It's been a few months since we last spent some quality time with Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing – and it's surprising to see how far it's come in that time.
Sega fans will be pleased to hear that Sumo Digital (who handled the console conversion of OutRun 2 and also developed Sega Superstars Tennis) have created something more than just a Mario Kart rip-off. How? Like this:
Mario Kart has a drifting system, but it's nothing like OutRun 2's elegant powerslides. However, despite the latter's awesomeness, it wasn't exactly easy to get to grips with, so Sumo has simplified it greatly for All Stars Racing. Hold down L2 while you're turning and your ride's back end will step out, letting you powerdrift around the corner.
Above: Beat gets his slide on, powered by an insane stereo system
You'd think this would make cornering less precise but the opposite is true, with a much greater degree of control over your vehicle's line through the turn, and hugging the apex with the nose of your racer is highly satisfying. It'll also earn you a boost depending on how long you slide before releasing the trigger. Do it right and you'll look like a master, streaking along down the next straight with a rainbow in your wake.
While we didn't get to play around with Mission Mode (it wasn't available in the preview version we saw), we are told that you can expect similar challenges to those found in OutRun 2's Heart Attack mode. Expect to be hitting cones, drifting and 'not crashing' to earn more bonuses.
Every time you race, you'll earn Sega Miles, which are used as currency in the in-game shop, just like OutRun Miles in OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. You'll be able to purchase new tracks and characters (see below), some of which will come as a 'complete surprise' according to the Sega rep.
Above: Shenmue's Ryo Hazuki was a surprise announcement last month
Unlike Sega Superstars Tennis, which had almost all of the game tucked away behind locked doors, All-Stars Racing will have about half of the characters and tracks available right away. After all, nobody appreciated having to play Super Smash Brothers Brawl for days just to unlock Sonic, did they?
This is a Sonic and Sega All-stars game, so a large roster of Sonic characters is understandable - even if some of them are annoying. So far, Sonic, Shadow, Tails, Amy, Eggman (that's Dr Robotnik to us), Big the Cat and Knuckles from the Sonic series are all confirmed.
Then we've got Ai-Ai from Super Monkey Ball, Beat from Jet Set Radio, Billy Hatcher from Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, Ryo from Shenmue, Amigo from Samba De Amigo and Alex Kidd. There are also Zombio & Zombiko (who we haven't been shown yet) from the House of the Dead series - goodness only knows what their vehicles will look like.
Above: Billy Hatcher is in - this is his All-Star move in action
And then...? Who else could be in? We'd bet on Ulala from Space Channel 5 and NiGHTS being in there somewhere, but that's just a guess. Sadly, we were told the Daytona Hornet is almost certainly not in the game. Sigh. Oh, and seeing as Sonic becomes Super Sonic during his All-Star move, we'd wager that the Were-hog will be absent too. Fingers crossed.
Online racing is pretty much a given these days, and All-Stars doesn't disappoint, with 8-player competitive racing. More surprising is up to four player split-screen offline racing, like Mario Kart on Wii. Of course, the difference here is in the HD graphics on PS3 and 360, which will come as good news to anyone who struggled to see Mario Kart's fuzzy tracks through standard-def screen quarters on a large TV.
There are plenty of items to collect and use as you race, as you'd expect from a kart racer. Sonic's energy shield protects you from attacks for a short time, power sneakers grant you between 1 and 3 boosts of speed, plus there are bombs and rockets to fire off at your opponents. So far, so generic. But there are also some more unusual power-ups, like a confuse ray that leaves your opponent's screen obscured by rainbow colours.
Above: Watch out, Alex! You're about to get zapped by that flying bot
Then there's the All-Star move which is different for every character. Sonic dashes up the track, barging other racers out of the way, while Amigo from Samba De Amigo shakes his maracas, forcing everyone in the field into a dancing procession. Billy Hatcher summons a giant egg and runs along on top of it. Incidentally, Billy's voice sounds exactly like you remember it which definitely adds to the authenticity.
Above: Big the Cat's All-Star move summons his now-giant best buddy
The weapon system already feels well balanced, with the game feeding you the right kind of items to help you if you're way back rather than rubber-banding the AI opponents. And from our hands-on time, we didn't find any unfair first-to-last moments on the finish line. No blue shells here.