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

Justin Towell revisits all three of Sonic and friends’ racing games and remembers a simpler time.
The legacy of Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and its sequels

Sonic kart racing games

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

The kart racing genre has exploded in recent months with a wealth of genuinely great games, ranging from the ultra family-friendly Smurfs Kart and sugar rush of Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3 to the absolutely stonking Disney Speedstorm.

It’s enough to make Mario Kart 8 finally start to show its age, which only took some nine years, but I think we’re there at last. But where does Sonic the Hedgehog fit into all this? He does, after all, have three modern kart racing games of his own. Well, that’s a very good question, and time is starting to pass these racers by, so we’ve dug out all three to see where they stand in 2023.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

What’s immediately apparent is that the series is more gentle than modern equivalents. A bit like watching old kids’ TV shows like Bagpuss or Button Moon compared to the frantic, 30-jump-cuts-a-minute modern fare of Nickelodeon.

But giving the action some room to breathe can be important. Having time to see a hazard ahead of you, 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 extra layers of depth for those who know what they’re doing.

Developer Sumo Digital clearly learned a lot from porting OutRun 2 to console, and that game’s DNA is all over these titles, from the Heart Attack-style challenges to the drift button that lets you get sideways without losing speed.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Gameplay
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

The next thing that hits you is just how much Sega has given up on its classic properties. There are tracks based around Billy Hatcher (who?) and his giant egg (I’m not being weird, that was a real AAA Yuji Naka & Sonic Team game on Gamecube), the Samba De Amigo tracks look 100% authentic in a Sunny D fever dream kind of way, unlike the forthcoming Switch sequel, and the After Burner stages may as well be referencing Top Gun Maverick since the last proper After Burner game came out on PSP 16 years ago.

So you’re left with a festival of nostalgia for people who are now almost certainly over 40 years of age, which is wonderful if that’s you, but isn’t likely to appeal to many younger players, at least not, in the same way, Mario Kart does with IP that’s actually been kept alive.

That is, of course, unless you consider Sonic’s recent spike (pun intended) in popularity thanks to the two movies. If that’s the Sonic you know, then seeing Knuckles, Robotnik and Tails racing around is still a fun sight.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Indeed, the first of the three games does realise that simple ideal of a Sonic-themed kart racer, essentially delivering the game the Sega Game Gear simply couldn’t do with the myopic draw distance of Sonic Drift 1&2.

The chequerboard scenery, corkscrew loops and trails of rings look, sound and feel just right, and the wealth of amazing music coming from the series’ extensive back catalogue makes for some absolute aural delights if you’re a Sonic fan

All three games are available on Steam, and play very nicely on Steam Deck. And as we mentioned in our review of Team Sonic Racing on Switch, a smaller screen fits the colourful, kart racing environments very well and even goes some way towards making up for the now-primitive geometry of the first game, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. But it is also clear that the series peaked with the second title, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed Crazy Taxi
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

If the first game is a simple, by-numbers kart racer, the sequel pushed all the envelopes without jumping the shark. The environments are less flat-looking while also being more varied with even more vertiginous tracks than its predecessor.

The real-time transitions between land, water and sky are genuinely thrilling, thanks to massive, dynamic waves on the Monkey Ball track, a fantastic space flight on the Sonic stage, and some side-by-side sections where you can choose which mode of transport you want to stick with. It looks cool, feels great and while it is faster than the original, it’s still steady enough to keep a grasp of what’s going on.

But the final revelation when replaying the trilogy is that the third game was clearly a misstep. At the time, it was teased as a new Sonic racer that wasn’t a sequel to the All-Stars duo, though it’s clearly the third in a trilogy from a consumer’s point of view.

Team Sonic Racing review: Switch shows how it should have been done on Xbox
Team Sonic Racing

It was a mistake to drop the Sega All-Stars bit of the game and focus instead on purely Sonic-related characters. Sonic’s friends had been iffy at best and downright hateful at worst for a long while at the time, and the drawn-out, dull exposition really doesn’t do anything to endear you to their plight.

The other major misstep, Team Sonic Racing Ultimate Power

Team Sonic Racing

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

The time is arguably right for another stab at the game, though Sega’s recent portfolio and acquisitions would probably see a roster boasting Streets of Rage IV characters, Yakuza stalwarts, Hatsune Miku and a couple of Angry Birds. It would also probably need to be a far more hectic and exhausting game because the genre has clearly moved on in recent years.

That said, it is rather lovely to play the first game where its unlockables are all bought with in-game currency with just a few choice additions saved for paid-for DLC, rather than a loot crate system where you never know exactly what you’re going to get. In All-Stars Racing, if you want a character, you save up Sega Miles and you buy it. Lovely.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Podium

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

The games are often in the Steam sales, a pack with all the DLC is available for the best in the series and that does mean you get to race as Ryo Hazuki and play the NiGHTS into Dreams track with Gillwing swooping over your head as you fly through the nightmare realm of Nightopia.

No idea what I’m talking about? That’s exactly the problem. Sega has a catalogue of intellectual property that rivals Nintendo’s in terms of inventiveness and likeability. Not that you’d ever know it these days.

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