Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

A kart-ful of fun

Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing runs riot through a Nintendo gaming stronghold. However, rather than downgrading the kart racing to sheer chaos, what emerges is a surprisingly accomplished experience that will be particularly welcome on the Mario Kart-less 360 and PS3.

While the Wii version of Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing has the likes of Mario Kart and My Sims Racing to compete with, on 360 and PS3 there is less competition. Perhaps that's enough reason alone for Sega to step up to the kart racing plate, but even here they will inevitably be painted as the pretender to the crown.

The game adopts the usual kart racing memes. There are a set of varying drivers and vehicles that compete around a set of equally varied tracks. It's fast and frantic racing 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 with the peloton.

This is Mario Kart from 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 and 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 can bring to 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.

As well as these characters, they also remain true to the 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. So much so 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 - whereas Mario Kart is famed for shortcuts and hard won secrets.

Sega have a few ideas of their own to add though. Each character has a special All-Star move that can be triggered when you fall too far behind. 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.

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 servicing and Mario Kart similarities is an accomplished racing game. Sumo Digital manages to rein in the chaos enough to deliver a solid racing experience. Handling is solid and suits the analogue stick, whether on 360, PS3 or even Wii, to deliver the precision required to ace each corner. The other racers are also believable in their personal vendettas against you and other competitors.

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 combined with other race oriented decisions should convince even hardcore Mario fans of the credentials on offer here.

This is pretty everyday fare on the Wii, but for the 360 and PS3 it's a little rarer and for that more desirable. All three console versions are the same, although the frame rate on the Wii struggled from time to time, and failed to match the solid 60fps of the next-generation game. On 360 and PS3, this is solid though - whether in single player, four player split screen or online mode.

Apart from this difference it's impressive to see the game is essentially the same on all three consoles. On the Wii you can take advantage of racing as your Mii, and on the 360 you can use your Avatar as well as the exclusive Banjo and Kazooie character. The PS3 also promises to deliver downloadable content at a later date.

A lot like Sega Superstars Tennis, this is a well-rounded game that knows what it wants to achieve. The most impressive thing here is the restraint shown in the amount of Sega branded bedlam and power-ups. What results is a kart racer that offers something unique on 360 and PS3 and a strong alternative to Mario fatigued Wii players.

E3 Trailer