“Surely he could get out and run faster?” – The Legacy of Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and its sequels

Sonic Kart Racing Games

  • Sonic & Sega All-Stars Race (2010)
  • Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (2012)
  • Team Sonic Racing (2019)

The karting genre has exploded in recent months with a plethora of truly great games, ranging from the ultra-family-friendly Smurfs Kart and Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3’s sugar rush to the absolutely mind-blowing Disney Speedstorm.

It’s enough to finally get Mario Kart 8 to show its age, which only took about nine years, but I think we’re finally there. But where does Sonic the Hedgehog fit into all of this? After all, he has three modern kart racing games of his own. Well that’s a very good question and time flies on these racers so we dug up all three to see where they stand in 2023.

Sonic & Sega All Stars Race

What’s immediately noticeable is that the series is gentler than modern equivalents. A bit like watching old kids’ TV shows like Bagpuss or Button Moon compared to Nickelodeon’s frantic, 30-hop-cuts-per-minute modern fare.

But giving the action some breathing room can be important. Having time to see danger ahead, consider what you need to do with the controls, and then steer appropriately is perfect for younger players, but – in classic Sega fashion – the game also has added depth for those who know what they are doing.

Developer Sumo Digital clearly learned a lot from porting OutRun 2 to console, and that game’s DNA is everywhere in these titles, from the Heart Attack-style challenges to the Drift button that lets you drive sideways without to lose speed.

Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing GameSonic & Sega All Stars Race

The next thing you notice is how much Sega has ditched its classic traits. There are tracks based around Billy Hatcher (who?) and his giant egg (I’m not weird, that was an actual AAA Yuji Naka & Sonic Team game on Gamecube), the Samba De Amigo tracks see in a Sunny 100% authentically from D Fever Dream, as opposed to the upcoming Switch sequel, and the After Burner stages might as well refer to Top Gun Maverick since the last proper After Burner game came out on PSP 16 years ago.

That leaves you with a celebration of nostalgia for people who are almost certainly in their 40s now, which is wonderful if you are, but probably won’t appeal to many younger players, at least not in the same way that Mario Kart does IP actually kept alive.

That is, of course, unless you’re considering Sonic’s recent rise (pun intended) in popularity thanks to the two movies. If this is the Sonic you know then it’s still a fun sight to see Knuckles, Robotnik and Tails running around.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing transformedSonic & All-Stars Racing transformed

In fact, the first of the three games realizes the simple ideal of a sonic kart racer, essentially delivering the gameplay that the Sega Game Gear with the short-sighted draw distance of Sonic Drift 1 & 2 simply couldn’t achieve.

The checkerboard patterns, corkscrew loops and ring tracks look, sound and feel just right, and the wealth of amazing music from the series’ extensive back catalog makes for absolute listening pleasure if you’re a Sonic fan

All three games are available on Steam and play very well on Steam Deck. And as we mentioned in our Team Sonic Racing on Switch review, a smaller screen goes very well with the colorful kart racing environments, even helping to improve the now-primitive geometry of the first game, Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing. But it’s also clear that the series peaked with the second title, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing transform crazy taxiSonic & All-Stars Racing transformed

If the first game is a simple numbers kart racer, the sequel has pushed all the limits without jumping the shark. The environments look less flat but are also more varied with even more dizzying tracks than its predecessor.

The real-time transitions between land, water and sky are really exciting thanks to massive dynamic waves on the Monkey Ball track, an amazing space flight on the Sonic stage and some side-by-side sections where you can choose the mode of transport, where you want to stay. It looks cool, feels great, and while it’s faster than the original, it’s still stable enough to stay on top of things.

But the final revelation in repeating the trilogy is that the third game was clearly a misstep. Back then it was touted as a new Sonic racer that wasn’t a sequel to the All-Stars duo, although from a consumer perspective it’s clearly the third in a trilogy.

Team Sonic Racing Review: Switch shows how it should have been done on XboxTeam Sonic Racing

It was a mistake to drop the Sega All-Stars portion of the game and instead focus on purely Sonic-related characters. Sonic’s friends at the time were dodgy at best and downright hateful at worst, and the drawn-out, boring portrayal really doesn’t do anything to endear you to their plight.

The other big misstep Ultimate performance by Team Sonic RacingTeam Sonic Racing

The connection to Cars 3 shows that it can improve rather than detract from the experience, but it didn’t quite hit the sweet spot in any of these three titles.

The time is arguably right for another foray into the game, although Sega’s recent portfolio and acquisitions would likely include a roster of Streets of Rage IV characters, Yakuza stars, Hatsune Miku, and a few Angry Birds. It would also probably need to be a much more hectic and tiring game as the genre has evolved significantly in recent years.

That said, it’s pretty nice to play the first game where all unlockables are purchased with in-game currency and only save a select few additions for paid DLC, rather than a loot crate system where you never quite know what you’re going to do you get. If you want a character in All-Stars Racing, save Sega Miles and buy it. Nice.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Race Podium

Luckily, the best of the three games, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, have been released on a variety of platforms. It looks great on a Wii U gamepad, runs amazingly well on Vita and can be played at a modern 4K resolution on PC at 60fps if you’ve got the tech.

The games are often available on Steam sales, a bundle containing all the DLC is available for the best in the series, and that means you can race as Ryo Hazuki and play the NiGHTS into Dreams circuit, with Gillwing flying over your Head flies through the nightmare realm of Nightopia.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s the problem. Sega has an intellectual property catalog that rivals that of Nintendo in terms of inventiveness and likability. Not that you’d ever know these days.

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