Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing - Foundations For Future Iteration?

Sonic... in a car... ?

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.

It's been a long time since I had so much fun with a kart racing game

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.

Such an obvious opportunity, inexplicably overlooked

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.

Crash Team Racing had a brilliant story mode, and I think a future Sega Racing game would benefit from doing something similar

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.

Dan

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Currently playing - Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (X360)

6 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by dankempster
Sonic... in a car... ?

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.

It's been a long time since I had so much fun with a kart racing game

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.

Such an obvious opportunity, inexplicably overlooked

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.

Crash Team Racing had a brilliant story mode, and I think a future Sega Racing game would benefit from doing something similar

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.

Dan

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Currently playing - Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (X360)

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

While I've never played any kart racers other than several iterations of Mario Kart, I definitely enjoy that particular little genre. I think in regards to rubberbanding AI, the simplest answer is to just have it optional. Yes, it would require massive tweaking of karts for multiplayer, but it's become silly that it isn't optional at this point. And I agree - some sort of goofy story mode in these types of games would go a long ways towards making them more interesting.

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Posted by WinterSnowblind

I really enjoyed the game too. I really hope to see the cast of characters get a little more crazy though. There was some good ones in there, like Beat, Ryo and the Bonanza Brothers, but what about the likes of Vectorman, Ristar or Vyse? The casual fans will buy it, thanks to the Sonic characters slapped all over the box, so they might as well go really crazy with the rest of the roster to entice more of the gaming nerds to give it a go.

Posted by Hizang

I hope the next game is called Sega All Star Racing, but you know they would never do that.

But yeah I have it and played a while of it, its pretty cool but the difficulty is pretty rough.

Posted by dankempster

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I believe the rubber-banding is actually toggle-able in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. There is a pretty hidden-away options menu which enables you to alter the number of laps, kind of weapons and such, and I'm fairly sure there's an option among them which disables "AI Catch-Up". I know I'm in the majority preferring the rubber-banding, and I do still get annoyed when I'm robbed of a win on the home straight by some bastard's blue shell/warp portal/giant missile, but for me that "anything can happen, anyone can win" mentality is an essential part of what makes kart racers what they are. I do agree with you about it being optional, though.

@WinterSnowblind: A wider roster is something else I'd like to see, but didn't mention in the blog because I figured it's more or less a given anyway. I definitely agree with you about Vectorman, and I'd love to see characters from games like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and Altered Beast make appearances too.

@Hizang: I think WinterSnowblind hit the nail on the head - the majority of the sales of the first game probably came off the back of the Sonic name being attached to it, so I don't see it being dropped for a sequel. Considering Sonic characters make up about a third of the character roster, though, I think it's probably warranted. Personally, I'm just glad those other characters are represented at all (especially Alex Kidd). I hear you about the difficulty too, I'm thinking about going for the 'get AAA on every mission' Achievement, and dread to think how hard those challenges might end up getting.

Posted by Mento

Vyse isn't opposed to doing cameos, but I doubt Sonic would appreciate another "blue rogue" on the track.

I tried ModNation Racers a few months back but I've found I dislike most modern Kart Racers, or at least anything past the N64. The rubber-banding is bad enough, but when you combine that with weapons it gets totally out of hand. You could be drifting or powersliding or what have you at the top of your game, but one errant shell and you're taken down just long enough for every AI opponent on the track, who have been dogging you since you took pole position with driving skills normally far beyond them, to fly right past you. It's a maddening crapshoot.

Here's how to solve the problem of the player out-driving the AI: Harder difficulty modes, where the AI would simply be better drivers. If the player out-drives the hardest AI? Give them incentives to beat the game with characters that are harder to control. And so on. Not rocket science.

As a final non-ranty note, Sega's certainly done the self-deprecating legacy thing before now. It'd totally be in their wheelhouse to do that with a kart racer. I only played the new Mortal Kombat because I heard it had a good story mode, so I'd be equally inclined to try a sequel of Sega Racing if it had something similar going on.

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Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@dankempster: I like the rubber banding too (I keep wanting to say rubbernecking), if just because I royally stink at most racing games competitvely.

@WinterSnowblind: I'd love to see Ristar in a future edition. Haven't heard that name in years.

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