|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Sumo Digital||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SEGA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 23, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
There's no doubt about it: Mario Kart Wii was a great game, and non-Wii owners missed out on it. So, it's not surprising to see SEGA make a shameless (and we do mean shameless) copy of it for the PS3 and Xbox 360. It is a little surprising to see the game released on the Wii itself, where it will have to compete with the real deal, though. It's even more surprising to find that Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing holds up pretty well with a white plastic steering wheel in hand.
Before we compliment the game further, though, let's dwell on SEGA's pure (say it again) shamelessness. It's not just that Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is a kart racer with cartoonish characters taken from a company's various franchises. It's not even that this game's creative and zany track design takes lots of cues from the kart racers that came before. It's that this is a near-perfect replica of Mario Kart Wii.
Steering your vehicle, whether done with the Wii Wheel, the Nunchuk, or the Classic Controller (there's no Gamecube controller support), feels exactly the same as it did before. The drifting technique seems eerily familiar. You even get speed boosts for long drifts, doing stunts in the air, and timing your acceleration at the beginning of the race correctly. Almost all the items are re-skinned Mario Kart weapons (red shells become red rockets, green shells become green boxing gloves, mushrooms become Sonic shoes, etc.). There's even a multiplayer arena-based battle mode. In all but name, this is nothing more than a track pack for Mario Kart Wii.
That doesn't get in the way of the fun, though. Mario Kart titles usually come around only once per console, and in the two years since Mario Kart Wii released, plenty of fans have mastered the tracks and set the game aside. SEGA has given these fans a chance to get back in the driver's seat, learn some new courses, and relive Sonic-themed stages instead of Mario-themed ones for a change. A game this derivative can never be great, but Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing manages to be very, very good.
In a few small ways, the game even improves on its inspiration. As the Mario Kart franchise has progressed, Nintendo has added more and more randomness in the form of powerful weapons (the POW block, for example), and in Mario Kart Wii this sometimes felt remarkably unfair and frustrating. In this game, that tendency is scaled back quite a bit. There are a few truly devastating tools in racers' arsenals, and even when you're hit, spinning out isn't as big a setback as you might expect. The developers make up for this with "catch-up" power-ups, which often catapult the last-place racer into first, but there's an option to turn this off. With or without catch-up, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing feels like a racer first and a random-item competition second. The game also features "missions," which aren't exactly groundbreaking (collect a certain number of coins, drift as much as you can, win a race against a single opponent, win an eliminator-style race, etc.) but add some variety to spice up the gameplay.
In most other ways, the game doesn't top Mario Kart Wii, but it gets close. The track design here is marvelous, with the kinds of amusing, challenging, short-cut-friendly mazes one might expect from Nintendo. Sonic-themed tracks (especially casino ones) are a little overrepresented, but that doesn't break the game, and it's a lot of fun to race through a zombie-infested House of the Dead track when the opportunity presents itself. The graphics are quite good, with each of the 24 colorful tracks rendered in a fair amount of detail. Owners of high-definition consoles who care a lot about visuals might want to stick to the more powerful versions of the game, though. The multiplayer modes run smoothly, and in single-player, the difficulty ramps up nicely. Mario Kart fans won't have any problem winning the six cups in Beginner mode, but Advanced will take some work, and Expert is downright tough.