Sunday, June 20

Petition for the Establishment of a Sub-Genre

Amongst the throng of mid year sales, which have so far seen Game of the Year quality titles going for a song, I picked Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing with the lowest of expectations. Sure the kart racer had enjoyed generally favourable reviews, but my short time with the demo was not overly promising. I couldn't get my blue sparks on, because unlike most good demos, the mechanics and controls were not properly explained. The best you could hope for was a vague hint during a load screen. Things changed with the retail release however. Upon booting up the game you are offered the opportunity to test drive Sonic's sweet ride (not that he needs it anyway, lazy bastard). The game's basic controls and drifting mechanics were then imparted upon me, and before long I was pulling off level 3 drift boosts and owning the track. I am finding myself thoroughly enamoured with this title, and after reading through the majority of critical opinion regarding it, I am not satisfied that it's victories and failures have been accurately catalogued. I think the quantitative judgements are about right, but the justification behind these assessments is completely unacceptable.

From what I can see, this game failed to attain better write-ups due to the following factors:
  • It's derivative (specifically, a rip-off of Mario Kart)
  • It is a kart racer that does not feature Mario, or characters from the Super Mario franchise
  • Mario Kart was released before S&SASR
Normally I would be content to think that reviews are subjective, and if I like the game, who cares what the majority of critics think? But this is bordering on discrimination. Every single review of this game I can find heavily references Mario Kart, and how this game has in some way stolen from it. The same can not be said for another recently released title in the genre, Modnation Racers. Sure some reviewers have made the comparison, but never go so far as to say that it is derivative (probably due to the track editor). Don't get me wrong, I can see the similarities, I can see from where the inspiration has been taken. I think that this however has more to do with the fact that these games fit into a particular sub-genre of arcade racing games (racing games even): kart racing games. They can not be compared with the Gran Turismos or the Forzas, as while their objectives may be similar (that being: go fast and come first), they are completely different monsters. I have no interest in playing, nor do I possess any great skill level in racing simulators. I would also wager that most rev-heads have no interest in flinging red shells up the track in a bid to gain a few places.

If you take my point, and kart racers are a sub-genre of racing games, then it would be accepted that there would be some common features to games of this genre (or sub-genre as it were):
  • A cast of characters, usually related to a particular franchise (not usually racers themselves)
  • Vehicles that reflect particular aesthetic and/or physical characteristics of cast members
  • An arsenal of weapons, passive items and power-ups that are intended to balance the race in relation to each competitors place (meaning the further behind you are, the better weapons/abilities you receive)  
  • Tracks that feature hazards independent of the weapons/items/abilities that competitors can obtain during the race. These tracks are usually inspired by levels or locations specific to a cast member's source game.  
Both Mario Kart and S&SASR (and save for the source franchise references, Modnation Racers)  have these features in common and therefore I would argue that both games are kart racers and not that one borrows from the other. I loved Mario Kart: Double Dash, but when playing through the single player campaign I was often reduced to fits of controller throwing rage due to the cheap AI, overpowered weapons and the precise movements required to activate blue sparks. In S&SASR the AI is competitive (but not to the point of being cheap), the weapons (save for the All-Star powers) are well balanced and the control input required to activate a drift boost is much more intuitive. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is fast, fun and features bright, technically impressive visuals; a balanced (for the most part) cast of characters that SEGA fans should have some attachment to, or knowledge of; as well as some truly brilliant examples of track design.

The criticisms I am prepared to level at Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing are:
  • You can not play through Grand Prix with more than one player (split screen or online)
  • There are no mirror tracks
  • The majority of weapons and power-ups fail to draw inspiration from the source material: The most obvious example, players can obtain a shield that protects them from one hit/hazard. The designers could have used the bubble from the Sonic series (which protected players from one hit/hazard).
  • The All-Star Powers have severe balance issues: Jacky Bryant's All-Star Power is essentially turbo auto-pilot for as much as half a lap. By comparison, Beat's ability obscures the view of your competitors but doesn't offer any noticeable boost in speed.  
  • Seriously, they include Big the Cat and Amy but no Shinobi or Wonder Boy?: Casting fail
I'm not saying that this is a Game of the Year contender, but this a great kart racer with plenty of charm as well as modes, characters and tracks to play through/with. Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing is one those games that does not belong at the bottom of the bargain bin, and I would strongly recommend that you grab it and call up four good friends and enjoy some split screen racing action with some old favourites.

Dutch note: The end of financial year games sales are hitting their straps now. For any of you who were waiting for Lost Planet 2 to get cheaper, EBGames is now selling the Collector's Edition (with an adorable Akrid figurine) for half price. The latest Prince of Persia game has also been reduced to half price. I don't know when those specials expire so if that interests you, be sure to check it out. The GAME website (and stores according to a friend) also had a fire sale last Friday which I was lucky enough to pick up on. Keep your eyes peeled people, there are plenty of bargains out there for gamers on a budget (even those of us who can't adhere to a budget).


  1. Good show, old chap. Good show. One of the most surprising titles of the year. Mario - go home.

    This game does make me yearn for more Sega racing titles, though. We need a new Daytona, for one.

  2. I did read something lamenting the absence of an anthropomorphised Daytona car in S&SAR. Other notable absentees: Outrun car, Space Harrier, Golden Axe (a chariot maybe?), Ecco and Dynamite Dux.

    We need more good Sega games. Period.

  3. Im waiting for your ME2 review dammit!

  4. Yeah man, I loved Daytona USA and outrun. Two of the best arcade racers ever. Dolpgin Dux would have been hilarious.

  5. Rubes - I don't think there is much point in me doing a Mass Effect 2 review for the following reasons:
    *It's been out for 5 months
    *It has a high metarating (in the top 5 for X360)
    *You've already finished it multiple times
    If enough of you feel strongly enough about it I will get to work on finishing the game and then a write-up.

    Sambo - I reckon if you put a fish tank on wheels, Ecco could make in appearance in S&SASR.

  6. I value you opinion, hence why I'd subscibe to this magazine.

    I would like to see your overall opinion on, what I feel is the greatest game of all time (so far) is.

    Yes they deserve to die and I hope they Burn in Hell! - Samuel L Jackson

  7. Yes a fish tank with Ecco doing flips would be awesome!!!