early '90s with Super Mario Kart, and since then, they've dominated it. Companies have tried to replicate Mario Kart with middling results. Sega, who struck out in the past with Sonic R, Sonic Drift, and Sonic Riders, are trying their hand at the genre again with Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing. The end result is a great experience, though it still falls short of Nintendo's legendary series.
Developed by Sumo Digital, who made Sega Superstars Tennis and the popular Xbox port of OutRun 2, All-Stars Racing is a straightforward kart racing game. The controls mimic Mario Kart Wii, with the biggest difference being the lack of GameCube controller support. Other than that, the Wii Remote, Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and Classic Controller configurations are what you would expect of the game. The motion controls are fine, though they don't feel the same as Mario Kart's, which seemed to tailor-made for the Wii Wheel.
Not only do the controls echo Mario Kart, so does the gameplay. You can drift, there are weapons, and there is a mild bit of rubber-banding A.I., though it isn't as unfair as the blue shells in later Mario Kart titles. Most of the weapons are reminiscent of classic Mario Kart weapons. Red heat-seeking missiles act as red shells, green boxing gloves act as green ones, and larger missiles are pretty much blue shells. Some of the weapons are creative, namely the star that turns player's screens upside-down. Each of the 21 racers has a unique All-Star move that is fun to use. Whether it's Sonic turning into Super Sonic and zooming along the track or Crazy Taxi's B.D. Joe picking up a customer and blazing past the competition, it's always amusing.
The quality of the tracks varies. Some are fantastic, such as the first Jet Grind Radio-themed level, while others aren't too swift, namely most of the Super Monkey Ball levels. It also doesn't help that the 24 tracks are split into similar groups of three. You don't get one Sonic Casino-themed level, you get three. Because of that, there are only Sonic, Billy Hatcher, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Grind Radio, House of the Dead, and Samba de Amigo levels. Despite appearances by Ulala from Space Channel 5, the Chu Chus from Chu Chu Rocket, Alex Kidd, and Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone, there are no levels based on their series.
Aside from the typical Grand Prix and Time Trials, there is also a Mission mode, which is akin to the mode present in Mario Kart DS. You take on 64 different challenges that range from "Collect rings on the course" to "Hit Billy Hatcher with a boxing glove five times." They're fast-paced and entertaining, and they usually tie into the character's history.
Unfortunately, the game's loading isn't fast-paced. You'll often face a lengthy loading screen just to get back to the main menu. In general, the graphics don't look too great, though they aren't any framerate issues that I came across. The sound is stellar, with all sorts of nostalgic Sega songs, voice acting for every character, and a funny announcer who says things such as "One lap in the bank, time to deposit the next," and "Another hit on Ulala. She's used to those!"
The local multiplayer offerings are also your standard fare, though they do bring in some varied match types. You can choose from Free Race, Battle, King of the Hill, and more colorfully named modes such as Capture the Chao, where you must pick up an overgrown Chao and deliver it to a location, Knockout, where a racer is removed every so often, and Collect the Emeralds, where you fight with friends to remain in control of the seven Chaos Emeralds. It's all fun, but there are only three boring maps for these modes, so it gets old fast.
You can also take the game online and play in single races or time trials. It runs very smoothly, but it takes way too long to get a match setup. There is also no ranking system either, so you're just paired up with whoever is available. You can also use Friend Codes to match up against people you know, but the experience isn't vastly different there.
While you play the game, you unlock oodles of Sega Miles, which is the in-game currency. You can use them to purchase new characters, multiplayer tracks (which in actuality are the same tracks found in single player mode), and songs. Regarding the multiplayer tracks, it's unnecessary to lock them up. There are also challenges, which work as the game's achievements, that measure your progress and ask you to do specific things, such as use every racer's All-Star move to attack an opponent. There's no reward for completing these, but they're still very cool.
Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing is a fun game. It might not be as polished as Mario Kart, but it is definitely worth mentioning in the same breath as Nintendo's series. The single-player experience is great with plenty of things to unlock, and the multiplayer experience also holds up despite questionable features and a bad online lobby. Mario Kart fans looking for another racing game would be silly to pass up this game.