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Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing, on 360, PS3, Wii and DS, proves its kart racing worth alongside Mario Kart, Need for Speed and the upcoming Blur. This mirrors Sega's focus on action rather than exploration. But although it may lack the course detail of Mario Kart it manages to keep the focus more on the racing - ironically more like the N64 and SNES versions of Nintendo's game.
Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing adopts the usual kart racing memes. Fast frantic racing is the order of the day, with enough challenge for seasoned gamers but enough simplicity for newcomers. Here we find the usual set of drivers and vehicles that compete around a set of equally varied tracks. The focus is on fun, rather than anything more serious. Players of all abilities can compete in a game setup to encourage competition and help back markers catch up.
This is Mario Kart re-imagined for Sega's parallel universe. The rock-paper-stone approach to weapons, the speed reward for power sliding round corners, and the red/green shell, mushroom, rocket equivalent weapons have all been lifted from Nintendo's tour de force.
But Sumo Digital, who similarly aped Mario Tennis with their Sega Superstars Tennis, know what they need to do to bring the party - a bucket load of Sega history. Characters as diverse as Sonic, AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, Amigo from Samba de Amigo, Zobio from The House of the Dead to Alex Kidd from Miracle World all take to the track in appropriately themed vehicles. Although you can find these characters in older cheaper 360, Wii and PS3 games, they have all been re-rendered to full HD fidelity.
Seeing all these Sega characters racing it out on the track made us want to go back and rent some of the previously overlooked games. Samba de Amigo, Monkey Ball Step and Roll as well as Super Star Tennis all crept onto our rental list before the evening was out.
As well as these characters, there also remains the true to fast and frantic ethos of Sega - as opposed to the explorative and precise approach of Nintendo. There is more going on at any one time in Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing than we are used to in Mario Kart. This is so much the case that Nintendo's kart racer feels almost sedate when we revisited it for comparison. But also, erring towards this frantic pace means there is less to do in each circuit, and here Mario has the edge for more shortcuts and hard won secrets.
Sega have a few ideas of their own to add though. For instance, each character has a special All-Star move that can be triggered when you fall too far behind - themed appropriately. There are also three types of vehicle to choose from - cars, bikes and hovercraft - each of which not only handle differently but are also suited for certain surfaces. There is also, a surprisingly helpful audio commentary from an enthusiastic compare - that really reminded us of Sega's younger days in the arcade with the exuberance of Powerdrift.
This all adds up to an experience that is brash, loud and riotous - just as we would hope for a Sega title. But threading through the fan service, and Mario Kart similarities, is an accomplished racing game. Sumo Digital manages to rein in the chaos enough to deliver a real racing experience. Handling is solid and suits newcomers (the Wii's Wii-mote steering has the edge here), as well as more accurate twin stick controls of the 360 and PS3 controllers.
The icing on the cake, that keeps the scales tipped towards skill rather than chance, is the lack of a lead killing blue shell equivalent. This combines with other race oriented decisions to convince even hardcore Mario fans of the credentials on offer here. In fact, next to both Double Dash and Mario Kart Wii the emphasis is much more on driving.
This is pretty everyday fare on the Wii, and accordingly it is easy to criticise where Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing falls short. But even the slightly bland levels and choppy frame rate don't overly detract from the solid racing experience. That this is the same game as on the 360 and PS3 is impressive enough, but add to that the same online and multiplayer made and you have a package that offers a lot of value. We also appreciated being able to race with your Mii from the off, rather than having to unlock the feature as in Mario Kart.
On the 360 and PS3, with their higher frame rates and greater need for a killer kart racer, Sonic and Sega All Star Racing makes more sense. While on the Wii you may want to rent this first, on the Xbox or PlayStation 3 this is an automatic purchase for race fans.
Having purchased the game through a cheap 360 video game offer I couldn't wait to see what my friends and family made of it. Bringing the 360 down into the lounge and spending an evening racing with my younger brother and sister was a lot of fun. Once my parents got involved we really had our work cur out - thank goodness for the split screen mode.
Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing offers a nice alternative to Mario Kart on the Wii, but on the 360 and PS3 it is something unusual and special. Although other cheap video games may provide a night's rental entertainment, this is a game that is worth playing for longer on the more powerful consoles. And if you are a Sega fan of old you will be in heaven.
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