Replay Value: 8.5
Super Mario Kart remains one of my favorite games of all time and to this day, the cartridge still sits right next to the SNES in my bedroom. On the one hand, when it comes to racers featuring real cars and real locations, I really only have the time and motivation for the super simulators like Gran Turismo. But if I’m looking at a cartoony exterior, crazy vehicles, loopy tracks, weapons and power-ups, and iconic video game characters, I want the ultimate arcade-style kart-racing experience. And you know, I almost get that from Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing. It’s not perfect, but it’s almost always a blast and it’s loaded with plenty of gameplay options for both the individual and multiple players. I can see how this would be a huge hit for families and parties and even for myself, just sitting alone and testing out the new characters and well-designed tracks, it proved to be a stimulating, entertaining good time.
The graphics are exactly what you might expect: colorful and full of interesting design ideas and relatively decent detail. The character designs are all in place from past entries in Sega’s vast lineup of games, so there’s nothing new with that, but the focus is firmly on the dazzling special effects and vivid racetracks. Right from the start, you’ll be zipping along diverse – albeit short – courses that offer plenty of fresh locales and other nifty decorations. It’s not quite as crystal clear as one might’ve hoped, which sort of diminishes the overall vibrancy, but all in all, it’s designed specifically to catch the eye of the younger crowd and Sega succeeds in that respect. The frame rate also remains smooth and solid throughout so we don’t have to deal with the herky-jerkies, that can both mar the visual presentation and impact the gameplay. The special effects are especially appealing and although some of the courses don’t hold up to very close scrutiny, who really cares? It looks just fine.
The sound benefits from the addition of many different tracks, available to purchase in the game’s Store. The default selections aren’t too bad but can certainly get tiresome after a while, so the idea of purchasing new music is a great one and in fact, I’d love to see it in other games. The sound effects are also quite good, as there are a variety of vehicle sounds associated with the array of racing karts, ranging from Sonic’s standard race car growl to the futuristic whir of Ulala’s space pod. The announcer can be a little loud and annoying but again, I imagine he really hits home for the intended audience. He’s also accurate, as he’ll comment on the race as it progresses, singling out specific racers and reacting much like a real announcer would. Like I said, it’s a little irksome, but it fits with the over-the-top presentation and style. I’m not the biggest fan of all the available music, but that’s not the point. The point is that we have the requisite selection and really, combined with the effects, racing sounds fantastic.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing is the available gameplay modes. You’ve got Single Race, which is great for testing out freshly purchased characters, Missions, Shopping, and Grand Prix. As you race in both Missions and races in the Grand Prix, you acquire Sega Miles, which is this game’s form of monetary compensation. You use them to purchase the aforementioned new music tracks and new characters, which gives you plenty of incentive to perform well. The Missions rank you from E to AAA and in order to pass and unlock the next Mission, you have to at least achieve a rank of A, although AA and AAA will net you more Sega Miles. After a certain point, you will participate in a Grand Prix of sorts (although it’s three races and not four), and that will then unlock the next Mission tier. It’s the same sort of advancement in the actual Grand Prix events, so you’ll quickly get a handle on things.
As for the racing itself, it seems to work quite well. There’s a bit too much of an emphasis on drifting (sort of felt like Ridge Racer), but at least it takes very little effort or practice to perform a successful drift. Doing so gives you an automatic turbo boost once you straighten out – provided you don’t hit the wall or another racer during the drift – and it’s downright necessary for victory. In general, controlling these vehicles is relatively easy and quite fun, but I just wish there was a larger focus on the racing itself. Beyond that, there’s a goodly assortment of weapons and power-ups and some of those weapons can be fired behind you (just like in SMK). There’s always a wee bit of strategy involved; i.e., do you hold onto a particularly effective power-up in case you need it, or do you use it immediately to give yourself the edge? The best part is that the different courses typically prompt different plans of action, and positions can change place very quickly.
It can be a little annoying to see five racers fly by you simply because you got hit with something, but then again, that adds to the fast-paced, keep-you-on-your-toes philosophy. Playing with multiple people is usually fun, too, so in addition to the many Missions and Grand Prix events, you’ll get plenty of hours of entertainment. Some of the Missions can be a little silly and repetitive, and there are also visible difficult spikes (you’ll go three or four Missions without a problem, and then suddenly, there’s one you just can’t do). And furthermore, while there are obvious differences between the vehicles, they all tend to perform relatively similarly on the course and usually, it all comes down to your drifting and weapons/power-ups. Therefore, choosing your character for a race is typically more about personal preference than anything else. These are all minor shortcomings, though, and not worth getting in a twist about.
Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing is colorful and fun, for one player or multiple players. That’s probably all that needs to be said. It has a few quirks and it’s not quite as polished as I would’ve liked – the gameplay lacks refinement – but for the most part, few will complain. For the intended audience, this one hits the mark and you should probably have it for various social events; it can turn out to be a tremendously entertaining party game.