Sonic Racing Demo Impressions

SEGA, hand in hand with the boys at Sumo Digital, have done everything they possibly could to make their own Mario Kart without actually getting the red suited plumber in the game and sticking the word Kart on the end of the name.  Bright colours?  Check.  Recognisable fan favourites driving implausible but cute four wheeled vehicles?  Check.  Tracks based on some franchise hits over the last decade?  We’re in.  Nice smooth frame rate?  Oh.

Yes, I know, it’s being fixed – it’s apparent that development on the demo, released yesterday on the Xbox 360, was forked from the main game at some point and so it’s understandable that it’s not running as smoothly as the team would like, but as a demonstration of the game’s capabilities it really should have been held back until 30fps was achieved.  “Framerate in the demo isn’t final – you try doing a demo as you’re also trying to finish the game,” said Sumo’s Steve Lycett.

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But still, jerky updates aside, the game looks fantastic.  Whilst it’s a shame we’re not going to get silky smooth Mario-like 60 frames a second you can clearly tell why – the Sonic-themed track in the demo is utterly gorgeous and packed with detail and every frame is alive with character.  Sadly, it’s the only track in the game playable but as our hands on with the game last year suggested, it’s doesn’t really matter because it’s clear there’s a lot of good stuff to come.

Indeed, although the rest of the courses are locked you can still scroll through them – I’m particularly looking forward to what Sumo have done with the Jet Set Radio license and I always love me some Samba de Amigo and Super Monkey Ball so hopefully they’re all as aesthetically arresting as the Sonic track is.  The vehicles and drivers are packed with colour and character, too, and although we’re pretty sure we know all the secrets we’re still hoping for some DLC in that area.

So how does it drive?  Decently, but perhaps not sharp enough.  It’s like Sumo have left in some of the handling from their work on the Outrun series – the karts are happy to drift around most of the corners with a tap of the left trigger but on the straights there’s a huge amount of give before the karts start to move from the track’s direction – it takes some getting used to and it’s certainly a different driving style to Mario Kart – no bad thing, and the increased speed means  overly twitchy steering wouldn’t really work anyway.

The weapons seem a bit dull and generic, though, and when boosting it’s hard to figure out what’s going on – presumably a by-product of the poor frame rate – but that’s generally the case when you’re hurtling along at whatever speed it is Sonic defines as ‘cruising’.  Overall there’s a fair bit of potential here, but without some serious last minute tweaking the game’s going to struggle critically.  I’m a big SEGA fan, and really want this to be perfect, so here’s hoping.

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