Preview: Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing

Preview: Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing

The same two questions seem to be asked over and over whenever Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing gets mentioned. “Why is Sonic in a car?” and “Is it going to be better than Mario Kart?”. If you read this site often enough you’ll know the answer to the first; it’s to keep things fair as out of a vehicle Sonic would easily win any race. Sumo Digital went the first step to answer the latter question by releasing the demo for Xbox 360. TSS has been putting the game through it’s paces for the past few hours so do we think it’s shaping up to be faster than the speed of light or slower than a plumber arriving on time for an appointment?

The demo offers up the chance to play as either Sonic in his sports car or Banjo & Kazooie in their dilapidated nuts and bolts mobile. The only track available for racing is called the Lost Temple and is set in Sonic Heroe’s Seaside Hill, music and all. In fact the race course is chock full of SEGA and Sonic related paraphernalia. NiGHTS is the man in charge of the checkered flag for example and the crowd is made up of a number Chao. Crabmeat Badniks roam the sands scurrying sideways to try and block your path while Choppers leap from the sea in between jumps. Power-ups are contained TV style capsules and springs are deviously placed to shunt you off the racing line should you get too close. Any SEGA fan will be happy to soak in the detail track-side and bask in the charm of it all but when you’ve finished sightseeing it’s time to race.

This is where things may start to feel a little familiar to anyone who has played that other kart racing series. The trick to getting boost is by drifting and if you hold the accelerator down at the right time during the start you can even gain a head start. Some weapons propelled forwards bounce along the side of the track a little suspiciously like shells might elsewhere and traffic cones dropped behind you have the chance of slipping up the competition, if you get the reference. But just when you start to feel a sense of Deja-Vu creep over you the  excitable announcer will shout about someone having hold of an “All-Star” and your world is about to be rocked. Every character in the game has their own unique all-star move and rather than just being this games blue shell taking out the player up front they all differ which could be a huge factor in deciding which characters become your favourite.

Sonic for example is turned Super and is propelled down the track at an increased speed knocking other racers out of his way. Banjo and Kazooie make the sky rain “Jiggies”;  Over-sized jigsaw pieces as deadly to front of the pack as to the back. Shadow turns super himself and dishes out a liberal dose of Chaos Spears and Ryo Hazuki  swaps his motorbike with a fork lift truck to power down the track. On the games default difficulty setting you’ll see your rivals use these moves several times during a race. Sometimes they can be avoided while others will bring you to a standstill and potentially ruin your chances at victory.

All the All-Star moves in the world won’t get you very far until you master the basics though. As previously mentioned it’s still all about drifting which is done by holding down a drift button (The left bumper or trigger). After a few second you’ll see some boost spew out of the exhaust of your vehicle at which point you can let go of the drift button to be propelled forwards. The only other way to boost is by pressing the drift button while jumping which will trigger a trick in mid-air and a boost while on solid ground. The trick is to make sure you’re heading in the right direction for a boost as it’s all too easy to career into a wall or off a bridge by accident.

Once you have your brain around those concepts you’ll notice, on the default difficulty at least, that you’ll either just win races after a fierce battle or spend all race being every other drivers punching bag. For example, despite coming first quite in quite a few races and having the optimum driving technique more or less mastered there were still occasions where I would finish dead last or close to it thanks to a perfect storm of punishment. Being hit by missiles and boxing gloves is bad enough but getting up to speed for a ramp only to be hit by something and falling off the track is infuriating, especially as when you re-spawn you’re basically not moving forwards. Another time while taking the only short-cut on the track which involves taking a jump to a boost pad on an island, Knuckles landed on me squashing me cartoon style and sending me to a watery abyss. This re-spawned me back on dry land BEFORE the jump meaning I was last by a mile.

It’s this unpredictable nature of  ‘kart’ racing games that could really sour the experience for some. The flip side is that all the damage you take you can deal out to your foes and hitting someone with a missile and watching them fall behind you is as sweet as it sounds. Lowering the difficulty to it’s easiest has everyone just wait behind you which is no fun at all while the hardest setting is the maddest of the bunch as you fight tooth and nail for every position, the bad luck visiting almost every driver in equal measure. The balancing of the games difficulty to make the punishment exciting but not unfair will be crucial.

The frame rate in the demo isn’t the most stable but as it’s taken from an older build of the game. Steve “S0l” Lycett has promised in the SSMB that such issues had yet to be fully addressed in it’s optimization stage so hopefully the proper game will be a smoother driving experience. The game will ultimately live or die by the variety of it’s characters and it’s racetracks though and how different Sumo Digital has been able to make them feel. Seaside Hill looks pretty enough but the textures of foliage leaves a lot to be desired. Then again it’s not something you notice while you’re attempting to avoid the chaos. Other levels would do well to be packed with more SEGA references but will need some neat tricks to stop from feeling the same despite the change of scenery.

At this stage Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing has just enough promise, madness and ideas of its own to carve a hedgehog shaped niche in the Kart racing genre. With Mario Kart  Wii flirting with the mainstream; wide tracks, Wiimote control and all, ASR could actually find itself in first place as the hardcore Kart game of choice if everything comes together.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is due for release February 23rd in the States and 26th in Europe for 360, Ps3, Wii and PC.

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  1. just playing the demo i felt it was better then mario kart wii, now lets just hope the full version will be able to beat mario kart DS(Best mario kart game out)

  2. rubber banding eh?
    at least you have to drive and not just fly your way through. (Bullet Bill)

  3. Guys, I just read the review that ONM gave this. They rated it 75%, saying “Good fun, but lacking the polish that makes Mario Kart Wii the definitive kart racer.”

  4. Good article Paul 😉

    “The only track available for racing is called the Lost Temple”

    Its called Lost Palace not Temple :p

  5. Interesting… I came home today and all I wanted to do was play it, haven’t felt like that about a game in a while 🙂

  6. @needsemail1: correction: Banjo & Kazooie are in a SEGA game. That auotmatically makes it better than Mario Kart Wii.

  7. @ needsemail1

    Someones biased.

    Anyway this looks interesting but from what you’ve described the game doesn’t seem balanced, perhaps suffering from the same problem as the most recent Mario Kart.

    I’ll download the demo once my internet stops being ridicously slow.

  8. Still enjoying the demo! Hope I don’t over do it and get bored before the full game is out 😮

  9. Just got my new XBOX 360 console today, first thing i did was download this demo. And i have to say it’s quite brilliant, i love the drifting system that’s simple and easy to use.
    I also love the faster paced action as well as the commentary =D

  10. Just played the demo. It was a lot of fun! Definitely not as good as Mario Kart, engine-wise, but fun! I think my biggest issues were that the controller rumbling could mean about 80 things and it was hard to differentiate between them and that it didn’t really feel like you were racing other people as much as in Mario Kart Wii. Like… you wouldn’t really bump people around and could drive through them half the time.

    And then the demo froze on me while playing 2P. I wouldn’t say that’s a good sign. XD

  11. Played the demo and though it was fun it was underwhelming. I’ll start by saying that the game is beautiful, great cinematics and lush real time graphics but this seems to be hiding the games flaws. Firstly the games drifting system is simple but too easily mastered and lacks the thrill of Burnout or Outrun. Secondly the game has some seriously rubberband AI which catch up far too easily (kinda like Mario 64) which brings me to the worst point, the weapons.

    The weapons are easily the weakest point of the game. Bland, Crash Team Racing style weapons that are flat out unfair and unbalanced. There’s a clear lack of defensive weapons or ones to counter others They draw no inspiration from the Sega universe (minus Sonic trainers), as if they were thrown in at the last moment to make it a ‘Mario Kart’ game. It could of been a driving game in a similar vain to Outrun.

    Tighten up the drifting system a tad and we have a game that handles very well. When things are progressing smoothly and your taking corners and boosting over jumps it’s generally a good time.

    I can’t really rate it, I mean it’s only a demo and thus only one level of many was shown however the mechanics of the game have only convinced me of a fun game, not a great one. I may borrow it off a friend and see what the full package is like otherwise better luck with ASR2 Sumo Digital.

  12. I would agree the demo is fairly easy when you get the hang of it and the drifting is very simple. Some of the weapons don’t slow the opposition too well. When you get the drifting and mid-air tricks sorted you can usually leave the com players in your dust, but that rubber-banding means one slip and you could go right to the back. Even so earlier today, on expert, I managed to get a time of 3:07 with second place being further than 15 seconds behind. It is a fairly easy demo, but can provide a good time.

  13. I’ve been playing the demo on my 360 ever since I got it this weekend. I have to say this game is definitely going being better than Mario Kart. I’m counting down the days for it’s release date. Can’t wait to play as the other characters.

  14. I’ve been playing the demo on my 360 for almost a week. I have to say this game is definitely going to be better than Mario Kart. Can’t wait for the entire game to come out.

  15. Just got my hands on the demo a few hours ago and I can’t put it down. This game is all about presentation to me. I loved the over-the-top announcer, Sonic’s over reactions to either being ahead or behind, and the all star moves are insane! Now I have the PS3 ver. which includes the Billy Hatcher track. It has a good difficulty to it as you have to avoid the snow drifts and such. Overall I think that this is a fair competitor to the MK series and is a lot more fun to play than All Stars Tennis. Also of note is the little ‘Sonic Says’ nod during the loading screens..nice to see Sumo giving fan service! This game is a definite buy come Tuesday.:)

  16. Well, I think it’s fair to say that this game is a total disgrace to the franchise; it sucks. Not only are the drifting mechanics completely broken, but the decidedly awful collision detection is nothing less than ropey at best; the number of times that I’ve been unfairly pushed, shoved or even scraped off a platform without so much as a buy or leave (I crashed into a piece of rope which threw me off a bridge – it’s seriously that bad) is ridiculously gargantuan to say the least.

    Additionally, the announcer needs to burn in the raging fires of hell; he’s worse than Omochao was in Riders! Within a matter of minutes, I was sick and tired of the very sound of his voice, and the monotonous and repetitive garbage that he spouts continuously throughout the race is nothing but pointless and idiotic; I honestly don’t need to be told who I’ve just overtaken – I was THERE.

    Mark my words, All Stars Racing doesn’t have so much as a scratch on karting masterpieces such as Mario Kart Double Dash, and is a complete waste of time because of this. Although it’s far better than the woeful blasphemy that was Mario Kart Wii, it’s not worth buying for any reason – unless you’re a sadistic emo with a penchant for self harm and auto-torture, that is…

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