I grew up on Nintendo for about 14 years of my life. I know fully well the ins and outs of Mario Kart, and I saw those ins and outs beneath the mask after my first race in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (S&S). There's no denying that the game takes much, much inspiration from Mario Kart, but that's not a problem. Someone must come up with an idea first; it depends on what someone does with that idea that matters. This review discusses the intentions the game developers had on mimicking something that already exists and how well they managed to do so.
The S&S gameplay emphasizes drifting, notably far more than any Mario Kart game. You need to drift at all times if you want to gain a lead on your opponents if they're on a respectable difficulty. That said, drifting has been implemented largely the same way, but S&S has given it more priority to set itself apart.
Items are incredibly similar to those in Mario Kart, almost to an insulting level. In Mario Kart, green shells (from koopa troopas) bounce along the track to hit an enemy until they travel too far. In S&S, we get green K.O. gloves, boxing gloves that have no reference to any SEGA property, as far as I could tell. Red shells hone in on whoever's ahead of you, as do rockets - also red - in S&S. Bananas originated in the Mario franchises through Mario Kart, but these too have been copied into traffic cone-shaped mines. These mines, however, cannot be thrown ahead. It is perfectly acceptable and almost expected for a kart racing game to have items like these in their lot, but the absence of relevance to the entirety of SEGA and the blatant copying (per the color scheme) makes things worse. There are other items that copy those from Mario Kart, but I feel like showing three is enough to make my point.
Superstar moves are unique to each character. Though some are highly similar for obvious reasons, like Sonic and Shadow, there are certain categories you can place these moves in to make things feel smaller. That doesn't do this mechanic justice, however, as these moves are highly fan-service-heavy. These are similar to the special items in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!.
Despite all of this, the game is still pretty fun, but this is probably because this is a lead paint coat of SEGA on a Mario Kart game.
The multiplayer mode also exists and functions properly.
Characters & Courses
Sonic is directly in the title of this game, like Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection in America, even though there are far more properties being represented in this game. It is obvious this was done to sell more copies of the game, but in this bleak 2020 future, it's a very bitter title to look at. SEGA has barely produced any new games in any of the series shown off in this game and you can easily claim that they refuse to work on any game that isn't related to Sonic. I have to ask what the target audience is when SEGA brings up old characters like Beat or Samba in their current state.
The character variety takes a hit from having to lean on Sonic too hard, and it's about as bad as the predecessor to the series in SEGA Superstars Tennis. Approximately one third of the roster is composed of Sonic characters, but the rest of the cast is a nice sight to behold. A Crazy Taxi rep, in particular, is a perfect fit in this sort of game, and though Golden Axe is given no love whatsoever, it's nice to see something like the Bonanza Bros. here.
The 360 version of this game boasts the Xbox Avatar (of your console) and Banjo & Kazooie, which is very fitting - two mascots of totally dead series of games (don't get me wrong, they're great to have). The 360 version is the only one to have Banjo & Kazooie, whilst the Wii version replaces the Avatar with a Mii, and the PlayStation 3 version gets nothing special.
There are 24 courses, the 25th being DLC, and nine (or 10 with DLC) of these are from the Sonic series. Yes, Sonic is in the title of the game, but surely this could just be a title decision. We could very well have appreciated courses from Golden Axe, Crazy Taxi, Shenmue, Space Channel 5, and other series, but we did not get them. Hell, SEGA Bass Fishing could have had a cool gimmick course.
The lack of inspiration and gaping hole of what could have been are multiplied threefold when you pry apart the fact that courses are often in soft groups of three; there are three Seaside Hill stages that distinguish themselves by different layouts and names, but they're all Seaside Hill. This happens to be the case for all nine base game Sonic courses and continues for many other sets of courses. Take away two Casino Park courses and turn them into Kingdom Valley or Sky Sanctuary if you had to keep them Sonic-related. We could have had these good courses to represent other series, but we got the same seven or eight courses three times each. Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart: Super Circuit are the simplest games of their series and they had to struggle with heavily similar courses, but the developers of S&S have failed to learn from an SNES and a GBA title.
Music & Sound
There are about four tracks I can think of off the top of my head: the main menu, the shop, the missions menu, and the results music. All of the 40 (+5 with DLC) music tracks are pulled directly from the games they came from, much like SEGA Superstars Tennis. There has been minimal effort in the music department, which doesn't come to much surprise after seeing the courses.
The voice lines are all taken from previous games too, as far as I could tell. I hated hearing clips taken from Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) in this game to remind me of the pain I suffered in that game, but it's also just weak overall. Why not get some voice lines that actually match the action on screen? One of Shadow's pre-race lines has him ask why "you" know his name, which I assume is taken from Sonic Heroes, and it obviously doesn't fit here.
Achievements aren't something I would rate a game on, but since this is TrueAchievements, this is more of a bonus category for me to talk about. They're fine. They require you to complete almost everything, which is good and standard affair, and nothing is too whack in regard to what they ask of you.
Pros & Cons
+ Characters outside of the Sonic series are good fan service
+ Courses outside of the Sonic series are good fan service
+ Music used is generally good pickings
+ Big the Cat is in the game
+ All-star moves provide more good fan service
+ Achievements promote finishing the game
+ Emphasis on drifting keeps things active
+ SEGA Miles provide a bigger reward feeling to unlocking things
- Sonic consumes 33% of the game
- Lost potential in course variety and theming
- Courses are very samey
- Items are very blatantly stolen from Mario Kart
- Doesn't do much aside from drifting to set itself apart
- Sonic hogs the title to make it two words longer
- SEGA Miles provide no purpose 2/3 of the way into the required amount
- Characters that fit in the game have no other representation
? Banjo & Kazooie are here for little reason
? Strange feeling about how SEGA does nothing but Sonic anymore, and they can't even do that right
Conclusion & Summary
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing does what it can to copy a successful franchise, but it doesn't do enough in-house work to fulfill the promises it sets out to make. Numerous assets are pulled from other games and what's unique is triplicated to boost the total of what's here. Would I buy it in college student funds? Sure, if it's on sale. Is it something SEGA fans have to play? Absolutely not. When I get through the two successors to this game, I will forget the first entry has ever existed.