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Racing games come in many forms. You have games such as the licensed F1 games, you have space racing games (such as F Zero or Wipeout), you have the hardcore simulations (for example Forza or Gran Tourism) and then, of course you have your kart racers, the genre made popular by the Mario Kart series. Sadly when you make a kart racing game you are automatically dubbed a "Mario Kart Clone" which is often quite accurate though in some cases it can be wholly unjust and unfair.
In 1997 Rare released the excellent Diddy Kong Racing, a game where Diddy Kong and friends raced in karts, planes and Hovercrafts. Sadly Diddy Kong Racing was dubbed as a "Mario Kart clone", despite actually being a better and deeper game than Mario Kart. Over a decade after the release of Diddy Kong Racing Sega released "Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing" and again a game which featured karts and characters from Sega's games was automatically dubbed a "Mario Kart clone", like Diddy Kong Racing however, the game is much, much more than a Mario Kart clone.
Yes the "style" of game is similar to Mario Kart with characters put into Karts, racing around relatively linear tracks and picking up special icons which serve as weapons and boosts but it's more than just that. Not only do you get Sonic (and around 20 other characters) in their own personalised vehicles, ranging from Taxi Cabs, Bi-Planes and motorbikes but you get a hugely addictive, easy to play and straight-forward racing game that just feels natural.
With a huge number of characters from Sega's past it may be easy to think they have just relied on the nostalgia factor to sell the games but in fact the game sells it's self with wonderful gameplay and a lot of depth to both Sega fans and just gaming fans.
For the Sega fans you have the characters, the music and the levels from a huge number of Sega games from over the years (including characters from The House of the Dead: EX, Fantasy Zone, Chu Chu Rocket, Space Channel 5, Cray Taxi, Shemue, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, Samba de Amigo amongst others). A huge treasure trove of goodies for just the hardcore Sega fans.
Away from the Sega fans you have a challenging yet fun racing game which combines the racing of games like Mario Kart with a huge number challenges that will have you hooked for days (if not weeks). For me the the challengers were ridiculously addictive and despite a number of them being difficult I was having huge amounts of fun, passing or failing them.
The racing it's self comes in various fashions from a single race (either against the computer, a friend or over the internet via X-Box Live), to Time Trails, to Grand Prix modes (a series of races where points are awarded up on a players position). This again gives the game a real sense of depth both as a party style race game or single player challenge.
Of course no "Kart" racer would be complete with out the race tracks and Sonic and Sega All-Stars has a wealth of tracks all based around various Sega games. Again this may seem like "fan service" but the race tracks are, on the whole very enjoyable with some of them having very interesting shortcuts and alternative routes again bringing more depth to the game.
Whilst I wouldn't go as far as to say this is a perfect game, it is a genuinely complete kart racing game and one that should feel offended to simply be dubbed a "Mario Kart clone" as that simply doesn't do the game justice. It's a racing game with Sonic in a kart, but it's a game that is incredibly fun, very engrossing, challenging and most importantly, very good value for money at around £13.
Don't be put off this thinking it's just Sonic in a car, it's so much more.