Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Video game number fifty four: Sonic Sega Racing All Stars

Game review number fifty four in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Sonic Sega Racing All Stars".

In one sentence, this game is awesome...despite having all the odds stacked against it.

"What odds?" You may ask. Read on.

If you've been religiously following my quest so far (and seriously, why wouldn't you?)...then you're aware there has been a recurring theme as far as my old friend Sonic the Hedgehog is concerned. It seems that while I wasn't paying attention to him, Sonic resurfaced with a vengeance. Unfortunately, it also seems that he has only returned to screw all of his older fans with terrible new games. He's succeeded not once, but twice now.

These days, Sonic is sort of like Courtney Love. He might have been a rock star for a few years almost two decades ago, but now he's just kind of a drunken slut. He'll do absolutely anything to appear on your TV screen. Sonic is a shell of his former self. He's whacked out on heroin, falling over chairs and landing on his back with his legs in the air, exposing his smelly private hedgehog parts. If you're stupid enough to pay attention to Sonic these days, much like Courtney Love....he's probably going to leave you feeling like you need to douche your brain.

There has been one shining exception to this rule for Sonic: Collaborations.

When Sonic gets together with his old buddies for reunions, he actually seems to do ok. Actually, I suppose he's like Courtney Love that way too. His old friends keep him clean for a weekend while he turns in solid performances as a tennis player, or in this case...an All Star Sega Racer. Speaking of the latter....I suppose I should probably get to reviewing it.

All Star Racing is a fantastic Mario Kart clone, and the first one in perhaps well...history....to get almost every aspect of the target model correct. If you've ever seen the movie Multiplicity, you know that when you clone something, there are all sorts of unexpected side effects. Sometimes your clone is an asshole. Other times he turns out to be gay. Sometimes he's just fucking retarded. Video game clones are the same way.

The original Mario Kart is like Star Wars. People have tried, but no one will ever be able to make a better space trilogy. Even George Lucas couldn't do it again. Mario Kart defined the genre and then cranked out five amazing sequels, not to mention two separate arcade games (which I am dying to play someday). At least a dozen other games have tried to capture whatever it is about Mario Kart that makes it awesome but Sonic Sega Racing All Stars is the first game in history ever to come this close.

All Stars does not try to reinvent the wheel. The folks at Sega have wisely chosen to follow the classic Mario Kart formula. First, they add the basic ingredients: Their game has 3 difficulty levels, 4 "cups", 4 tracks each cup. There are item boxes, different karts to unlock, power weapons, drifting, crazy jumps and shortcuts. Next, they mix in some new flavor: Unique character "all star" moves, that can only be activated if you're trailing and you're lucky enough to unlock one from an item box.

All Stars has random power items like the Mario Kart lightning bolt and blue shell, but the All Star moves take it to a new level. If you're behind and you're lucky enough to get this, it's better than a blue shell. You only unlock these when you're behind (way behind), but when you get them....your character pulls off something amazing. I haven't been able to get all of them yet (it's random) but the ones I have gotten are cool. These moves not only knock out people ahead of you, but it puts you on rails for a moment (like the bullet in Mario Kart). The announcer warns you that someone has "GONE ALL STAR", and that gives you a few seconds to get the hell out of the way before they run you over. It's a thing of beauty.

All Stars also has time trials, where you can race staff ghosts and your own best times. When Mario Kart 64 introduced the ghost feature, I thought it was awesome. I kept my best times (a few of which I still have to this day) on the memory unit for that thing and challenged my friends to beat them. Mario Kart Wii stepped up the time trials by offering staff ghosts and also letting you race against the best in the world. My friends and I would constantly beat each others times on that and send them back and forth. Nothing encourages you more to be a better racer.

Sonic borrows the trials concept, and also adds cool little challenges in a mission mode. One mission asks you to drive your character through a bunch of gates. Another asks you to collect rings. One mission I tried was all about boost, another was all drift...and some are just races. Every mission you run wins you "Sega Miles", currency which you can use to unlock new racers and bump your stats with. Every race you run also gives you miles.

If the above was all they had crammed into Sonic Sega All Stars Racing, it would be a good game....but wait, there's more. Sega has packed in a decent online multiplayer mode, which quite possibly makes this the most well rounded kart racer out there. In the past, I've bitched about Mario Kart DS not having proper multiplayer. When the Wii version of Mario Kart game out, the multiplayer had improved a little...but was still a pain in the ass. I know I'm mentioning the wart on grandma's face that we're all usually too nice to bring up...but here it is: Nintendo is absolutely fucking retarded when it comes to figuring out how to match up two friends who want to play a game together. My friends and I shouldn't have to enter 12 digit codes into a message before we ever have a chance of finding each other. Once we have finally managed to complete the two email process that make up the Nintendo friend code exchange, we should be able to talk with each other, dammit.

All Stars racing allows everything you'd expect in a modern multiplayer game. You can play a quick match with friends or strangers, and while you're playing...you can (gasp)...talk with them. All of your races earn you Sega miles, which you can spend in the offline store. That's nice, and gives the game additional replayability. The only thing missing from the multiplayer mode is the All Star power moves, which I actually think is a good thing. The developers knew people would save them up until the last lap and then fuck all their opponents with them at the last minute, so they took the toy away. This would be fun in local matches with your friends (who you can curse at without hating), but it's probably better to leave them out when it comes to random people online.

Overall score: 8.5/10. This game is great. For the first time in kart racer history, they've actually raised the bar for Nintendo a little. You hear that Mario?

Achievements? Oh yeah...there are tons. I'm just getting started, but I have no intentions of stopping anytime soon, especially if I can get some friends to pick this one up as well.


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