After the smashing Sega Superstars Tennis (a subtle blend of Mario Tennis and Sega characters), Sumo Digital returned to the drawing board and imagined Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing with Banjo-Kazooie, which is a subtle blend of Mario Kart and Sega characters.
Let us not argue with a good formula, though. Superstars Tennis does everything right—soundtrack, soundtrack, soundtrack and gameplay, plus great graphics and a marvelous soundtrack to boot. It was awfully safe to assume that All-Stars Racing would follow suit. Sumo Digital has done exactly what I’d hoped they’d do.
Kick. Some. Ass.
All-Stars Racing is another kart racer—so you already understand the basic premise. Get some characters, some karts and some items—then race to make first place and drift ’round corners like your life depends on it. If you’re a fan of this genre, then grabbing this game is a no-brainer, seeing as it has already dropped in price so much since its release in February this year.
Breaking from traditional kart racing (not quite in the same vein that Diddy Kong Racing did), All-Stars Racing offers some alternate vehicular action. Some characters use motorcycles as opposed to karts, and a few racers even take to very-low flying aircraft.
A selection of other vehicles would have been nice, as each character only has one vehicle each from the get-go. Also, each character can only ride his or her own vehicle, whereas I distinctly remember being able to mix-‘n’-match some vehicles in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!.
The fact that characters can only drive one vehicle is nowhere near my biggest peeve, however. The character selection itself is the issue. Whilst it is a top-class selection, someone is here who really shouldn’t be. That’s right: Banjo Bear.
I’m not a massive Banjo-Kazooie fan.
What’s even worse is that they are reprising their roles from Nuts & Bolts.
(Not exactly the best spin-off ever conceived.)
I say, with the utmost honesty, that I think Banjo and Kazooie should NOT be in this game. I believe Banjo and his red-feathered spouse/friend do not deserve to share an audience with a cast comprising of entirely Sega characters.
I am the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Sega Enterprises LTD that you will find within the twenty-five mile radius of my house. So it isn’t that Banjo and Kazooie are not good enough; no-no-no. Banjo and Kazooie are both absolutely smashing characters. I think they’re amazing.
It’s best explained like this: Despite how cool they are, they’re not bloody Sega characters.
It’s as if Sega is having a birthday party, and all their mascots are invited. Banjo and Kazooie are not their mascots; therefore, by principle, they shouldn’t be welcome.
In theory, that should make me hate the inclusion of Avatars in the 360 version and Miis in the Wii version, but I actually like that.
Really, I’m just a mega-biased asshole who loves Sega much more than is healthy.
We’ve got several Sonic characters heading up the roster (due to the primary milking-license on this occasion being the Sonic license). Sonic the Hedgehog himself, his two-tailed friend Tails, his arch-nemesis Dr. Eggman (or Dr.Robotnik if you’re retarded) and his love-disinterest Amy Rose appear in this game. Also, Knuckles the Echidna, Big the Cat and Shadow the Hedgehog are playable—bringing the Sonic cast to a big round seven.
As you might expect, NiGHTS makes an appearance, but he is not playable this time around. I hope you’re as equally bummed by this as I was, because he’s still as much a staple Sega character as Ulala or Ai-Ai.
BD Joe makes an appearance. I don’t blame you for not knowing who he is, because I’ve never played as anyone but Gena in the original Crazy Taxi. I understand you’re broadening your horizons here, Sumo Digital, and you’ve also chosen the TBG, which ticks a few boxes. Please, when including a Crazy Taxi character in the future, consider Gena. To quote American Pie 2, there is an abundance of wiener here.
Including a Crazy Taxi character but not Crazy Taxi music also seems a bit silly. I understand that licensing is an issue (one that plagued Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars), but if you’re serious enough, you’ll pay the costs. Not being able to race around to The Offspring feels wrong, like something is incomplete. Of course, the Xbox 360 allows music to be played through the dashboard, so this can be addressed.
Further-out choices include a Virtua Fighter odd-couple consisting of Akira Yuki and Jacky Bryant. Never gone much on Virtua Fighter, or indeed fighting games in general.
There is a team of four ChuChus from ChuChu Rocket!. But actually, they’re not from ChuChu Rocket!. They’ve been redesigned and characterised to the point where they no longer resemble the mice we know and love from Sega’s top-down puzzler.
Continuing down the road of madness, Opa from Fantasy Zone (the small flying thing) is unlockable, as well as Robo and Mobo from Bonanza Bros. I understand it’s a celebration of everything Sega, but I’ve never considered Bonanza Bros. a game worth celebrating.
But at least they’ve gone fishing in Sega’s past for the characters, because the courses are incredibly lacking in this area. Like in the SNES Mario Kart, the courses are far more “chip-set” than unique.
Three race courses in each theme, without fail. Three race courses based on Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes, where one would have sufficed. Why not use Grand Metropolis as a course theme instead of Bingo sodding Highway? Same goes for three courses based on the Curien Mansion from House of the Dead.
Think of what could have been done course-wise with the NiGHTS, Space Harrier, Virtua Cop and Hang-On/Out Run licenses.
There are three race courses based on Super Monkey Ball, and all these stages have one major flaw besides being based on Monkey Ball (or, as I like to call it, Monkey Fail): These stages are almost entirely formed of right angles. Whereas every other course in the game has smoothly flowing turns, the Monkey Ball stages are designed much more off of the games themselves, and are very uncomfortable to race on.
The Samba de Amigo stages are definitely the most inspired. The town race course is very creative but also vastly confusing, with what can only be described as “teleporting faces.” The rooftop and mountain courses are absolutely amazing, that is for sure. These courses show us that Sumo Digital does actually know what it’s doing! Long jumps, high boosts and amazing vast air sections.
Beautiful, colorful, awe-inspiring stuff!
There are a few other courses, but I won’t bore you any more about them.
The main single-player modes of All-Stars Racing focus on either winning a race, completing a single lap faster than the staff ghost, or solving a variety of missions.
The missions and the Grand Prix are the crux of the single-player mode—and they are handled very, very well. The Grand Prix is separated into six cups, which are available in three difficulties. Every three cups you complete, you get a different color license, which helps you monitor how well you’ve been playing.
The missions focus on different types of goals—racing, collecting rings and emeralds, hitting targets, drifting to score, boosting to score, and “rival races,” where you race against just one computer opponent, who is usually the character’s rival.
They’re challenging and, most importantly, great fun. They can be beaten with an A Rank, but the maximum grade is an AAA Rank, which takes practice, memorization and skill.
All the while, you are earning “Sega Miles” (in-game currency), which can be spent on unlockable characters, courses and audio tracks.
The soundtrack, like that of Superstars Tennis, is very, very good. Again, it doesn’t bother to delve too far into Sega’s history, or even anywhere near as deep as Superstars Tennis did (sorry, no Genesis chip-tunes or anything like that, for shame!)
Even the silly little things from Superstars Tennis, like the Space Harrier theme, are missing.
The Samba de Amigo representation on the soundtrack is the most mediocre—no “The Cup of Life,”
“Vamos A Carnaval,” ” Mambo Beat,” “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” or “Take On Me”! The songs you’d expect from the original Samba de Amigo (and the Japanese Samba de Amigo 2000) that should have been there are shoved aside in favor of some absolutely boring reprises of Bellini’s “Samba de Janeiro.”
The music for the Jet Set Radio Future courses seem to entirely ignore the original Jet Set/Grind Radio. All the music for those courses come from Future, which is not a bad thing, but the absence of the older songs is still annoying. The choices aren’t exactly the best, either—no “I Love Love You,” “Baby-T,” “Statement of Intent,” “I’m Not A Model” or “Aisle 10,” all of which would have been great. But, “Funky Dealer” is unlockable, so at least we’re offered one masterpiece from the Jet Set Radio Future soundtrack.
However, it’s by no means a dreadful soundtrack. The Sonic selections are far more inspired, including the Japanese “Palmtree Panic” from Sonic CD, “Can You Feel The Sunshine” from Sonic R and best till last—”Be Wild, Be Cool, Be Groovy and Crank The Heat Up!” from Sonic Adventure as an unlockable music track. Now that’s a move of absolute stonking genius.
Taking the place of Mario Kart Wii, the Xbox 360 and PS3 releases are definitely worth a purchase if you’re a nut for this kind of game. The next-gen kart-racing crown sits firmly on the head of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, especially if the word “Sega” turns you on half as damn much as it does me.
A totally unbiased score follows. Honest.