The big three
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, the PS3-exclusive LittleBigPlanet Karting, and F1 Race Stars are the big three new karting games vying for your money and attention this holiday season. They all have certain similarities, in that they include karts and racing, but there are things that make them unique. Since we have a feeling you're not looking to spend all of your money on kart racers this year (as there's, obviously, plenty of other non-karting games worth your time as well), we've done some of the work for you, listing the things that make these titles similar, different, better, and worse.
Take a look through our one-stop comparison to see which one is right for you.
Which one is easiest to play?
F1 Race Stars (pictured): F1 Race Stars is the easiest to control out of the bunch. You only have 'Go', 'Stop/Reverse', and 'Fire' buttons to worry about. Plus, the tracks are designed to be wide and enclosed, with very little chance of falling off the road. It's fast, but solid enough that you always feel in control of your vehicle.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed: Controlling your racer is easy when it's a car. However, it also transforms into a boat and a plane, which isn't quite the same story. The boats are very tricky to control even when you can see the ramp you're aiming for. The planes control brilliantly, but full flight control can be complicated for some novices. Add in a dedicated drift button and dynamic waves in the water, and you've got quite a complex system to get used to.
LittleBigPlanet Karting: Driving your kart is relatively straightforward, although you do need to learn how to drift using the jump button if you want to succeed. There's a tutorial to help, before the game complicates things with more buttons. You also need to use L1 to hold items in the battle modes, which isn't as intuitive as it sounds.
What characters will you see?
LittleBigPlanet Karting (pictured): Sackboy can pretty much become any character he wishes, just so long as he has the hat to do it. Aside from sack-creations, youll be racing against sack-bots (featureless wooden sackboys) and nondescript genero-enemy The Horde. There are some LBP NPC cameos which will raise a smile among fans, but there's no denying whoever you try to make for your main character, it always looks like Sackboy in a dress.
F1 Race Stars: Formula Ones driver roster for 2012 does include some world-famous drivers like Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Michael Schumacher, although many of the rest are relative no-names. The game features cartoonified versions of all the drivers from the 2012 season, also throwing in some fictional female drivers to boot.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed: Where to start? Ryo Hazuki is about the only name of note that isnt in here in terms of Sega stars, as AiAi, Beat, and even Golden Axes Gilius get a run-out. Theyve all got their own unique attacks too, thanks to the showcase All-Star moves, which turn up the fan-service dial to 11. Secret characters unlock as you go, although you'd have to be a very dedicated Sega fan to recognise all of them.
What kind of weapons will you be firing?
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (pictured): The weapon set has been improved since Sonics last game, adding in extra choice such as holding down the fire button to three ice blasts at once instead of firing individually. There are also huge wasps (no, were not sure why either) which act as the leader-seeking Blue Shell equivalent, as well as those All-Star moves which vary from character to character. Theres nothing incredible here, but they play well.
LittleBigPlanet Karting: Sackboys arsenal is pretty standard stuff, with rockets of both the homing and manually aimed varieties. Plus, there are some neat little fourth wall-testing effects like the Fast Forward item, which zooms you up the track with old VHS-style tracking lines across the screen. You can also modify your weapons, if you want to fire a Beef Rocket, but the results are all fairly underwhelming.
F1 Race Stars: Theres a pleasant F1 theme to the weapons in F1 Race Stars, from the fizzy bottle rocket that helps you catch up if youre lagging behind through to the Safety Car and wet weather items. The Time Bubbles that you fire like rockets are functional, if not incredibly enjoyable, but with an equivalent to pretty much every Mario Kart weapon you could mention, at least all the bases are covered.
What sort of tracks do they have?
F1 Race Stars (pictured): Real-world race tracks have their most famous elements fused with completely original (and often utterly crazy) track layouts. These take in iconic international themes like the Rio Carnival in Brazil or the massive aquarium at Melbourne. Loop-the-loops, boost pads, and colourful graphics make for plenty of visual eye candy that's often nothing like real F1, but in a good way.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed: Track design is definitely one of the high points here, with sumptuous locations all themed around classic Sega games. From the AfterBurner aircraft carrier to the Monkey Ball jungle, everything has an air of authenticity about it, only ramped up with cutting edge visual effects. They all also have land, sea, and air sections, some of which change from lap to lap.
LittleBigPlanet Karting: Interesting one, this. The built-in tracks start off being completely forgettable, but do improve as you move between planets. However, the best feature is undoubtedly the option to design your own track using the technology built for ModNation Racers. And if youre lacking that creative spark, you can download and rate other gamers creations and race them instead.
Will there be any DLC later on?
LittleBigPlanet Karting (pictured): There are always loads of downloads made available for LittleBigPlanet games, as our feature about how much it costs to buy EVERYTHING for your favourite games proves. But while there will be the inevitable licensed Sackboy costumes, again theres the excellent promise of a wealth of user-created content from the community, which is often as good as professionally produced content.
F1 Race Stars: F1 Race Stars was released with a retailer-exclusive Valencia track, which will probably appear as paid-for DLC for everyone else at some point. Aside from that, there are no announcements yet for further DLC, although with only 11 of the 20 real F1 tracks coded into the game, there could theoretically be many more to come.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed: There was a Limited Edition version of the game that included an OutRun 2-themed track available at retail that will probably be released as DLC. That aside, Sega has put up a survey on its community forum for people to vote on characters they'd like to see in the game.
How much can you play out of the box?
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (pictured): Quite a lot of SAASRT (that's the acronym that's just as much of a mouthful as the full title) is locked away behind padlock icons when you start playing. You can blast through the Grand Prix mode in an evening to unlock a good few tracks and even a mirror mode, but the challenge-based single player mode requires lots of play to earn enough stars to unlock the full roster. That said, there's enough ready-opened content for a good first few goes.
LittleBigPlanet Karting: So much of LBP Karting is locked away, it would be very disappointing to expect to be able to try some of the more colourful tracks straight from the off. However, the game can be played in split-screen as you work through the Story mode and unlock more tracks, so it can be a joint voyage of discovery. But there is an awful lot of content locked away when you first push the Start button.
F1 Race Stars: All the tracks are ready to play and the full roster of drivers too, meaning everyone can pick their favourite driver as soon as they get the game in the machine. Likewise, the different rules of the secondary game modes are all ready to play as well. This really is meant to be an easily accessibleparty game and won't have anyone sad they can't do or be a specific thing on Christmas afternoon.
Perhaps none of them are for you. We do feel duty bound at this point to direct your attention to our Mario Kart 7 review on 3DS, quite plainly one of the greatest games ever made, let alone one of the greatest kart racers. But that's on Nintendo's handheld, so if you're not a Nintendo gamer, it's no good to you. So which one tickles your fancy? Let us know in the comments.
And if you're looking for more, check out the Best ModNation track EVER and Mario Kart's 20th Anniversary: 20 reasons it's lasted.