Gaming Under Construction 0.05: Excited For Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, Seriously

I’m often accused by my family, friends, co-workers and fellow DHGF writers of taking things – EVERYTHING – too seriously. It would be difficult to me to argue that point, but there are still times when I lose some of my intensity and revert back to a simpler time, a time when I lived for the new issue of EGM to see what games to look forward to later that year. Last week I wrote about Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and while I am hopeful for a positive result, I’m not excited for it – not yet at least. As I await the release of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, I find myself downright giddy with anticipation, following news of character additions and new gameplay videos on a daily basis. I cleared my gaming schedule for the week after its release so I could fully dedicated myself to playing and beating it (also because I’ll be reviewing it). Without inciting any flamewars, I need to note that I absolutely hated Mario Kart Wii because I believe it to be a broken, unbalanced mess of a game (my favorite in the series is actually Mario Kart: Double Dash). However, the kart racing genre in general is one of my favorites, and the prospect of Sumo Digital (developers of OutRun 2 and the super-underrated Sega Superstars Tennis) creating a Sega-themed kart racer has interested me since I first played it at E3 last year. The character lineup is surprisingly diverse, ranging from Sega’s early Master System days (Alex Kidd) to its Dreamcast heyday (Crazy Taxi, Shenmue). There are quite a few racers directly from the Sonic Universe, but that’s to be expected, as the Sonic characters will drive any sales this game does at full price. It would have been great to have ToeJam and Earl in the character lineup, but outside of that duo and Nights, I don’t have any major complaints about character omissions (apparently Nights appears as a nonplayable character). Beat from Jet Set Radio! Samba De Amigo! The Chu-Chu Rockets! It’s a Sega fanboy’s dream! Sonic racing games have been a mixed bag in the past, with Sonic R on Saturn and the Sonic Riders series. In Sonic R, Sonic ran on foot, and it ended up as the only 3D Sonic game released on Saturn. Sonic Riders and it’s sequel put Sonic on a snowboard-like vehicle against other Sonic-universe characters in fast but uninteresting races. Neither game captivated me, although both still remain in my collection. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is exciting because it’s large in scale, and has a production sheen that bursts with color and excitement in HD. There are very few big budget kart racers on either HD console, and Sega has taken its time with this game. The proof will be in the final games, but early returns on the demo versions gives some hope for a true next-gen kart racer. I downloaded all three available demos, and each seems to have promise. Xbox 360 Demo The Xbox 360 demo was available first, and despite my preference for PS3, I downloaded the 360 demo to test out the game. I also wanted to see how Banjo Kazooie looked and fit in the game. I’m not sure how I feel to see non-Sega characters in the game, but if Sega follows through on promises to add more characters via DLC later, it’s something I can probably live with. The graphics are bold and crisp, with gameplay sticking pretty close to the tried and true kart racing formula. There are drifts, turbo pads and random powerups that get more powerful for the players behind in the race. Only Sonic and Banjo are playable, on a Sonic-themed level modeled after the Green Hill Zone. There is a huge spiraling loop on the track which was a nice touch. The controls were tight, but the game’s speed was in flux at times. The 360 Demo is probably the weakest of the bunch, as the race has some chugging/framerate issues when the track got more intense. Nintendo DS Demo The process to download the demo to a Nintendo DS is bafflingly complex. It’s not available on the DS Store itself. Instead, the DS needs to be set up to receive the demo from a Nintendo Wii, where the “Nintendo Channel” offers up DS demos to be beamed to the DS. It’s a clunky and unnecessarily process, but I digress. The DS demo looks impressive, making it hard to believe the system has Nintendo64-like power. The locations are colorful and the karts themselves look good. It seemed a bit on the slow side at times, but overall the race was pretty smooth. Unlike the wide-open kart racing market on Xbox 360 and PS3, the DS and Wii versions are instantly compared to the Mario Kart equivalents. It doesn’t seem likely that this game will be superior to Mario Kart DS, but it might be a suitable followup to players (like me) who have beaten that game many times over. Playstation 3 Demo Rather than wait for the demo to hit the US PSN I used my European account to download the demo a few hours earlier. The PS3 demo replaces Banjo with Dr. Eggman, and offers up a different track. This track is based on the Billy Hatcher universe, and was completely different than the Sonic Track in the 360 demo, but equally as awesome. It’s fascinating to me that Sega would use a character like Billy Hatcher who appeared in one game, nearly a decade ago, that very few modern gamers would remember. Given the PS3 version was the lead platform, I’m hopeful that the better performance in the demo will carry over to the full game as well. In my capacity as reviewer of the PS3 version (and possibly the DS version), I will need to check my personal feelings at the door and evaluate the game on its merits. However, just as a gamer, I am likely to enjoy the game even if its not the best game ever. I even like the announcer – it reminds me of the best Sega arcade games of days gone by, like Daytona USA. As I write this, the game hasn’t hit stores nearby yet, so it looks like I’ll have to wait until Wednesday. But when I finally get buy Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing this week, I’m going to relish it, play it through to the end not to earn trophies or gamer points, or but to unlock all of the tracks and characters, and feel the excitement of seeing which character or location is next to be revealed. Sometimes I’m not so serious.

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