Some say that landing second place in a race is simply being the first loser. When you’re Sonic the Hedgehog, however, ranking right behind your long-time rival after over a decade of poorly received titles is a big achievement. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is a blatant Mario Kart rip-off, but the hedgehog’s emulation actually executes parts of the kart racing formula better.

I’ll spare you on the specifics of the gameplay because you’ve done it all before. Firing power-ups, nailing boosts, and drifting around corners are easy to do with the game’s simple, tight controls. Where Sonic’s racing breaks from the pack is in its creative level design. These tracks are packed with ludicrous jumps, destructible environments, and hazards such as robotic crabs. Cruising around the glitzy casino courses and gorgeous Sonic Adventure areas puts other arcade racers to shame.

Sonic Racing offers a ton of choices when it comes to characters. Problem is, most of them suck. Sega even called in backup from Rare with celebrities Banjo and Kazooie (360 exclusive) to pad out the lacking roster, but that won’t stop you from groaning at the sight of Shadow the Hedgehog or Billy Hatcher. However, bowling through the likes of Dr. Eggman, Alex Kidd, and Ryo Hazuki as a powered-up Super Sonic is redeeming.

Whether playing online or via four-player splitscreen, Sonic Racing is best enjoyed with friends. Racers tired of hassling with friend codes and waiting five minutes to get a race going will love the game’s breezy online setup. Once you’re in a game, Sonic Racing’s welcome battle modes, such as capture the chao (flag) and chaos emerald collection, offer variety to otherwise by-the-numbers combat.

Despite being a solid kart racer, Sonic’s new ride isn’t without its share of flat tires. While the game contains a ton of fun and engaging tracks, more theme varieties outside of the Dreamcast-era titles would have been nice. Many courses fall victim to their own extravagance, with some tricky turns being poorly indicated. Having a variety of cars, winged craft, and motorcycles is nice, but giving the players the option to choose from multiple carts for a given racer would lend the game some much needed variety. If you want to ride a hog (no pun intended), for example, you’re stuck looking at Shadow.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing polishes the fundamentals of kart racing without adding any stupid gimmicks. If you’re looking for the next big thing in wacky racing games beyond a capable online framework, don’t look here. If you’re looking for straightforward Mario Kart clone with a glossy Sega veneer, then this game is for you.