I think it’s time I had a talk with you all.
I have a secret.
It’s a secret I can no longer keep from the world and one that I’ve been holding onto for around twelve years now. Since about 2010 I’ve tried to deny it, I’ve tried to ignore it and I’ve tried to bury it deep down within myself, but through various events it's been taking up a lot of my thoughts recently and I think it’s finally time to come clean.
I think ‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’ is the best kart racing game on the market.
There, I’ve said it. It’s out there for all to see and in typing this I already feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I can finally be myself in public and be honest about who I am and feel no shame. I am who I am, and there’s nothing anyone can do to make me feel like I should hide my true feelings any longer. Mario and his kart mates are chumps and I don’t care who knows it.
There are certain brands over the years that have become inextricably linked with their product to the point that the lines between where the brand ends and the product begins is extremely blurred, for example; ‘Sellotape’, ‘Tip-Ex’, ‘Hoover’, ‘Post-It’, ‘Jet Ski’, ‘Bubble Wrap’, ‘Jacuzzi’, ‘Velcro’, ‘Rollerbalde’ and even ‘Taser’ are all brands that people have adopted into their lexicon to describe products. In many ways the brand has become so strong in its field that it pushes the rest of the market into the margins to mop up the greasy leftovers not “Hoovered” (brand alert) up by the market leader.
Although none of us are sitting here calling the “Kart Racer” a “Mario Kart”, it’s not a difficult connection to make between the lack of kart racing games on modern platforms to the reality that Mario Kart is so aggressively dominant in the space that it has effectively strangled out the opposition to the extent that I would be willing to bet those in the mood for a kart racing game will immediately conjure up ‘Mario Kart’ in their minds… but there are other great kart games out there to be had that in many ways have much more to offer a player looking for a Friday night hanging out with friends over a couple of cokes (brand name alert) than their much more recognisable older brother and it doesn’t even have to be ‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’.
‘Diddy Kong Racing’
Initial Release: 31st October 1997
This is a series that came under a couple of guises before it eventually became ‘Diddy Kong Racing’. Initially beginning life as ‘Pro Am 64’ then changing direction to become ‘Wild Cartoon Kingdom’ before finally settling on ‘Diddy Kong Racing’ and giving Ol’ Didders a chance to come out from under Donkey Kong’s shadow, there are a couple of things that set this game apart from other Kart racing games, mainly the varying vehicle types and the fact that it has a story mode complete with boss battles… that’s right, a story and boss battles in a kart racer. ‘Diddy Kong Racing’ is a great game that is still fun to play today, just don’t let that cutesy look fool you. This game will kick your ass.
Initial Release: 19th May 2010
I had to put this one in here, because it is truly brilliant. This was supposed to be and in many ways is Sony’s answer to the ‘Plump Plumber Lad’ sitting on his lawn mower engine lobbing mushrooms about. Slick visuals, absolutely fantastic customisation and most importantly tight controls that never feel unfair. This game is an absolute joy to behold. It’s just a shame that as of writing, the game has been delisted from PSN and the online functionality turned off, meaning that those who actually want to play this will because of Sony’s hatred for backwards compatibility, need to hunt down a PS3, a physical copy of the game and worst of all, sit in the same room as the person they want to play with.
If, for whatever reason you find yourself having jumped through all of these hoops, this is a genuine classic, but also, tragically, yet another example of an industry intent on destroying its own history.
‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’
Initial Release: 16th of November 2012
We were always going to finish here because well, this is the reason I’m writing this but also because in my mind this is the best and most complete one. Kart racers, when you boil them down, are quite simple beasts and don’t really need a lot to make them great. ‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’ takes the basic formula as a solid foundation and builds upon that by adding bells and whistles that make this a fantastic love letter to Sonic and some of the expanded Sega Universe. It was interesting to read that ‘Diddy Kong Racing‘ was a game that went through multiple guises before Rare settled on Diddy Kong as the lead character because from the sense of speed and chaos to the track design ‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’ could be nothing other than a Sega game with Sonic in the leading role. No track ever feels dull and the evolving vehicles, allowing players to move from standard track fare to racing over water and then taking to the skies means it always feels as if something is happening and that you are hurtling around a track at breakneck pace only just holding everything together by the skin of your teeth.
Give A Game A Chance
From time to time, those prepared to listen to my inane bouts of thought vomit will be subjected to whatever video game, franchise or character has made its way into brain on a particular day and I often find myself contemplating the essence of what makes a game or a character and to me, Sonic is a character who is most at home when he’s on screen doing what he does best… going fast! Wrap that into the well documented 90’s attitude Sega exuded and you have an utterly compelling basis for building a game around. ‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’ could not be anything other than a Sega and Sonic game and there can be no higher compliment than that.
Sure Mario Kart is slick and polished, but at its very core, it’s still very much the same game as it always has been. Yes, there are gliding sections, but in the main, you are still in your kart, racing around a largely static track. The biggest thing in Mario Kart's favour over the years is that singularly unlike maybe any other video game manufacturer around, Nintendo are masters of making their brand feel special. There’s a reason people call Nintendo the Disney of the games industry and the reverence with which they treat their properties encourages an excitement and celebration of their games.
This is being posted on a Sega blog for goodness sake, so I’m preaching to the converted, but we all know that Sega could do better when it comes to celebrating itself. A task it has proven itself woefully inadequate of over the years which is partly why ‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’ feels so special. It’s a largely successful attempt to utilise Sega properties in a way that is fun, engaging and better than most other games in its class.
There is an elephant in the room here in that I’ve spent this article discussing ‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’ instead of its sequel ‘Team Sonic Racing’ and that’s because of how much of a disappointment the 2019 follow-up was. It’s a poor and sickly younger brother of a far better game, let down by an attempt to over complicate what should intrinsically be a simple, safe and enjoyable homage to the Sega brand. With that said though, an unfortunate and poorly thought through follow up does not and should not diminish what is a fantastic kart racer. In a world in which Nintendo are at time of writing this still trying to charge us £50 for an eight year old game, give your wallet a break and try out ‘Sega All Stars Racing Transformed’. It won’t disappoint.