It's true that Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing is incredibly similar in terms of game design to a certain other kart racing series. While Mario Kart rules the racing roost, with sales to back it up, SEGA's been making arcade-style racing games since the dawn of time (well, the 1980s). So, while there's no denying that this Sumo Digital developed kart racer has been "inspired" by Nintendo's mega franchise, it's got a tinge of OutRun about it too, and production values that far exceed anything we've seen from the Italian Plumber's karting antics. But yeah, it's still essentially Mario Kart with Sonic.
Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing is a SEGA fan love-in. Although not all available from the start, the game features 20 famous (although some more than others) SEGA characters and 24 tracks. While the characters are spread amongst many SEGA titles, the tracks are based in the worlds of Sonic the Hedgehog, House of the Dead, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio, Samba de Amigo and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg – yes, the game that was released exclusively on the GameCube to little fanfare back in 2003. Billy Hatcher is an odd choice given the other licences SEGA and Sumo had to play with, but presumably they thought the fun world would appeal to a younger audience.
From the get-go you'll have eight racers to choose from, including the maraca shaking Amigo from Samba de Amigo, Aiai from Super Monkey Ball and five characters from the Sonic series (Sonic, Tails, Amy Rose, Dr. Eggman and Shadow the Hedgehog). Bizarrely, the eighth start character is the aforementioned Billy Hatcher, and not a more iconic character. Sadly none of the unlockable characters include any anthropomorphic cars from SEGA's brilliant racing games (no Daytona or SEGA Rally car here), but you do get characters from Virtua Fighter, Space Channel 5, House of the Dead, Shenmue and more.
Core to All-Stars racing is the Grand Prix, a series of six championships each consisting of four races. Finish in third place or higher after the four races and you'll unlock the next championship. Your performances also earn you SEGA dollars, which can be spent to unlock the extra content detailed above. In total the SEGA store has 12 racers, 16 courses and 32 music tracks to spend hard-earned cash on.
None of this would count for toffee if the actual racing wasn't up to scratch, but coming from Sumo (the studio behind the excellent home console versions of OutRun 2) there really wasn't anything to worry about. On the track, whether you're playing as a character who drives a car or rides a bike, the handling is very arcadey, with a big emphasis on powersliding – making it feel somewhere in-between Mario Kart and OutRun. Powerslide for a certain length of time and you'll earn a boost, propelling you forward when you release the drift button – the longer you hold the slide the bigger the boost you receive. As in Nintendo's Mario Kart Wii, simple one-button tricks performed in the air will also grant you a boost on landing.
More than a match for the excellent handling are the exceedingly well designed tracks. Aside from some irritating Monkey Ball courses, most of the 24 included on the disc are excellent, and get increasingly more difficult and complex as you work through the Grand Prix championships. Again, more of a mixture of SEGA titles wouldn't have gone amiss, with a high percentage coming from Sonic, but Sonic is the publisher's mascot after all. Newcomers to the genre should be able to compete fairly well when playing on Beginner difficulty, but advanced and expert settings will push more experienced gamers quite hard.