Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing was fairly well received by reviewers, and extremely well received by the paying public. After being ported to all sorts of devices, it should come as a surprise to no one at all that SEGA are making a sequel. I only played the iPad version of the first title, however, and it's fair to say I was unimpressed. On the back of that, I wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing the new game.
Fortunately, my preconceptions about the title were as wide of the mark as it's possible to get; to save you the stressful suspense of wondering what I thought, I'll give you a quick preview now: it's great. As in, "oh man, do I really have to stop playing now?" and "I'm going to go preorder the game as soon as I get home". Pretty high praise, given the number of much higher profile games I've already spent time with this week, I'm sure you'll agree.
But what lead me to enjoy it so much? It's less one particular thing, and more the result of a number of excellent improvements, changes, and inclusions that the developers have made. For a start, the roster of characters - each of which has their own themed vehicles - is deep, forming a veritable catalogue of past and present SEGA glory. There are characters from Shinobi, Golden Axe, Skies of Arcadia, and many more. The character selection screen was full of icons, although most were still locked and must therefore remain a mystery.
The retro dumpster diving doesn't end there, either, with each of the levels themed around classic SEGA franchises. I managed to play on three different courses during my hands-on experience, including one based on Panzer Dragoon, another based on Super Monkey Ball, and a third that was set in the world of Golden Axe. If you're a SEGA fanboy or someone with a long history in gaming, there's a lot to love about the details of this game.
The setting and population of the game, while important, is over-shadowed in impact by the most important element: the gameplay. Fortunately, it's no slouch here either. In fact, based on my experience with three of the game's levels, I think it's fair to say that this is the star of the show.
The "Transformed" part of the name is not just a way to associate the game with a hot brand; it's a literal description of something you're going to do a lot as you play. Your vehicles, you see, can change between different modes (boats, cars, and planes). Rather than just a way of adding new levels into the game, it's actually used mid-race, with your vehicle seamlessly switching into different configurations, depending on the section of the level you're traversing.
That's not the end of the transformations either. Each lap, the world you're in changes, ensuring that every time you go around, it's a different experience. On the Panzer Dragoon level, for example, my second lap saw the level area flooded, while the third brought about the appearance of monsters to avoid and Dragons to follow in my plane. It was, in a word, epic.
The Super Monkey Ball themed level, again, was not only thematically exactly what you'd expect (a race down an SMB level) but a total blast, with all sorts of things going on and transformations keeping you on your toes.
Any kind of racing game, even the karting type, lives and dies on the handling of the vehicles. E3 is a pretty tricky place to assess the nuances of a driving system, but after repeated races I came away impressed. Each of the vehicle types has its own unique handling characteristics, of course, and none of them impeded my ability to hurtle around the course at break-neck speed.
I had a lot of fun playing Transformed, so much so that I walked away thinking of it as one of the surprise hits of E3. Out of nowhere, I'm suddenly very excited about hooning around SEGA's history in a variety of transforming vehicles.
It's coming to pretty much every platform available later on this year.
NZGamer.com appears at E3 2012 thanks to Orcon Broadband.