The kart racer is often what happens to a once loved game series, or mascot, which is on its last legs.
A final roll of the dice to try and make a bit of cash before its credibility is zero. If we were being unkind, that's exactly how we'd describe Sonic & Sega All-stars Racing, but that would be doing it a disservice because - unlike most other 'last chance' kart racers - this one actually turns out to be pretty good.
All the Sega gang are here and, although most feel like filler (do we really need the guys from House of the Dead in here?), they do make for a varied, humorous cast. If you still hold a shred of fondness for the old gang it'll raise a smile as you cruise past Big the Cat on his ridiculously small pedal bike, or blast that twat Shadow off the track with a well-aimed missile. Similarly, the tracks, bar a few horrible examples (Super Monkey Ball stages, with their right-angle corners, are a pain in the arse), maintain the magic of the Sega games they represent.
However, the real beauty of this game is the actual racing. A dumbed-down version of the handling-model used in Outrun Online Arcade, it's both easy to pick up and deceptively deep. It provides newcomers with easy results thanks to the simple drifting (hold down left bumper and steer) but winning later races and Grands Prix requires thought; tactical chaining together of boosts and quick cornering can make the difference between first and fourth on the last bend. And that's the hallmark of a good kart racer. Anyone, barring some spectacularly duff driving, can scoop a podium place.
The well-balanced weapons play a big part in this parity too. At first they seem pointless, each one totally lacking in impact. Shoot a rocket up someone's exhaust pipe and they merely spin a little before getting right up to full-speed again in seconds. It's more of an inconvenience than anything. However, as you reach later races* and find yourself more and more in the middle of the pack, the reason for their toning-down becomes apparent - they make for a more balanced race.
Sumo have even been smart enough, like Mario Kart before it, to save the really juicy power-ups for those lagging behind. All-star moves - special attacks unique to each racer, so Sonic rolls into a super-fast ball and so on - are all-but guaranteed to net you three or four places up the field once activated but, cleverly, those foes you leave behind will still be there, nipping at your heels.
There's plenty of content in this game too - more than enough to justify the full price. In addition to the bog-standard Grand Prix series, there are Time Trials and missions, which all vibe off the game they represent. So, for example, the Sonic stage has you picking up rings against the clock. In all there are 64 missions to beat, and most are far from pushovers. If you want to get 100% in this game it'll take more than a few hours, especially if you factor in that crucial multiplayer.
Sadly, even with all the extra content (unlockable tracks, racers, alternative soundtracks) and varied missions most will falter long before the 100% mark. This is after all a kart racer; it is in many ways aimed at a younger audience, and the simplicity of the handling will start to bore more humourless gamers a few hours in, taking all the comedy and colour out of the characters with it.
That is, if the despicable announcer (who you can, thankfully, mute) doesn't put you off first. Lines like "Hey, you'd better check your socks, because you just raced them off!" will sound juvenile and grating even to the youngest of gamers. Hearing his egregiously chummy American voice over classic Sega tunes is like hearing fake farts played over The Beatles.