They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and given that Sonic and Mario have become more cosy in recent years, we reckon Nintendo's moustachioed plumber won't mind too much that his old rival has totally ripped off Mario Kart. Not that we're complaining - the Xbox 360 hasn't had a decent kart-style racer in, well, ever.
Sega's got a rich history to borrow from, too. For circuit inspiration, there's obviously the Sonic universe with its various zones, but developer Sumo Digital has also blown the dust off classic franchises, including House of the Dead (for the obligatory spooky mansion stage), Jet Set Radio and the egg-based oddity Billy Hatcher. We're particularly enamoured with the insane Samba De Amigo track that blasts past giant versions of its lead characters' heads.
In general, the circuits follow the Sega racing game ethos of sweeping, satisfying curves that are perfect for powersliding, but there are a couple of duff efforts in there. The Monkey Ball circuits are riddled with right angles, which makes it difficult to settle into a proper rhythm and tough to extricate yourself when things go horribly wrong. They're faithful to the inspiration, but they're also a total pain in the exhaust pipe.
In other circuits there are the odd moments where you clatter against a protruding edge and have to perform an excruciating three-point turn, muttering foul language as the pack races past.
Otherwise it's all sunshine and rainbows - quite literally, this being a Sega game. It all moves at a suitably speedy pace and the karts handle very crisply indeed. The arsenal of weaponry is decent, which is no surprise as it's a direct clone of Mario Kart's bumper pile of ordnance. Green shells are now green boxing gloves, red shells are red rockets and so on. There's even a carbon copy of the drift-based boost system.
Ultimately, by being a capable imitation of a massively popular game, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing offers a decent level of second-hand enjoyment. Because there's nothing else in the sub-genre available on the Xbox 360, and because it offers four-player split-screen racing that's perfect for a party, it stands to enjoy a reasonable degree of success. It's not that it doesn't deserve this, it's just that it never feels particularly fresh or exciting. But if you're happy to swallow that, there's definitely fun to be had.
A fun but deeply familiar karter
- Good use of Sega history
- Tight controls
- It's basically Mario Kart
- Doesn't feel at all fresh
- Occasionally irritating courses