Not a copy kart.

The original Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was a decent kart racer which essentially provided fans with a Sega alternative to Nintendo’s Mario Kart series. However, one of its most common complaints was that it was incredibly similar to Nintendo’s offerings and that it didn’t take enough risks to differentiate itself, with many critics and general internet folk branding the game as a cheap rip-off. While a good game in its own right, these complaints were somewhat justified, so Sumo Digital has gone back to the drawing board with the goal of creating a refreshing, innovative kart racer that appeals to more than just hardcore Sega fanatics.

Sumo Digital have achieved and surpassed this goal with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

This time around, Transformed has more in common with Diddy Kong Racing than Mario Kart. As well as driving on land, you’ll frequently take to the skies in planes and bomb down rivers in boats. However, the similarities to Diddy Kong Racing pretty much end there. Transformed places a greater emphasis on speed and skill; how well you know the track and how fast you can make your way around it. This is the core of what differentiates Transformed from other titles in the kart racing sub-genre. In fact, despite the inclusion of weapons, one could draw comparisons to more speed-oriented experiences like F-Zero, Ridge Racer and Burnout. In short, the core gameplay feel is enough to make Transformed stand out from the crowd.

You’ll likely spend most of your time in the game’s career modes, as there’s an absolute wealth of content here. You have your usual Grand Prix mode, which consists of five cups each containing four races. There’s also Time Attack, where you’re ultimately tasked with defeating each course’s staff ghost time. There’s also options for single races, allowing you access to a fair amount of race setups.

If you hit Dr. Robotnik with a weapon now, he’ll transform into a water baby.

Karting All Over The World

The real meat of the career mode lies in World Tour mode, however. In this expansive mode, you must complete events based on specific criteria. Some are just standard races on a pre-selected track, but there is a good deal of variety in what the game asks you to do. Ring Races task you to fly through rings and reach checkpoints before time runs out. Pursuit sees you picking up ammo to shoot at a tank that constantly fires projectiles at you. Boost Race is a race event that does away with items in favour of more boost pads, while Traffic Attack has you swerving through and avoiding rows of cars that serve as obstacles.

These are just a few of the modes offered in World Tour, and it’s a good thing the missions are so varied, as this mode is the only way to unlock the majority of the game’s hidden characters. Completing an event earns you stars, one for each of the four speed classes. Earning stars unlocks more events with the goal of unlocking the characters hidden away within each Tour. The speed classes serve as difficulty levels, much like in the WipEout series of games, ranging from C to S class (though S class must be unlocked through extensive play). As you’d expect, C class in for beginners and eases you into the game’s mechanics and track layouts. Each speed class is surprisingly much harder than the one that precedes it, with B class being an alarming step-up in difficulty; the A and S classes also follow this trend.

The character and track roster is much more impressive than the previous game, and I appreciate that those are big words, as the first All-Stars Racing contained a fantastic selection of classic Sega characters and locations. Most of the tracks make use of the transforming system to an effective degree; you’ll rarely spend over a minute in a single type of vehicle. For instance, the After Burner stage sees you taking off from the SEGA Enterprise aircraft carrier, soaring through the skies and picking off your opponents with carefully aimed weapons. The House of the Dead racetrack takes place within the eerie Curien Mansion (though there’s a zombie on a bouncy castle for your amusement/bewilderment) as you visit iconic locales from the arcade game, and the Jet Set Radio stage has you zipping over rooftops and through construction sites before taking to the skies to avoid the Rokkaku police. There is so much fan service going on at any one time you’ll never see everything the game has to offer on at least your first five runs of any given track.

The amount of fan service on offer is wonderful to witness.

Item Neglect

It has to be said that for all the effort that’s gone into the characters and the tracks they race on, the items unfortunately leave a lot to be desired. Much like in the original, Transformed seems to have missed the potential to create truly memorable items (much like the items we know and love from Mario Kart) in favour of more generic fodder. There’s your bog-standard firework that fires in a straight line and bounces off walls. The twister homes in on a target and reverses their driving controls for a few seconds. The iceball freezes opponents, the glove catches any incoming attacks and adds them to your own arsenal, and the RC drone is essentially to Transformed what the red shell is to Mario Kart. The most interesting item is the swarm, a blue shell-like item that releases a swarm of wasps to block the path of whoever’s in the podium positions, though these can be avoided with skillful driving.

It has to be said that for all the effort that’s gone into the characters and the tracks they race on, the items unfortunately leave a lot to be desired.

In the defence of the item selection, however, they lose a lot of the frustration that comes with many of Mario Kart’s items. Homing items can be avoided by boosting at the right time, and for an added layer of depth, every item can be released both forwards and backwards, making them useful for both offense and defense. Every character also has a unique All-Star move, a rare item that boosts the user’s speed and essentially puts them on autopilot for a few seconds. It’s reminiscent of the Bullet Bill item introduced in Mario Kart DS, and is really the only item in Transformed with that ‘get out of jail’ sensibility. Sadly, these All-Star moves feel cheap this time around, and lose the identity and quirkiness they had in the previous All-Stars Racing title. Luckily, however, they at least serve a purpose, lasting just long enough to give you a fighting chance in a race without propelling you too high up the ranks. This is essentially the only form of straight-up rubber-banding in the game, and Sumo’s lack of focus on the rubber-banding system found in other kart racers in somewhat admirable.

While the current generation of consoles are starting to show their age in regards to graphical prowess, Transformed still manages to be an absolute stunner in this department. Locations are vibrant and colourful, and absolutely bursting with detail. The framerate is consistent even when chaos rules the screen, allowing for an incredibly smooth racing experience. The soundtrack consists of remixes of classic Sega tunes produced by Richard Jacques. Sega are known for their memorable soundtracks, and Jacques ensures that Transformed gets added to this list, with the Golden Axe track being a majestic standout.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is quite possibly the most entertaining racing game to be released this year, and while the unwieldy title will bring Christmas lists to their knees, gamers young and old should be begging for Santa to deliver this absolute gem of a racer. Transformed succeeds on basically all fronts; it’s a fantastic racing game filled with memorable moments and tons of challenge and content, and also provides top shelf fan service to those who’ve stuck with Sega the past two decades. This, paired with Sumo Digital’s desire to think outside of the box ensures that Transformed will be a game that you’ll enjoy for years to come.

Who said dwarves can’t fly?

Wii U Additions:

The Wii U version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed takes advantage of Nintendo’s new hardware to great effect, giving it a definitive edge over its rivals.

While the majority of ports have stuttered in terms of performance and visual parity on the Wii U, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is nigh on identical to the PS3 and Xbox 360 offerings. Initially there were a number of disturbing glitches present, but these have been successfully squashed courtesy of a launch day patch.

The game can be controlled in a variety of ways, be it with the Wii U’s GamePad, a Wii remote, the classic controller, or the Pro Controller. While using the GamePad, the 6.2 inch screen acts as a map of the racetrack – effectively highlighting who’s on your tail and who’s leading up front at a quick glance; it also converts into a handy rear-view mirror and a weapons camera. However, due to the frenetic pace of the action, it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself looking down at the GamePad’s screen all too often, especially if it’s just to watch a homing weapon hit its mark.

By swiping down on the GamePad, the action miraculously switches from the TV and onto the 6.2 inch screen. The difference in quality is noticeable, with primary colours looking washed out and the action appearing fuzzier than it does compared with other titles. Nevertheless, it’s still a liberating experience to be able to play the game without being shackled to the TV, regardless of the drop in visual fidelity.

The Wii U version also has the added bonus of extra in-game content, the most obvious of which is that you can play as your Mii if you complete the Grand Prix mode. There are two new multiplayer modes on offer, Banana Heist and Ninja Tag, both of which take advantage of the GamePad and basically involve the GamePad user attempting to ‘tag’ the other racers. Five-player local multiplayer is also a viable option, and split-screen gaming can be negated by one person using the GamePad as their primary screen.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.

Super Sonic Speed

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