Considering kart racers are supposed to be a heavily populated genre, it’s surprising that there aren’t really any on the PS3 and Xbox 360. There’s a few film spin-offs like Pixar’s Cars and PSN titles like Gripshift and Smash Cars but it’s almost like nobody’s got the guts to take on Nintendo and Mario Kart.
No longer though. Sonic’s star may have fallen in all manner of horrific ways over the years, with him even having to hop into bed with the porky plumber to pay the bills, but make no mistake Sonic and pals are back in contention with this top racing title.
Offline options include single races and six four-race Grand Prix tournaments which won’t take you long to burn through. Most of your time will be spent trying to get a AAA ranking (a nod to Sega’s classic Out Run series) on the 64 Missions. These include the gradually more difficult (but at a steady curve) list of races, drift challenges, avoiding pots, hitting pots, running creatures over with a giant egg and so on. It’s typical, crazy, Sega-flavoured madness that works great on your own or as pass-the-pad party minigames. Time Attack mode is also available for all the tracks where you compete against Staff Ghosts and leaderboard toppers.
Tracks are littered with plenty of random weapons and power-ups to keep events tightly contested. These consist of the usual rockets, speed-boosts and enemy vision impairments in the form of a trippy rainbow. There are also variations on the classics such as giant rolling bombs that you fire down the track like a TNT stuffed bowling ball, giant boxing gloves that bounce off the track walls or a shotgun-like fog horn.
There’s more. One swine of a weapon turns your world upside down and reverses the controls; fortunately it doesn’t appear too often. Every character has their own unique star move too, although they’re only given it when they’re getting battered towards last place. They really bring you back into the thick of the race though, even up to a podium position as there’s a semi-auto-pilot feel to it too with you only having to move side-to-side to hit opponents in your strengthened form. Think of it like the Bullet weapon in Mario Kart.
Sonic’s turns him into his golden Super Sonic form with bashing X giving even more speed boosts. AiAi’s power puts him and the other racers into Monkey Balls as he bounces them around the track. Dr Eggman gets to unleash a lethal barrage of auto-rockets at anyone nearby; he never did play fair though.
Every character has their own vehicle with their own stats, with them all feeling fairly balanced and plenty more to unlock with Sega Miles. There are plenty of Sonic characters, supported by members of Virtua Fighter, Space Channel 5, Shenmue and so on. Thankfully there’s no story at all so you don’t have to sit through any dire cut-scenes.
The Sega Slide
Handling is wonderfully smooth with excellent drifting or ‘power-sliding’ making up the core of the racing. Accelerate almost constantly with R2 and hold L2 to pull a power-slide which won’t cost you any cornering speed. The longer the drift the more of a boost burst you’ll get when you let go of L2. There are three stages, indicated by the colour of flames hovering in wait around your exhaust: blue orange and red. Boosts can also be earned by performing tricks mid-air, with bikes even able to perform ground stunts. Drifting with a stored boost will shunt rivals out the way and protect you from track debris/wondering zombies.
Tracks of Legend for the Heroes of Old
Tracks take inspiration from Sega’s colourful back-catalogue but you won’t feel left out with the games you’ve never heard of. Sonic’s and Samba De Amigo’s are unashamedly colourful as they are fun. Even the darker tracks inspired by the House of the Dead games are thrilling, with races tearing through graveyards, mansions and smashing through windows and plate glace ceilings from enormous jumps. The best tracks are those in the Casino environments. If WipEout and Speed Racer got wasted in Vegas this would be their hyper active lovechild, as you speed through sky-high slot machines, bingo balls and roulette tables. As well as being blindingly colourful it’s all razor-sharp to boot.
Circuits are designed so you can spend most of your time sideways, seemingly trying to build up boost constantly. Even the shorter corners are long enough to build up a quick blue boost that’ll sling-shot you out of the apex multiple times in a row for wavy sections. There’s just not a dull patch of track to be found.
Many of the tracks include shortcuts too. Some are difficult to spot and you wouldn’t know about them were it not for you dropping from first to third without anyone seemingly passing you. You’ll want to get them found to give you an advantage online though.
There’re 24 tracks in total and not a stinker among them. If there’s one criticism of the tracks it’s that if you get hit or fall in a hole in the middle of a jump series, you can’t get enough speed going for the next jump meaning you’re going in a hole again.
King of Karts?
Taking the action online allows up to eight players to race with the option of empty spaces to be left vacant or slotted with AI bots of a variable ability. It would seem that online has always been high on the game’s priorities as it runs like a dream. A considerable feat considering just how much is going on in a race.
Four-player splitscreen is included to really take the fight to Mario Kart and in a sly move, the PS3 version has dusted off the motion controls to tempt the casual Wii player. That little white box might just be your next trade-in.
- Smooth and accurate handling
- Terrific track design
- Excellent party and online multiplayer
- Can get screwed over a bit in jump sections
- Missions aside, single player’s a bit short
- Can you have too much colour? (No)
The Short Version: Effortlessly playable and a constantly vibrant visual feast for the eyes. Screw realism, SSASR wants you to know you’re playing a videogame rather than trundling around a crappy imitation of a real-life city or painfully recreated tarmac track in a field. It’s most fun as a multiplayer game with some of the most entertaining party racing seen on modern consoles.