After reaching a point this week where I'd become genuinely scared of burning out on Skyrim, I decided to put it down for a few days and spend some of my gaming time playing something a little less demanding. Something devoid of story and complex mechanics, something that didn't expect a great deal of commitment on my part. My game of choice was Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (Sega Racing from here onwards), a game that I picked up at my local GAME store on Tuesday. It's a game I've been wanting to get hold of for a while now, after spending a good few hours playing it at a friend's house at the end of last year. Up until this week luck and money had conspired against me, with most shops failing to stock the game at all, and those that did asking rather high prices for it. When I saw it on the shelf priced at just £10 earlier this week, I snapped it up right away.
I've been playing Sega Racing on-and-off since Tuesday, juggling my gaming time between that and Persona 3, and after spending about five more hours with it, I think it might be the best kart racing game I've played since Crash Team Racing on the original PlayStation. Coming from somebody who played the hell out of Naughty Dog's Mario Kart-a-like back in the day, that's very high praise indeed. There's something charming about taking this roster of disparate, mismatched characters and throwing them all together under such an unexpected and outlandish premise. I also like the licence progression and unlocking/buying of extra stuff, both of which are simple but add a decent amount of incentive to continue playing. All of this is layered over a solid kart racing foundation that does so many things right - the way all the vehicle types handle differently; the nice balance between projectiles, track hazards and self-assisting power-ups; the brilliant track design; the implementation of drifting, boosting and hard-turning in ways that reward practice and experience; a well-executed split-screen multi-player mode. Most importantly of all, Sega Racing succeeds in making you feel like you're always capable of winning a race, even if you're in last place halfway through the final lap. A lot of people moan about the rubber-banding in kart racers, but I consider it an integral part of what those games are, and I'm glad it's present in Sega racing.
When checking out Sega Racing's Wiki page while adding it to my list of games I've played in 2012, I was pretty excited to see talk of a potential sequel on the Giant Bomb forums. Partly because, as I've hinted above, I'm really enjoying the game. But also partly because while I've been playing it, I've been noticing ways the package could be improved in future iterations. Most of my quibbles are minor - more predictable physics for projectile weapons; more franchises represented as tracks; the ability to run through whole cups in multi-player rather than just single races; a "select a random racer/track" button. There are, however, two major things I'd like to see addressed in the possible Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing 2.
If we ever do see a sequel to Sega Racing, I'd like to see a little more depth added to the gameplay. Sega Racing provides a great foundation for a kart racing game, but a lot of the time it feels like just that - a foundation, something to be built upon. I'm not expecting anything crazy-complex here, more simple iterations on the established formula, attempts to get a couple more gameplay systems layered over the top of what's already there. One way I think this could be achieved is through a wider variety of All-Star power-ups. From what I've seen of the game so far, every single All-Star is basically a differently-skinned version of the same thing - speed the player up, and hit any enemy they come into contact with. With such a varied roster of racers, though, I can't help but want something a little more unique out of their supposedly character-specific power-ups. I realise it's a big ask with so many characters represented (and likely even more in a sequel), but a little thought would go a long way towards diversifying the experience. Another thing I'd love to see, and I'm really surprised Sega didn't leap on such an obvious opportunity, is the incorporation of collecting rings as a game mechanic. Maybe this is just my Crash Team Racing nostalgia showing through (I'll admit, this desire was prompted by the collectable Wumpa fruit in CTR), but I do think it would add another dimension to racing. Collecting rings could contribute towards more potent power-ups, or increase the likelihood of an All-Star, or act as a damage-cushion in much the same way as they do in traditional Sonic games... Whatever the specifics, I'd really like to see them do something with rings beyond just using them in the collect-a-thon Missions.
More than anything, though, I want to see a lot more meat put on the game's bare-bones single-player modes. Don't get me wrong, the Grand Prix mode, Time Trials and Missions are all great inclusions, but I wish there was something more substantial going on around it all. In particular, I'd love to see the inclusion of some kind of Adventure mode, replacing the Grand Prix mode with a story-driven single-player campaign. I guess the main reason I want to see this is because I see so much potential for a crazy, self-referential, self-deprecating storyline within the concept itself. I'm also not a big fan of the Mario Kart ethos of "here are some tournaments, just do 'em because they're there". Assuming Sega could approach such a task with a sense of humour and a little light-heartedness, I'd love to see how they justified bringing all these characters together. It could even be a great way to tie the Grand Prix, Time Trial and Mission modes together, adding a little more cohesion and seamlessness to the single-player side of the game. Again, I guess my nostalgia for Crash Team Racing and its awesome single-player Adventure mode is getting the better of me here, but I do genuinely think it would improve the game, not to mention give the player a reason to feel more invested in playing alone. Plus, it would be interesting to see Sega try and justify Sonic being in a car.
Like I said, I've clocked up about five hours with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing this week, and I'm sure I'll tally up many more over the coming weeks as I pursue the coveted Gold licence. I hope the game does see a sequel, because it certainly deserves one. I just hope that Sega can justify the '2' on the end of the title with more than just a larger roster of racers and tracks. Thanks very much for reading guys, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (X360)