Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Kicks Ass (Review, Baby)

...Oh!  Hello, didn't see you there.  Well, gather around the fireplace, folks, cause I'm gonna tell you a story about the old days.

Well, not that old.  Going back to Spring 2010 when Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racers came out.  Now I've referenced this game a few times, but let's delve into it if you're uninformed. 

This game was made by Sumo Digital, not Sega.  Sumo is also responsible for Sega Superstars Tennis and OutRun 2 console ports.  I'm gonna go ahead and say this--Sumo Digital is one of the last bastions of Sega goodness.  Really, cause I don't think Sega would've made a game that celebrates its history as much as this.  And don't give me Sonic Riders since that game wasn't as well-received as this one.

Now, I'm going to tell you five good things and five bad things about this game.  Well, why more bad things, you ask?  Not because I'm a Negative Nancy, but because I want to prove I'm not a blind homer and so that Sega/Sumo can improve on whatever games they make in the future.  See, constructive criticism isn't so bad, is it?  Consider this as a "Top 10" of stuff to mention about this game.



1. My goodness, this game was such a breath of fresh air when it came out.  Sick and tired of this Burnout crap.  Game's got great drifts and a decent (not the best, but certainly better than most) sense of speed.  I'm dead serious--when a race gets going, it's a hell of a lot more fun than Mario Kart.  It's as close as you're gonna get to Daytona/OutRun in a looooong time...

2. Good representation of Sega characters.  You don't necessarily have to be a Sega diehard to get it, but besides a bunch of Sega characters, you got Ryo Hazuki, Beat, Ulala, BD Joe, Billy Hatcher, Bonanza Bros., Alex Kidd, even freakin Banjo-Kazooie (360 version only).  It's really nice to see some Sega representation somewhere, and what better than a freakin racing game?

3. The items are actually quite balanced.  Granted, they are generic items like traffic cones, rockets, bombs, Sonic shoes, etc. which act like the usual Mario Kart stuff like shells and bananas.  But in Mario Kart, one of the biggest complaints was how cheesy the items were.  It was so easy to get the crap kicked out of you in that game.  In this game, items aren't as powerful and you can deflect them quite easily using your own items.  So basically, the game is not as random as Mario Kart and is thus more rewarding.

There is one item though that serves as a spiky shell/bullet bill/lightning bolt and that is a Superstar Move.  If you're in a bad position, you activate this and your character gains some special ability for a few seconds.  Like Sonic turns into Super Sonic, Ryo rides a forklift that is tank-like in nature, Billy Hatcher rides a big egg and crushes people, Bonanza Bros. drop bombs from a blimp, etc.  However, these items are not available in online play.  Whether or not this is a good thing is up to you (I err towards good since they seem broken in a way).

4. Tracks are actually damn good and colorful.  They're all based off of Sega games--Sonic Green Hill, Sonic Casino, Eggman Fortress, Jet Set Radio Tokyo, Samba de Amigo World, House of the Dead, etc.  Granted, this fact is a given, but it's nice to race on bright, colorful tracks that make you feel GOOD.  Well, some of them anyway, but at least there's a decent variety!

5. It has Jacky Bryant and his buddy Akira riding in the Koenigsegg CCX convertible OUTRUNNERS STYLE!!!

This is not the best race in the world.  I can certainly do much better, but this is just for show.



1. Some people don't like how the game runs at 30 FPS as opposed to 60.  Now IMO, this is hardly a problem, but since this was the year 2010, the game's gotta push it to the limit.  There's also some slight slowdown in the second Eggman course, when you whip around the final turn and you're facing the big factory and you get cut down a little.  It's not so bad, but everyone would prefer if the game ran in full speed.

2. The character tiers are crap, crap, mega crap.  Well, it's not that bad since you can be competitive with any character but still, blatant tiers exist.  The best characters in the game are in the middleweight category.  Tierwise, the best characters would be Sonic, Shadow, Ryo, Tails, Bonanza Bros. and so forth.  The worst are the heavy weights which consist of Eggman, Banjo, the Zombie dudes, and my boys Jacky and Akira...

The reason why is because their acceleration sucks so all it takes is a few timely hits and they're down for the count.  Even without items, their high top speeds and long drift boost aren't that great against the other characters.  Also, the game doesn't allow players to push other characters around.  As Jacky, I should be able to plow over lightweights like Knuckes in the ATV, but he just blocks me and kills my momentum which makes no sense, thus neutering heavyweights even further.

Regardless, these tiers are nowhere near as bad as Mario Kart Wii's vehicle tiers.  I talked about this way back, but in MKWii, if you're not driving a bike, you're shooting yourself in the foot.  Change the name to Mario Bike Wii for good justice.

3. Backwards drifting.  Now Mario Kart DS and F-Zero have a similar mechanic in snaking--constantly moving back and forth to accumulate speed boosts.  SaSASR has a similar mechanic this way.  There are two "steering wheels"--one on the joystick and one on the d-pad.  So if you use the joystick to turn one way in the drift, you can push the d-pad in the opposite direction to jerk the car back the other way, hence being able to drift in a straight line at will.

Now this trick really isn't all that bad.  For one, I believe it does even out the character tiers a little which gives heavyweights like Jacky more time to boost.  Second, it does take some skill to do.  However, if we're going for a pure racing game, this can't happen.  It's ridiculous that every second you're on the track, you're constantly sideways.  This isn't gymkhana , it's a race.

Of course, the debate whether or not to keep BD drifting in (despite it being an unintentional feature) was ended when some people pleaded on the official Sega forums to keep it in.  This is a tough call because I like drifting, but doing it in a straight line makes no sense.

4. Some shortcuts are better than others.  The best shortcut in the game is on Rokkaku Hill (2nd JSR level, sunset).  When you enter the subway tunnel, cut hard to the right to enter a parking garage.  This parking garage shortcut is so advantageous that if you miss it and take the traditional route instead, you lose a lot of ground.  There's also a lucrative shortcut at the end of Ocean Pier--just jump the pier in front of you instead of turning left and there's a couple of seconds off your lap time.

On the other hand, there's some shortcuts in the Billy Hatcher levels that require you to "thread the needle" just to gain hardly any track position which means it is better to just skip it entirely.  Yes, it would be tough to fix shortcuts and make them "fair," but just apply the More Risk = More Reward principle and there you go.

5. Sometimes the announcer needs to shut up.  He can be rather annoying.  Also, some of the items could be buffed, like the rainbow trap and the bombs which I don't think has helped one damn bit.  There are more Sega franchises that could be included like uhh...maybe the Hornet from Daytona?  Hey the Hornet WAS in Fighters Megamix after all.  Okay, now I'm just nitpicking so I'm done.


Anyway, I know this "review" is really late, but I still gotta give Sumo props on this game.  It's one of the best racing games I've played in a long time despite its flaws.  Online's mostly dead but even if you get this game just to try out single-player, it's worth it.

Surprisingly, reviews for this game have been pretty good, some saying that it's better than Mario Kart Wii.   Professional and user reviews hover around the 8.0 range, maybe higher.  Not bad.  If I were to rate the game, I'd give it AT LEAST an 8, maybe a 9 (out of 10).  Is this game good?  Yes.  Is it better than Outrun and Daytona?  Not really, but once again, props people.  Peace out.  Go read a book or something.

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