Racing games have always been big business for the video games industry. They might not be the biggest earners or the most memorable games around, but they always sell well, and there are always a lot of them on every gaming system. Whilst most try to take a serious approach to racing, one of the biggest names in the entire genre was the cartoonish Mario Kart series, which has been around since 1992.
Other companies tried to emulate the success of Nintendo’s racing game, but none were really able to recapture that kind of magic, or offer as iconic a roster of racers. It looked like the Italian plumber would dominate racing, but that changed in 2011 when Sega released Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.
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Now, I’m not saying that it’s better than Mario Kart, or that it achieves the same level of sales or recognition, but it’s one of the only games around that’s able to stand beside the Nintendo series for fun, brightly coloured environments, and instantly recognisable characters.
Released onto multiple platforms, including the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, and even the handheld Nintendo DS, the game received positive reviews from publications on its release, and public praise quickly followed. It was instantly popular thanks not only to its host of characters (more on that in a bit), but it’s inventive level of design. Drawing upon other games produced by Sega, the racer allowed players to revisit some classics. There was Sunshine Tour, which took inspiration from Dreamcast game Samba de Amigo; Monkey Target, which took racers into the treetops of the popular Gamecube title Super Monkey Ball; the snow covered Icicle Valley, based upon little remembered Billy Hatcher game; and of course, tracks like Ocean Ruin, which recreated stages from the Sonic The Hedgehog series.
Not only did the game offer some fun and frantic courses to race in across three different modes – Grand Prix, Single Race, and Time Tiral – it also included Missions, special tasks that require you to complete races and challenges under certain conditions. These ranged from drifting for a set amount of time, to beating the race whilst a countdown eliminated the racers at the rear, and even driving around new areas collecting items. These Missions took practice, and if you wanted to beat them with the best rank they could require multiple play throughs. The Missions added a lot of extra playability to the game, giving people something more to do than simply beating the same tracks over and over again, and completing these missions was as fun a group activity as the regular races whenever I got together with friends to play the game.
The game also offered a lot of characters to choose from. Unlike Mario Kart, which (with a few exceptions) chiefly drew upon only the Super Mario series, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing featured racers from across Sega’s catalogue of games. Of course there were the expected characters like Sonic, Tails, Shadow the Hedgehog, and even Doctor Eggman, but there were some odd choices too, like the Bonanza Brothers, Jacky and Akira from Virtual Fighter, a couple of zombies from House of the Dead, Ulala from Space Channel 5, and Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone who ran around the track itself rather than using a vehicle.
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Having these iconic characters mixed in with some obscure, and some would say bizarre, choices makes for a game that felt a lot different from other racing games. It felt like Sega wasn’t necessarily trying to make a game that felt cohesive, but one that was fun, that drew upon everything the company had done before as a big celebration of their characters and games, even if it didn’t quite fit together perfectly.
Whilst Mario Kart might be one of the most iconic ‘fun’ racing games it’s a series that I feel gets a little too much praise. If you’re looking for a truly fun, wacky, and enjoyable racing game you need to look at their Sega cousin instead, as Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing will forever be one of my favourite racing games ever made.