We know you’re probably going to ask, so we’ll get this out of the way right off the bat. Yes, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing shares more than a passing resemblance to Mario Kart with Sega characters in place of troublesome princesses and brothers in primary-coloured ensembles. Now that we have that out of the way, the obvious follow-up and, indeed, more important question is whether it’s fun. The answer is yes.
If you thought the arcade racing genre was about ripe for a new contender, then based on our hands-on time with a PlayStation 3 version of the game, we’re pleased to report that though the experience as a whole is as familiar as a home-cooked meal, All-Stars Racing adds a few new ingredients to an already tasty recipe.
We’ve taken the game for a spin a few times in the past, but to date, we haven’t had a chance to experience one of its most crucial elements--multiplayer. Online friend games and network matchmaking races are both supported, though we opted to grab a few controllers to go head-to-head in local split-screen play. After all, it’s much more satisfying berating your buddies and watching their reactions as you blast them out of first place with a giant boxing glove then zoom across the line to claim victory.
Offline matches support two, three, or four racers and divide the screen equally among the players. Though the final version will give you a choice from more than 20 classic Sega characters, our build offered fewer than half that number. Our roster featured: Tails, Amy Rose, Shadow, Dr. Eggman and the series namesake from the Sonic family, as well as Billy Hatcher, Amigo from Samba De Amigo, captive simian Aiai of Super Monkey Ball fame, and Shenmue’s Ryo Hazuki.
All of the characters have their own unique and personality-appropriate vehicle. Aiai races a banana car, Ryo straddles a motorbike, and Billy pilots a giant egg with wheels. As you’d expect, each vehicle has a performance and handling rating. You’ll also need to trade top speed for acceleration or speed for improved turning response. Even with the small selection of karts on hand in our version, each ride managed to offer a distinctive feel.
On top of the common power-ups that litter the circuit, each character also has an exclusive all-star ability that is triggered by using an item. They’re dolled out by the cosmos by picking up mystery jars on the track, and once activated Dr. Eggman’s monster truck sprouts arsenal-laden wings that allows you take pot shots at other racers ahead of you. Ryo’s bike transforms into the world’s fastest forklift to barge other players out of the way, while Billy rolls a giant impenetrable egg like he’s competing in a log-rolling championship.
The intended function of a power-up item isn't always so clear. While boxing gloves, red rockets, and Sonic’s shoes have fairly obvious uses, it took us a few tries to work out what others did. For example, rainbows obscure the vision of the road for other players, while using a star causes the other player’s screen to reverse and flip the world upside down.
Courses for multiplayer are recycled from the single-player and mission modes. The tracks are spacious and sprinkled with some subtle yet not-so-subtle nods to Sega’s previous works. These include red bounce-pad bumpers to steer you back on route and a giant leaping killer whale. With the pack clumped together, background visual animations, and power-ups spewing out of vehicles, we noticed a slight frame rate dip. We’re hoping this slowdown and some minor clipping issues will be corrected before the game ships later this month.
If you like your racing arcade-y, brightly coloured, and frenetic, then Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing might just be the game to get your engine running. Stay tuned for the full GameSpot review shortly.