Sega speeds into a second lap around the karting scene with Sonic and Sega mascots making a return to driving mayhem in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed. Expanding on the original racing mash-up of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, Sumo Digital dishes out much of the same, with a solid helping of new features to keep things fresh and interesting.
Strong competition from Codemasters Racing F1 Race Stars and Sony’s LittleBigPlanet Karting offers consumers plenty of choices, in what is the most contested periods for the genre in quite some time. Can Transformed bag of tricks convince players to go for another hot sprint around the track?
Developer: Sumo Digital
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Wii U, PS Vita, 3DS, Windows PC, iOS
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Release: (EU) 16th November 2012, (NA) 18th November 2012
2010’s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing delivered a Mario Kart-esque experience, fun both nothing overly inventive or ground-breaking. Transformed with its new title brings new integrates vehicular transformation to the equation, as road vehicles “transform” to air and water-based machines allowing for Sumo Digital to indulge in creative; and out of this world track design. Sumo were the brains behind the original Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing but have since added newly recruited staff members from Blackrock Studios (Split Second: Velocity, Pure) and Bizarre Creations (Blur). With such a strong history in delivering high octane titles, the huge potential translates beautifully over to a gaming experience that is anything but bland.
The conventions of kart racing titles isn’t lost here as controls remain simple to learn, fun to play, and the staple inclusion of weapons to turn track positions on its head are all here. Vehicles retain their colourful and cute exteriors with distinctive handling depending on the vehicle you’re currently hurling around the race circuit. Transformed doesn’t rest on its laurels, introducing new bizarre weapons on top of the already tried and tested. Ridiculous and unusual additions include giant wasp attacks, snowballs and blazing hot rod engines for quick spurts of speed. Weapons can be thrown forward or backwards, depending on which unlucky recipient you want to hinder. Only one power-up can be carried at any one time to keep drivers on their toes.
Although Transformed is easy to grasp, just like many other karting titles will take skill to master if winning races is important to you. Karts can drift around corners to generate a quick boost on exiting a bend. Coupled together with a well-placed boost pad, seconds can be shaved off for a much needed advantage to stay ahead of the pack. Freshly introduced vehicles each bring something new to the party. Air vehicles are the quickest of the three driving modes with streamline speed, barrel rolls and flip manoeuvers perfect for closing down a gap between a leading driver. Although watercrafts may seem deceptively cumbersome and slow (particularly through the corners), can be capable of skimming across water at breakneck pace through canals. While on the water, players can execute stunts over a breaking swell to gain a momentary boost.
Transformations can feel gimmicky at first, with all the constant detouring off the beaten track, however adds plenty of variety to each circuit as air, water and land travel keeps the pacing fresh and interesting each lap through. Mario Kart 7 may have been the first to add instantaneous transforming vehicles to the karting scene, but Transformed takes it to a new level as the deviating paths tends to serve a greater purpose here over Nintendo’s kart offering.
Driving modes feature the obvious single player Career Mode sliced up into World Tour, Grand Prix, Time Attack and Single Race for those wanting to dive right in. World Tour is where most of the action takes place across four different race modes (race, drift, traffic, and tank), each with easy and hard difficulties to choose from. Stars are the currency of choice, earned through races and exchanged for new area unlocks to progress in the tour. If you’re feeling particularly lucky, gamble on the slot machine for potential next race bonuses, or alternatively spend your stars on unlocking new playable characters. Multi-player mode can be experienced in local split screen with up to four players, or online in a ten person race. Live opponents are by far more enjoyable to takedown over AI opponents and as always this is where kart racing comes alive.
In total there are 29 characters to play (once you’ve unlocked them all that is), and plans to release even more characters from the Sega stable via DLC patches. Well-known Sega stars such as Sonic, Knuckles and Tails are here, along with characters from established Sega franchises making the jump into the driver’s seat. Ulala from Space Channel 5, Joe Musashi from Shinobi, and even AiAi and MeeMee from the delightfully fun Super Monkey Ball have all joined the all-stars line-up. Lesser known characters like Gilius Thunderhead of Golden Axe also take a spin on the karting scene, as does Disney’s Wreck-it-Ralph, Ralph and NASCAR race star Danica Patrick. Each character can be levelled up through experience gained from race participation, win or lose. Experience unlocks new levels, with unlock modifiers for driver altering statistics such as extra boost or better handling capabilities. Earning experience provides a reason to dedicate time to continual racing, as well as adding an extra degree of individuality to each Sega character.
With 25 different tracks and arenas to explore (only four of which appeared in the last game), there’s plenty to experience even if you played the original Sega kart title in the past. Each track offers extensively longer than expected driving tracks with dynamically transforming tracks that shift and alter right in front of you. Evolving tracks will take time to learn and can hinder progress earlier on, particularly when in the lead and no other driver to guide you in which direction to follow. Such instances can be particularly frustrating and create insurmountable gaps that become a struggle to close.
Keeping with the long established Sega heritage, Sumo Digital have dug around in the Sega archives producing tracks that pay homage to the games which inspired them. After Burner, Panzer Dragoon and even Nights into Dreams gets a Transformed make-over, accompanied with remastered theme music for gamers old enough to remember to get nostalgic over. The level of dedication will be lost on younger drivers who may not have experienced the classic Sega titles, but do take a moment to let it soak if your memory stretches back far enough.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed may at first glance feel like much of the same, but scratch the surface and there’s a whole new world of kart racing to explore that rarely comes our way. A few hot laps through the new tracks and you’ll soon discover there’s a brilliant gaming experience hiding under all those cute (some not so cute) characters and booming voice-overs. Possibly one of the most underrated gaming gems of 2012; Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed gets a well deserved nod in my books.
8.5 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.