Is it me or does even the full title of Sega’s latest title sound like they’re trying too hard? ‘Sonic and Sega All Star Racing with Banjo and Kazooie’ is certainly more than a mouthful. Note the Banjo and Kazooie sub heading is exclusive for Xbox 360 owners.
Before we head into this review of Sonic & Sega All Star Racing I think we should be upfront with each other. There’s no point in me hiding the fact that I am a Mario Kart lover, it would be wrong of me not to let you know I already have a bias towards Nintendo’s racer in advance. If you happen to have been gaming for the last fifteen or so years then you’ll already be familiar with the original Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo. More to the point you probably also have had to endure the numerous failed attempts to clone Mario Kart’s success. I could list them all here but that would be a waste of both our times.
This isn’t to say there haven’t been a few close calls; Diddy Kong Racing by former Nintendo pals Rare; was a great game and tried hard not only to take the best of Mario Kart but also add something new to the genre (a story).
Sadly Sega have attempted to elbow their favourite blue mascot (Sonic the Hedgehog) into racing games several times over the years, each without much success. Can Sega, along with the help of Sumo Digital, finally get Sonic anywhere near Mario’s throne as top racing mascot? Keep reading this Sonic and Sega Racing review to find out.
To say that Sega and Sonic all-star racing is an outright clone of Mario Kart Wii would be incorrect; but not by much. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the thrill of Mario Kart but you’ve always been on the side of Sonic in the ‘Mario vs Sonic war’, then no doubt you should buy this game at once.
Sumo Digital have done an excellent job in presenting what is basically a Mario Kart rip off, to a Sega fanboy audience. All of your favourite (and your unfavourite) characters are here; of course they include: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Shadow, AiAi, Amigo, Ulala, Alex the Kidd and Dr Eggman among others. Not only that but you have a lovely selection of tracks inspired by Sega games to race around. Whale Lagoon has the look and feel of Green Hill Zone from the Original Sonic the Hedgehog and the TreeTops levels are inspired by Super Monkey Ball. Other track themes such as; Jet Set Radio, Billy Hatcher, and House of the Dead feature here too.
Sonic and Sega All Star Racing not only has the look and feel of Mario Kart but also has a very similar feature set. Of course you have your Single Player mode where you need to complete in a series of cups over all of the tracks. You can also time trial to get onto the online leader boards as well as take part in a series of special missions similar to those found in Mario Kart DS. Multiplayer fans don’t worry; you can head online and take part in a single race with up to seven other drivers very easly. Up to four offline racers are catered for with the usual split screen action with each player getting a quarter of the TV screen to themselves.
Included also are a series of multiplayer mini games available for offline play: of course your traditional Battle Mode is here, as well as Capture the Chao (flag) and even a Knockout Race where a player is kicked out every 15 seconds, very frantic this one.
The bulk of gaming time will be spent in the single player mode; just like Nintendo’s racer you not only have a wide choice of tracks and cups but you’ll be able to race them on a series of different difficulty levels. Playing through these cups is great fun and will earn you plenty of precious Sega Miles (more on those in a minute) and Xbox Live Achievements along the way. Yes you’ll likely win every race on the easier cups but later on you’ll be hit hard by the AI racers who are very accurate with their weapons and are very good at drifting.
As you’d expect every racer has their own exclusive vehicle; Sonic rides a blue sports car; Shadow rides a mean looking motorbike; Tails flies his classic yellow biplane and BD Joe has is Yellow New York Taxi from the Sega Crazy Taxi games. Each vehicle has different attribute such as handling; speed; acceleration and drift power but for the most part it’s easily possible to win a race with anyone. Meaning you aren’t likely to pick a duff character and have no chance of winning.
Speaking of which, there are a whole host of items available and just like in Mario Kart they are distributed semi randomly via collection pods around the track. The stronger more offensive items such as Homing Rockets and the All Star will typically only be given to those in a lowly race position whilst Shields and Explosive Traffic Cones will be given to those at the front end of the pack. This distribution method gives slower racers a chance to overtake the faster ones and always guarantees that random element. I feel bad comparing the game to Mario Kart once again but it can’t go unsaid that almost every item you can pick up (bar one) is a direct carbon copy from the Nintendo Wii title. Instead of Green Shells, Sonic fires Green Boxing Gloves, Red Shells become Red Rockets, Banana Skins become Traffic Cones – the list goes on but the similarities are the same. Luckily Sega have blessed us with one original feature to the game which coincidently enough is part of the game title. Oh and to top it off Sega have included a dumbed down version of the infamous (and very controversial) Mario Kart blue shell in the form of a massive blue remote detonated rocket; this flies slowly towards the race leader knocking out any racers in its path along the way and can be detonated when it reaches the head of the pack.
The super sounding ‘All Star’ move is just as super as it sounds. This mega weapon has a unique variant for each character, for example Sonic transforms into his yellow alter ego Super Sonic; temporarily becoming invincible with a huge speed boost. Banjo and Kazooie on the other hand have an All Star move that makes golden jiggies fall from the sky squishing other racers; just like Sonic (and every other character’s All Star move) they get a significant speed boost too.
Multiplayer is where Mario Kart has always been king and Sonic has tried his best to take Mario’s crown here too. The four player split screen modes are just as much fun as those heady N64 days where everyone would huddle round to play GoldenEye or Mario Kart 64. The online play over Xbox live is a nice addition; you can play against random people or your Xbox live party pals. Apart from the voice chat feature Sonic and All Stars racing actually does fall flat compared to Mario Kart Wii in several areas here. Firstly Mario Kart Wii features 12 player online racing but Sonic only has 8. Secondly Mario Kart Wii has a constant stream of never ending races every 30 seconds; Sonic on the other hand only lets you compete in single races resulting in a lengthy loading screen trip back to the lobby after every race. To make it worst you then may have to wait another 5 minutes for the lobby leader to setup another race. Crazy. At least the online racing is fun otherwise the ball would have seriously been dropped here Sega!
Ok so Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing is a Mario Kart Wii clone; is that actually a bad thing? Well no, it’s not. Thankfully the game is actually great and is fairly unique for owners of non-Nintendo hardware. The racing is fast and furious; you’ll be bumping, crashing, boosting and drifting like a pro in next to no time. The HD graphics are very crisp and detailed, certainly overshadowing the Wii with very fancy water and lighting effects. Another factor in the graphics department is that unlike Nintendo; Sega have been a bit too ambitious with the track detail because fairly frequently you’ll encounter moments of framerate slowdown and chugginess. This is especially noticeable on split screen multiplayer which whilst understandable, doesn’t forgive the problems on single player when only one session of the game engine is running at once with the whole power of the Xbox 360 dedicated to it. Whilst this certainly doesn’t spoil the game it does go to show that it doesn’t take long for game tech to outgrow a system and the Xbox 360 is starting to show its technical limits.
On another note; a clever tactic to keep you racing longer than you’d planned is the addition of the Sega Shop and Sega Miles. Every race has a virtual mile counter and for every mile you race you earn and extra point to spend in the store. Here you can buy new tracks; characters and pieces of game music. Personally I thought it would have been nice to put some really great exclusive unlockables; say videos, trailers or even a retro game – but sadly not.
Unlike the Wii edition of Sonic and Sega, Xbox 360 owners can’t use a plastic motion controlling wheel to play the game. This doesn’t make too much difference for the non-casual player but it’s worth bearing in mind that Sonic and Sega All Stars racing may actually be less popular with the Kindergarten or OAP age group than the Mario Kart Wii game. If you wanted your granny to enjoy a Sonic and Sega All Star Racing session with you over the weekend then you will have to buy the Wii version instead.
Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing for Xbox 360 may not be unique but that doesn’t stop it from becoming the best and most essential Kart racer on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. If you already own a Wii or DS then you can safely pass this one up; unless of course you just fancy the idea of racing Sonic and Pals instead of Mario and Co for a change. Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing gets an 8 out of 10.