Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Review
Heading the list of game types that I sit down to review with feelings of trepidation are movie licensed games, but a not too distant second are kart racers. It seems that just about any franchise that can pull together eight or so characters has had its own kart game (does anyone remember the Phantom Menace kart game? *shudder*). And so I sat down to play Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, hoping against hope that it wouldn't continue the tradition of crummy kart racers but preparing myself for the probability that it would. Much to my surprise, All-Stars Racing proved to be an exception to the kart racer rule and is actually fun to play.
All-Stars Racing includes a large cast of characters from SEGA's history, with the Dreamcast well-represented and the Master System even contributing a character (sorry boys, no Bayonetta). Sonic characters are a bit over-represented and it would have been nice to see an even wider array of games providing characters here, but since Sonic's name is on the game it's understandable. On the Xbox 360 you get a couple of bonuses to the character lineup in the form of Banjo and Kazooie (they share one car) and your own Xbox 360 Avatar. Each character has his or her own vehicle, from Shenmue's Ryo Hazuki's motorcycle to Space Channel 9's Ulala's space pod. Each vehicle feels slightly different to drive, but the game seems to emphasize the gamer's overall driving skills over differences between the characters' vehicles.
The game includes 24 tracks, and like the characters they're drawn from games in SEGA's back catalog. Once again, the lion's share comes from Sonic, with nine of the tracks inspired by familiar Sonic game zones such as the Casino and Eggman Fortress zones. The tracks are great, both in design and look. Sonic's tracks are filled with jumps, loops, and bumpers, Samba De Amigo's tracks look like a south-of-the-border version of Roger Rabbit's Toontown, the Jet Set Radio Future tracks are highly urban, and the Curien Mansion from House of the Dead tracks are delightfully creepy and zombie-infested. All of the tracks feature plenty of curves, alternate paths, and obstacles and chokepoints, all of which mean you'll need to pay far more attention to your driving skills in this game than you need to in just about every other cart racer out there.
Since the tracks require some skill to navigate, it's lucky that the controls are tight and responsive. The controls are pretty simple as well; you pull the right trigger to accelerate, the left trigger is used for drifting, boosting, and tricks, and the A button unleashes any available power-up. Drifting/boosting is a big part of the game, and to drift on a corner or curve you pull the left trigger and try your best to steer while sliding sideways. As you hold the drift you'll earn boost power - there are three levels of boost - and if you drift long enough to earn a boost, releasing the trigger will end the drift, unleash the boost, and send you flying down the track. Tricks are performed on jumps, and each character has his or her own set of three different ones. The tricks are purely for your entertainment, though, and don't figure into the game other than being tied to a couple of achievements. The power-ups are collected by hitting capsules on the track, which awards you one power-up at a time at random. The power-ups are pretty generic and are drawn from the standard arsenal for this type of game - missiles, bombs, boosts, shields, and the like. The one unique power-up is the All-Star Move which seems to be awarded by a capsule only if you're towards the back of the pack. The All-Star Move is character-specific, and although it unleashes a lot of fanfare and special racing moves it pretty much amounts to an extended speed boost.