For a decade or so, Sonic’s sub-mediocre titles have gone from shelves to bargain bins (and, no doubt, regular bins) at supersonic speed. Sonic 4 promises to take him back to basics, but for now it seems Sega wants a slice of the potentially lucrative, mascot-based carting pie.
Sega’s latest hedgehog-filled slice of gaming pie certainly looks delicious, but when hedgehogs and cars meet, the result is usually fairly messy. Will Sonic’s latest outing bring his run of terrible offerings screeching to a halt, or will it simply be yet another bathetic blue smear of video game roadkill? Step inside to find out.
It’s apparent as soon as the chequered flag is waved that S&SASRWBK Sega Racing does not exude originality, but it would be audacious and difficult to create such a game without looking at the tried-and-tested formula of games like the genre-defining Mario Kart.
Thankfully, unlike many mascot racers, it doesn’t come across as a shoddy cash-in – whew! With 64 varied missions, 24 tracks and 22 racers, as well as various battle modes, race modes and collectibles, there’s enough to keep you interested for a very long time before you even consider its primary purpose: the online multiplayer.
The races themselves are blisteringly fast, which is to be expected. However, one of the most impressive factors is the ease and simplicity of the controls, despite this maintained speed. Before long, even the most inexperienced of gamers will be power sliding around the tightest of corners, earning boosts and racking up “Sega Miles”, which can then be spent on things like new courses and characters.
Other than the odd shortcut, the tracks are actually pretty linear, but they are nonetheless well thought out, and the themes mirror their respective games. For example, Sonic’s Green Hill-esque courses are punctuated with robotic piranhas, chequered loops and springs, which serve to extend the mythology of Sonic’s world – if it’s not grandiose to describe Sonic’s world as having a mythology – into the courses. Other tracks are derived from such classics as Jet Set Radio, The House of the Dead and Super Monkey Ball, making for a diverse racing universe.
In the weapons department there are stark similarities to Mario Kart, but the likes of shells and bananas become boxing gloves, traffic cones and other such unimaginative clichés. There are, however, a few staples of the Sonic franchise – bubbles and speedy shoes, for example – as well as the almighty “all-star” move.
Each character’s all-star move is unique but relative. To name but a few of the fun, if sometimes overly potent, specials, Sonic becomes Super Sonic, which blasts him through the pack, Amy has her trademark giant hammer, and Samba de Amigo uses his Latin rhythm to entrance the other racers into a conga line.
The game looks like it borrows a lot of graphical influence from the likes of Viva Piñata; but that’s by no means a bad thing, as the lustrous, often plasticine-like visuals give the game a solid, pseudo-three-dimensional feel. However, some of the courses are more colorful than a clown barber’s shop floor (zing!). In fact, the colors can be so garish that they make you feel you should perhaps turn your TV’s contrast down before you burn a permanent rainbow into your retinas.
In credit to Sega, they often garnish their games with some pretty tasty soundtracks, but Sonic’s have a tendency to err on the side of cheese. The music in Sega Racing steers away from the typical child-oriented cartoon audio found in games of this ilk, and we are presented with contemporary, funky tracks that complement the courses’ themes. You can even spend you hard-earned Sega Miles on collecting these original and remixed musical numbers from the many featured Sega classics.
With 20 classic characters making up an eclectic cast from Sega’s epic history, there should at least be a few that milk the ol’ nostalgia gland for you. On top of these, the Wii and 360 versions allow you to race with your miis and avatars, but lucky 360 owners will get the addition of Banjo & Kazooie, meaning there are 22 characters in total.
Rather than generic karts, the vehicles they operate are a clever extension of the characters: Tails flies his plane, Banjo & Kazooie drive a car that looks like it’s been lifted directly from a Rare title, and Shadow sits astride a mean-looking Harley, making for some exciting ‘hog-on-hog action.
With a questionable track record of recent years, it’s difficult to lay our trust in the Sega brand as easily as we used to, but thanks to Sumo Digital, Sega Racing has approached the genre, improved upon it and set some new benchmarks.
In fact, dare I say it, it has better character variety, it is more polished and ultimately more fun than Mario Kart. Oh God, what’s that noise? Ah yes, it’s the thundering stampede of Nintendo fanboys heading my way!
With its multitude of references to Sega games past and present, Sega Racing will be most appreciated by those who are familiar with the company’s rich history, dating back to the Master System. But as a generic racer it is nonetheless heaps of fun even for those who just about recognise Sonic, let alone Billy Hatcher!
Characters from various eras and formats are faithfully rendered in crisp and seamless HD, and the courses range from haunted house to snow-capped peaks, all of which look stunning, even when playing 4-player split-screen.
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Within minutes you will be racing like a pro, but mastering drifting and boosting is crucial for the more advanced difficulty settings. A varied arsenal provides plenty of excitement as you frantically aim for first place.
Familiar tracks from Sega classics, as well as some contemporary originals, complement the courses brilliantly, although the race commentator can get a bit annoying and repetitive.
With 64 varied missions, and plenty of Grand Prix modes and endless fun to be had in multiplayer, you could easily be playing this for many months.
Bursting with modes, missions and mascots, it is easily the most polished kart racer of recent years, enhanced by Sega’s rich history and simple, fun gameplay.