There’s absolutely no question that Sumo Digital looked at Mario Kart Wii, as nearly every part of All-Stars Racing is nicked from Nintendo’s design. I say that with all respect: if you’re put to the task of building a racing game that revolves around a company’s franchises, you’re going to benefit from looking at the one game that’s considered the best in its class. While SEGA’s game may not have too much it can claim as “original” to the franchise, what the developer does in All-Stars Racing it does very well, turning a “me-too” project into a tightly developed racer with a lot of charm and character of its own.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing has no back-story nor does it put into context why characters from all walks of SEGA life – from Sonic the Hedgehog to Shenmue to Chu Chu Rocket – decided to have a race through environments based around the games they star in. It doesn’t need it. Just like Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., All-Stars Racing is a celebration of all things the company represents. There are very, very few publishers in the videogame industry that can get away with designing a game around a legacy of recognizable franchises and characters across multiple decades. And it never feels like egotistical back-patting here, either.

I wouldn’t say that that SEGA’s racer is as in-depth to the company as Nintendo’s fighter: as plentiful as the roster of characters and courses are in All-Stars Racing, the developer had to draw the line somewhere. Games like Golden Axe, Altered Beast, and Streets of Rage don’t get any representation outside of a mere mention in the game’s Achievement system (Golden Acts is one of the game’s reward goals, for example), and fans of SEGA games like Zaxxon and Virtua Cop won’t see any references at all.

But even with certain unfortunate omissions, it’s great to drive around tracks based on Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg with Alex Kidd or the Fantasy Zone ship. There are at least some obscure references integral to the Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing design.

The driving control is tight, the action’s fast, and the tracks are really well designed with some fun turns, jumps and hidden shortcuts. Breaking down the specifics of All-Stars Racing’s gameplay would be like pulling out the Mario Kart design document: the powersliding technique, where you’ll get a jolt of speed the longer you hold your drift, is nearly identical to Mario Kart Wii, and nearly a hundred percent of the offensive and defensive weapons you pick up in this game have a Mario Kart equivalent. Instead of turtle shells it’s boxing gloves and rockets; instead of boosting mushrooms it’s Sonic’s sneakers. Banana peels? Nah, in All-Stars Racing they’re traffic cones. Even the local multiplayer options borrow gameplay modes from Mario Kart. The biggest culprit: Battle Mode for four players split screen. The rules are pretty similar and even a couple of the available arenas are clones.

But the development team really looked at what made Mario Kart work and made every attempt to mimic the feel and the strategies. Incoming projectiles can be thwarted with well-timed shots of other weapons, for example. There are some odd balance issues with some characters, though, and the rising difficulty of the single player grand prix mode steepens early on.

Clone as the game is, there is an original aspect to Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing: each of the 20-plus racers have a unique power-up move of their own, capturing the individuality of the character in a specific attack. Sonic turns in to Super Sonic and rushes through the track with blazing speed. Amigo starts rattling his maracas and gets everyone he touches into a conga line. Billy Hatcher whips out a giant egg and starts rolling over people with it. There are some repeats – like Shadow the Hedgehog’s Sonic attack copy.

The game was developed across all current-generation platforms. It’s not surprising to find out that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions are identical productions with equal footing in the graphics, sound, and multiplayer features. On that same note, it’s pleasantly surprising to find out that the Nintendo Wii edition – apart from the lower resolution – gets similar treatment with close to the exact same features as the stronger hardware.

The 360/PS3 version definitely benefits from the HD visuals. The environments are beautiful, matching the games they’re referencing with extremely high detail, and the character/car models are well-animated with lots of personality. But all this comes at a cost: the framerate has a tough time keeping steady, oftentimes dropping significantly below it when the track geometry gets complex. But when the framerate dips (and it does frequently) the game doesn’t really lose its sense of speed or its fun factor. That said, the technical limitations of the engine definitely make themselves known right from the start.

The Wii version of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing does a great job keeping up with the other console versions, though the visuals definitely get hit. It’s not just in standard definition, either. When you run split-screen multiplayer, environments will get stripped down to their core components so the game can handle four different views of the action.

The Wii version is nearly feature identical, even going so far as retaining the Achievements/Trophies of the PS3 and 360 editions. It supports online races — there are still restrictions on the Nintendo console – time trial ghosts aren’t downloadable like they are on PS3 and Xbox 360 (you can view the top 20 times on each track on those consoles) and you’ll need Friends Codes to set up a lobby. But it’s very impressive to see that the Nintendo version is almost as robust in features as the bigger systems’ edition. You can even bring in a Classic Controller if you’d rather not deal with the Wii remote tilting, but GameCube controllers aren’t supported like they are in Mario Kart Wii.

Closing Comments
Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing may not have a whole lot in the gameplay department that it can call its own, but Sumo Digital took what worked and built a SEGA-themed experience that captures what makes the company’s games so memorable. This racer is surprisingly deep and robust, and even with its unoriginal design it’s a great time no matter which version you get.

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