And it has finally happened.
Mario Kart has been outdone. Whereas it was sort of a given, considering the relative decline of the series since the Double Dash/DS days, and the sheer number of newcomers into the genre, it’s still surprising that it happened. And it happened in a game that not only bests Mario Kart mechanically- plenty of games have done that over the last decade and a half, after all- but also in terms of the sheer charm and nostalgia, that until now has been almost bafflingly restricted to the Mario Kart series and missing from all of its clones.
And almost fittingly, the game to usurp Nintendo’s genre leader came from Sega.
It’s funny, actually. Sonic & All-Stars is more than just an excellent kart racer. It’s so much more. It’s a celebration of Sega’s glory days, back when the company’s name was synonymous with video games, a throwback to when Sega was edgy and cool, a tribute to the company’s golden age. In being all that, and in being the excellent game that it is, it somehow manages to become that which it seeks to channel- it becomes a game that is fitting of the old Sega, a game starring their beleaguered mascot that is actually great for a change.
Everything, from the character selection, which is massive, and boasts representation from long forgotten Sega franchises, to the tracks, each of which is themed on a different Sega franchise, tugs at the heart strings. It is actually thrilling to see the company acknowledge its heritage for a change, and to actually do it justice. Nobody does nostalgia as well as Nintendo does, but this time, Sega has them beat, this time, Sega has managed to warm the hearts of anyone and everyone who had a fond place for this company once.
So yes, you will find characters and tracks from Sega franchises like Sonic and Monkey Ball. These are now associated with the company, that’s expected. But stuff like Skies of Arcadia? Jet Set Radio? Total War? Football Manager???
Of course, say you’re not interested in the nostalgia. You’ve never been a Sega guy, or you missed out on their so called glory days. You just want to know if Sonic & All-Stars is a competent kart racer, if it’s worth picking up. Maybe you don’t even care about all the charm. You just want to know if it’s fun to play. What then?
The game is great fun to play. It is also more technical than Mario Kart, which relies an awful lot on luck and randomness. Sonic & All-Star can get difficult even on the lower difficulty settings, and considering how hectic the courses can often get, launching you into the air, or having you surf on the water, it can often start to feel intense. Thankfully, the intensity does not detract from the sheer fun of it all, as no matter how technical the tracks get, they are still strewn with boost pads, randomized items, and of course, the aforementioned track changes which end up in the transformation (get it?) of your kart. That you do not need to be first to advance through an event (at least in Career Mode) also adds to this idea of you not needing to take the whole game as seriously.
It is astonishing how well produced the game is too. Kart racers have traditionally eschewed fancy visuals or sound effects, going for the simplistic style that has been defined by Mario Kart for over two decades now, but Sonic & All-Stars is an impressive looking game. PC players will find, to their delight, that this isn’t just a shoddy port either, and is fully optimized, offering support for resolutions upwards of 1920×1080 (along with several PC exclusive characters and tracks, such as the Team Fortress 2 themed ones). And as for the music, the music is absolutely great, doing perhaps the best job of evoking nostalgia for Sega’s glory days.
Really, this game has everything. It is a mechanically superior alternative to Mario Kart, that also comes with oodles of charm and nostalgia. It has great graphics, better music, and all the insanity, intensity, and replayibility that comes with a kart racer. It’s almost hard to level any sort of criticism towards the game, outside of maybe the items, which feel jarringly uninspired. But on the whole, one should not have any cause to complain. After two decades of Mario Kart dominance, Sega has out karted Mario Kart. And they have made a damn fun game while doing so too.
This game was reviewed on PC.