There’s something to be said about going into a review completely blind, having heard little, if anything, about the game I’m supposed to be reviewing. That’s mighty difficult in this business, mind you, yet somehow it happened here with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. I seriously had zero information about this game in my head going in, aside from the fact that it is a spin-off of a spin-off kart racing title featuring Sonic and crew. Most would say going in with little knowledge of the game you’re reviewing is a bad thing, but my thoughts are quite to the contrary.
Back in the day, I loved Mario Kart. It’s one title that kept Nintendo’s consoles alive in my eyes, so countless late nights were spent honing my skills. Since then, as is natural in this industry, may other companies attempted to create kart racing titles – some being more successful than others. Very few have actually captured the same feel as the original Mario Karts or even the likes of Crash Team Racing (another of my favorite classic kart racing games).
While I haven’t played any Sega kart racers before, there’s certainly a place in my skeptical gamer’s heart for a new, good game in the genre, so there was a glimmer of hope that I could enjoy titles like this once more. In fact, it’s probably precisely the fact that I haven’t played a good kart racing game in a while that I feel this title is quite good.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed throws some interesting little twists into the typical kart racing mix, though, and those are the things that really spice things up and take things to the next level. In typical racing games of this sort, you go around a track so many times and, if you’re in first place by time those laps are complete, you win. Go you. In this game, things are mixed up a bit. While you still have to complete so many laps to finish the race, those laps are quite different almost each time you go around because of the two “transformations” your kart can go through.
That little buggy is more than meets the eye, because it will transform into either a boat or a plane (and back into a kart) depending on how the track changes. You might complete and entire lap with your kart on land, then, during the second lap, part of the track may be in the water (the lake/river/pond that was off to the side of the kart track the first time around). The same can be said of the plane on certain tracks. This diversity is what made these courses fun, especially the first time through them.
There’s a lot of environmental changes happening all around you as you constantly race around the track in your vehicle, and these prompt the fairly frequent sojourns into the sea and sky. To add to the variety, entire courses are designed to take advantage of one special vehicle or another. The Afterburner course, which takes place on and in the sky between two aircraft carriers, was just a delight to play through, regardless of how many times I’ve done it.
I have a bit of an issue with the boat handling when you’re in the water, as things seem sluggish and drifting is darn near impossible. While you’re in the air, it’s sometimes difficult to hone in on hitting the item barrels due to the multi-directional nature of controlling a plane in a 3D space. Those grievances are rather small, though, and, generally speaking, both alternate vehicles are rather fun to swap to a couple times in each course.
Most of us have a sizable number of memories from many Sega franchises, and those come rushing back to you when you venture onto the related tracks, as developer Sumo Digital pulled out all the stops in faithfully recreating the feel of the game from where each course pulls its inspiration. Some of the better courses were Panzer Dragoon’s medieval romp, the JRPG stylings of the Skies of Arcadia course and the psychedelic wandering through the one based on Nights Into Dreams. Everything is recreated in perfect digital glory, and the developers did a wonderful job of capturing the look and feel of the various classic Sega games represented.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward, tried and true. You race around the track, collecting power-ups to vanquish your competitors. It’s as simple as that. The power-ups remain the same regardless of the vehicle, and I would have liked to see some that were unique to either the boat or the plane, but generally speaking, there’s a well-rounded selection.
Drifting seems to be focused on a tad bit too much for my tastes. While it’s generally regarded as a mainstay in the racing portion of genre titles, and that’s just fine by me, adding in drifting-only courses you’re required to complete to move on in the world tour events was just overboard. It quickly got annoying when I had to do each track multiple times to finally beat it. I drift just fine in the racing events (and successful drifts are accentuated by a satisfying boost if done correctly), but for some reason the events that focus solely on drifting tire me and I found them rather boring and tedious.
You’re given a good selection of characters to start with, including all the Sonic mainstays, but there are also tons of unlockable characters that you reveal through performing various tasks throughout all the game’s modes (which includes the typical Grand Prix, World Tour, Multiplayer, et. al.).
In a gaming climate where developers tend to be more focused on online multiplayer than couch co-op, it’s nice to know that Sumo Digital and Sega still had the gumption to include it in this title. As far as I’m concerned (and as Mario Kart should have taught all of us) that’s the only way to experience multiplayer with a kart racing game. Kudos for that.
With all the content to explore and the memories to be had, as well as typically classic mechanics with a transformer-esque twist, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed isn’t only one of the sole kart racers I’ve played in recent memory, but probably one of the best I’ve played since the era of the original PlayStation and the N64. Amid all the huge titles coming out this month, for some more down-to-earth (and less violent) fun, I’d certainly consider picking up this game for some good times during the holidays.