Mario Kart must be Challenged!

When the original Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo was released, it changed everything. With it’s bright colorful courses and delightful item system, it birthed the kart racer genre as we know it, Mario Kart became a smash hit and inspired a deluge of knock-offs.

Sadly, however, that’s all they were: knock-offs.

Despite the sudden creation of literally hundreds of kart racers, none really bothered to challenge Mario Kart’s dominance. None of them put in the time necessary to create something truly good. About the only thing that came close was Crash Team Racing, a rock solid effort from Naughty Dog still spoken of to this day. However, it lacked that certain something Mario Kart had.

Since then, the kart racing genre has nearly died off. You’d see one or two quick cash-ins every now and then but no one even bothered to try anymore. Mario Kart was even more undisputed as the single greatest kart racer on the market.

But with this market dominance comes sloth and indeed Mario Kart has begun to stagnate. Yes, Mario Kart Wii was enjoyable, but there are cracks in it’s foundation. The item system, for example, has been stretched to it’s limit. The concept of distributing items based on what place you are in has utterly unbalanced them. An item will either grant you near instantaneous victory or be utterly worthless dependent entirely on your placing. The feeling of mid-racing combat has been almost completely removed from the Mario Kart experience now as most items are merely tossed aside in the desperate hopes of getting something half-way decent.

Someone needs to challenge this.

Enter Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing. Created by Sumo Digital, the fine folks who brought us Outrun 2, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is one of the first serious attempts at a quality kart racer in a long while. Will it truly challenge Mario Kart? Probably not, but it’s doing a better job than most.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing was probably made to fill the kart racer niche on every console other than Wii. Let’s face it, your only kart racer choices on 360 are Burger King’s Pocket Bike Racer, Madagascar Kartz, or some lackluster XBox Live Arcade offerings. Needless to say, Sonic & SEGA Racing is already at the top of the list. While it is receiving a Wii release as well, it’s hard to say if it will be able to compete.

With the demo having recently hit XBox Live, I decided to give it a shot. I must admit, I am pleased with what I see. The graphics are incredible looking and the game has a very definite sense of speed. A variation on Mario Kart Wii’s drift mechanics is implemented nicely and the track on display has a lot more personality than the average Mario Kart track.

It’s not perfect though. The items, while more useful than what you’d end up with in Mario Kart Wii, lack variety. Minor framerate hiccups have been seen here and there as well. Also, the track roster on display draws from very few sources with most of the tracks coming from either Sonic, Jet Set Radio, or Super Monkeyball.

Still, it is just a demo and one can be certain there will be some form of hidden content in the full release. While it may not crush Mario Kart as much as I’d like it to, it will come far closer than anything has in years.

Sadly, I do not expect it to be well reviewed. These days Sonic has an odd stigma to him that causes every reviewer to roll their eyes. Combine this with the overplayed nature of kart racers a few generations back and you can bet that the majority of journalists will merely write “generic kart racer featuring Sonic” and be done with it. But, you never know, they might pleasantly surprise me as much as the game has.

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