You don’t tend to expect great things from ‘kart’ racing games. With the exception of Nintendo’s Mario Kart series, which spawned the whole sub-genre in the first place and has never been anything less than synonymous with it, it is a pretty barren and qualitatively bankrupt lot. There have been a couple of exceptions – though Rare’s Diddy Kong Racing is the only one that springs immediately to mind – but by and large, if it doesn’t have the Nintendo badge slapped all over it, you’re about as likely to be entertained as you are to be confronted with challenging adult themes.
To some though, there has only ever been one iteration of Mario Kart. These particular gamers all share the opinion that nothing else has ever compared, or will ever compare, to that particular version. It toyed (brilliantly) with many of the fundamental elements that made the first-ever game such a resounding success, to the extent that a smaller group have always been contented with their opinion that they simply don’t ‘get’ it. The haters (or rather ‘dislikers’) were always in the distinct minority, and they now have the chance to realise just how wrong they were about that game. Because Sonic & Sega Racing is a brilliant, fawning love letter to it.
If you take your racing seriously, even when it takes place in cartoon kart form, then you’re going to be positively thrilled by just how taut Sonic & Sega Racing is to play. The controls are outstanding, perfectly balancing the experience for those who may be new to the genre, whilst also appeasing those who know their way around a double (and here, for the first time, a triple) power slide boost. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are basically identical, with a faultless online component and vibrant, pin-sharp visuals. The Wii version doesn’t suffer very much at all from not being in high definition, and some are inevitably going to gravitate towards it because of its compatibility with the Mario Kart wheel peripheral, which works every bit as superbly as it did in Mark Kart Wii.
The track design, so often the first casualty in mediocre racing games, is exemplary here. The learning curve too, also often a problem, is absolutely pitch-perfect, with AI that starts placidly and slowly becomes more and more devious until the single player Grand Prix sets can seem as if they’re taking place online, with seven other very skilled human players participating.
If you’re a Sega fanatic, the love shown at every turn (even for obscure – but much-loved – titles like Chu Chu Rocket, Billy Hatcher and Shenmue) is likely to provoke some gigantic smiles. The set of playable characters is pretty extensive, and the differences between them will be negligible to the more casual gamer, but also subtle and fine-tuned enough that the hardcore are going to have an absolute blast trying to pick a favourite.
There is also a ridiculously generous amount of content on the disc. In addition to the standard Grand Prix, single races and time trails (all of which come with a built-in staff ghost to beat) there is a massively entertaining Mission mode that may just be the most entertaining part of the whole experience. In addition to simple races and mini GPs, you’ll also be introduced to every character and course, and get to play a series of mini-games, all bolted on (very successfully) to standard one or two-lap races. One minute you’ll be mercilessly hurling infinite bombs at your opponents from the rear of your vehicle, and the next you’ll be trying to dodge china pots before a timer runs out. There is plenty of variety, and everything works.
The kart racing genre is the home of more quick, cynical cash-ins than perhaps any other, but by aligning themselves with the finest-ever example of it, Sega have ended up creating something of a surprise classic. Are they really aware of the debt that they owe to that one particular forbear, or could the similarities just be a coincidence? There is a sly nod in the number of mission levels in the game. There are sixty four.
Watch the Sonic And Sega All-Stars Racing trailer here…
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