Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is a combat 'cart' style racer that has you racing as Sonic, his friends and plenty of others from Sega's franchises. There are 24 tracks to race around in 5 grand prix of 4 races each. On top of that there is a mission mode that has a variety of 64 challenges. There is NO ONLINE MULTIPLAYER, but there is split screen multiplayer The game is fun, but it feels inferior yet similar to the follow up, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. On top of that, a lot of the tracks are wide and vacant with no sort of precision needed to navigate them. Each track is inspired by what feel like six games. Sonic, Samba de Amigo, Jet Set Radio, Billy Hatcher, House of the Dead, and Super Monkey Ball. Out of 24 tracks, there aren't that many memorable ones. Mostly because every track is just feels like a road. Most tracks have jumps, some have giant loops and the Super Monkey Ball tracks have plenty of 90 degree turns.
The gameplay is simple, you steer your vehicle and pull a trigger to accelerate. When you go into turns, you can drift by holding the other trigger and navigating your way through. If you drift long enough, you'll get a boost coming out of the drift. The longer you hold the drift, the bigger the boost. Its a great, easy to use system, but the tracks are always so wide that you can drift in a straight away to get boosts. There are purple arrows that will automatically boost you, but they're pretty rare. If that wasn't enough, you can pull the drift trigger when flying through the air to do a trick and get a boost when you land. Other than for a boost, there's no practical use for tricks. Each trick feels like it takes too long to be effective. Plus, with all of the drift boosts, the trick boosts are overshadowed.
Like all combat games, you'll drive through weapon jars that will give you a random weapon from a wide variety. There is a boxing glove that stuns an enemy. A homing missile that locks onto whomever you target. A simple bubble shield to protect you. Giant rolling bombs that explode and do a radius effect. A star that you can lock onto an enemy and their view will be upside-down. Traffic cones that you can put down as obstacles. Standard boosts and many more items. Even after 4 hours of playing, I still have no idea what some of the weapons do. There is even an All-Star that is specific to each character. It is a good way to get to the head of the pack while decimating other drivers along the way.
The combat doesn't feel like it wins that many races. Skilled players will always find themselves at the front. Very rarely will a last place player get an item that brings them to the front of the pack.
The game has several drivers, mostly from Sonic games and Dreamcast games, each with their own stats. To balance the drivers, they all have an equal total of stat points. The stars are put into speed, acceleration, handling and turbo-boost. You'll need to put strategies into each driver accordingly. Dr. Eggman has maximum boost and speed, but little handling and acceleration, so you really need to drift to get your boost or you'll be last in line. Each driver has their own vehicle. Some drive cars, and others like Alex Kidd and Shadow drive motorcycles. Dr. Eggman drives a monster trucks and so on. Tails drive a plane. He doesn't fly it, he drives it. That feels like a let down, but Tails has always had a plane. Every mission and Grand Prix that you complete gets you these 'miles' which you use to unlock new drivers.
The 64 missions are very quick. Most of them are around a minute. The game assigns you a driver. It offers a nice variety. Things like collecting rings, or killing enemies to boss battles against other drivers and straight up races. As you do each mission, you are graded. If you get an A grade at the end and accomplish the mission, you'll unlock the next mission or so. Its a nice system. I'm happy the developer put in the missions, but each mission feels quick. In fact the tracks themselves feel quick, short and small. Each lap is about a minute, which is the right amount of time to not get bored of a track before its over. The follow up Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed featured tracks that would drastically change between laps. This game doesn't. Its the same three laps. While that might be the status quo for every racing game, they could have done more.
Frame rate drops seemed to be quiet common in each race. Even when I lowered graphics settings and my PC is well over the recommended PC specifications. Yet with Racing Transformed, I don't have these problems. It is odd, but I'll chalk it up to this game being 3 years older than the other.
In all, its a fun game. However, I simply can't recommend it compared to the later version. Yet I can always tell people go buy Sonic 1, 2 & 3. Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is a great starting point for any combat racer, yet the follow up is just so much better. Dynamically changing levels, you pilot boats and fly planes instead of simply racing land vehicles. If you only have $10 and will never ever be able to get the $20 needed to buy Sonic & All-Stars Racing, then please buy this game. It fills a car combat niche that Steam is sorely lacking.