The first hour or so you spend with Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing, your brain rejects it, telling you it isn’t Mario Kart enough, or it isn’t Sega enough. You’ll wrestle with the wheel and tell yourself you could be playing Mario Kart Wii instead, but once you learn to go with it you find yourself having a blast.
There’s nothing exactly mould-breaking here – single-player boasts the usual selection of cups and time trials, as well as a rather enjoyable mission mode sadly missing from Mario Kart Wii. With a wide variety of goals and settings there’s much to enjoy in mission mode, and getting AAA ranks on all missions will take skills of the highest order.
Progressing through the stages nets you Sega Miles, officially the world’s best (and most valuable) currency, which you spend to unlock new characters, courses and music. How many miles you accumulate is linked to your performance in each race, not necessarily the distance covered, so you won’t be able to amass thousands of Sega Miles by doing donuts in the first course. Unlocking everything will take plenty of hours, and although the quality of the content varies – why no music from OutRun? – it still keeps you going.
In terms of handling, it’s best described as a cross between OutRun and Mario Kart, with the emphasis very much on drifting to build turbo boosts. Using the Wii Wheel is as natural and accurate as in MKWii, but pad fans may want to switch to a Classic Controller, as there is no GameCube pad support. There’s a certain smoothness to the handling that’s very appealing, and you can continue to drift whilst changing direction; perfect for some of the later tight chicanes.
The courses are well designed too, with the very first circuit offering a figure-of-eight, a corkscrew and long sloping corners that let you slip into the controls nicely. There’s something different and interesting in each stage, although one complaint would be the decision to base several courses on the same area – Sonic’s levels are primarily based on Seaside Hill, Final Fortress and Bingo Highway, with no sight of classic stages or courses from other Sega properties. With every game like this there’s always going to be someone crying out “why isn’t this game included?”, but it has to be said the exclusion of every classic Sega racing franchise is truly disappointing. No OutRun, Daytona USA, Sega Rally or Virtua Racing is saddening, but the inclusion of the oft-forgotten ChuChu Rocket!, Bonanza Bros and of course the glorious return of Shenmue star Ryo Hazuki is to be celebrated.
Another disappointment is the game’s online mode, which has been sadly dismantled by hackers already. Even without their presence the lobby system is often slow, seeming to take ages to find a game after which you’re forced to wait whilst everyone chooses a character with no cut-off clock. When you do find a game it’s usually pretty lag-free, but the impatient amongst you may want to try out the addictive online time trial mode, which although near-identical to the offline time trial shows how you stack up on the leaderboards immediately after, prompting many “one more go” moments.
Offline multiplayer is a far more rounded affair, with a wider array of gameplay modes than many other titles. King of the Hill is an office favourite, but the others are all decent too, although the standard races suffer from being unable to select random courses or play through Grand Prix cups: completing a race returns you to the course select, slowing down the game’s rhythm. It’s not a huge issue, but it could have been improved with some extra options, although the game does boast the ability to turn on or off slower car speed boost — a big plus when playing against a rather less-skilled gamer.
Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing is, despite its flaws, a well-crafted racer that’s clearly had a lot of good design work put into it. It looks good, handles nicely and contains enough Sega references to please any fan (check out the Achievement-style challenges unlocked throughout the game). As is to be expected, there are still things we would change, but the game is still fast, bright and enjoyable with plenty to keep you occupied for weeks to come.