Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing: Demo Impressions

With the recent announcement of Sonic 4, we thought things were starting to look up for Sega’s flagship mascot. That was up until we played through the recently released demo of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, both on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

The stupidly named game (did they really need the “Sonic?”) sees Sega’s biggest franchises come together in a Mario Kart style racing game, complete with various weapons, traps and character specific power moves. The game also features Sega’s famous drift mechanic to make navigating the courses a faster, more enjoyable experience.

The demos available on the Xbox 360 and PS3 are console specific, with the 360 version taking a Sonic Heroes inspired course, and the PS3 opting for a rather drab Billy Hatcher inspired course. The 360 version also features Banjo and Kazooie as an exclusive racing duo. Other courses seen on the selection screen, but unavailable on the demo, take their inspiration from such Sega gems as Samba De Amigo, The House of The Dead, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg and various Sonic titles.

After booting up the demo, you’re presented with a mildly enjoyable, fully rendered opening sequence, after which you can choose your character and course. Waiting on the starting line, I expected to shoot off at 60fps, but that definitely didn’t happen. The opening few seconds of the 360 version suffers from some disappointing slow-down, as does the rest of the demo. The 360 demo never rises above 30fps either, but things are a bit smoother on the PS3. Much like the PS3 version of Sonic Unleashed, the game actually manages a few moments at 60fps, but quickly drops back down to a regular 30fps.

For a racing game, this is disappointing news. The speed of the vehicles and the fast paced nature of the courses and action would have really benefited from a faster frame rate. It’s even more disappointing when you consider that overall, the graphics aren’t really that much more impressive than Sonic Heroes on the original XBox.

Lighting throughout the courses is all pretty standard and the character/vehicle models feel too small to have any kind of visual impact. The various powers up feel very similar and flash by too quickly to leave an impression, as do the character specific power moves.

Ultimately, the core racing gameplay experience doesn’t live up to much either. The game races along at a fast pace, and staying in the lead proves quite tricky for such a simple game. Power sliding has been simplified and watered down in comparison to the likes of OutRun, and lacks any skill to give you a sense of accomplishment when navigating the courses, though the speed boost gained from a successful slide is a welcome addition. Tricks can be performed in the air with a simple tap of a shoulder button, and if successful, you’ll once again be rewarded with a handy speed boost. Traps are laden throughout the courses and in the demo, these included badniks from Sonic’s world, wooden boxes as well as seawater and snow patches to slow you down. These obstacles are easy to avoid and rarely get in the way of racing.

A certain amount of enjoyment can be gleamed from the appearance of Sega's most popular characters, even if they don't all fit into the roster successfully. As expected, Sonic and his companions take up a lot of the slots, but some less well-exploited characters are also thrown into the mix. Shenmue's Ryo Hazuki joins the cast, complete with his borrowed motorcycle. Successfully triggering Ryo's power move will enable you to take his trusty forklift truck for spin and flip the opposition out of the way. Other Sega favourites making an appearance include Ulala, Alex Kidd, Jacky and Akira from Virtua Fighter, AiAi, and Billy Hatcher. It's an impressive line up and certain to please most Sega fans out there.

For such a simple and proven concept, as well as being able to choose from such a rich selection of franchises, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing should be a nostalgic trip through the history of Sega, but instead, the demo has left us feeling like we'll be presented with yet another messy, technically flawed and unenjoyable experience. The demo never rises above mediocre, leading us to believe that the final game is destined to join the ranks off all the other Mario Kart pretenders that have come and gone over the years.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is released on February 26, and is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and PC.


  1. I really enjoyed the 360 demo and you telling me the PS3 one shows off a different course has excited me. But maybe I'm too happy to see Ryo again, I haven't noticed everything you said (with the exception of the power-ups going too fast to leave an impression). The character models seem to be the same size as they usually are in these kinds of games and (to my untrained eye) seemed pretty enough.
    I've recently been playing OutRun and you're right that the drift mechanic has been simplified, but then you need to consider the games target audience. This reduction in difficulty is essential if loads of kids aren't just going to give up playing when they hit every bend and lose every race. Simple though it was, it was a charming enough game. Far better than Sumo's similar tennis cash in and (despite your claims to the contrary) better than almost every other straight up Mario Kart clone, whilst obviously never hitting Nintendo's heights.
    My only problem with the game (so far) is the lack of Ine San as a playable character, maybe riding the cherry tree. Just a thought.

  2. It annoys me how only classic sonic fans get their voice heard because they are mainly adults. why cant somebody root for sonic when he has a 3D game for once?