The kart racing genre is usually associated with one franchise in particular. A franchise that has been around for 20 years now, shaping the genre with its regular releases. And no, I’m not talking about Copysoft’s Skunny Kart.
While Mario Kart has won the hearts of a majority of gamers, there have been a few kart racers over the years that people have preferred: Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing to name just two.
While Sega tried to steal the flag off Nintendo with Sonic & All Star Racing a couple of years back, which did receive some great reviews, it was mainly seen as a “good clone” and not the crown-stealing hit it was trying to be. Well, a few years have past now, and the sequel Sonic & All Star Racing Transformed has hit pretty much every console that’s available, and quite frankly, it’s great.
Transformed is silky smooth, incredibly fast, and absolutely bursting with colour and personality. Not only does Transformed look fantastic, but it’ll keep you busy for a lot longer than you might first imagine.
Your stock-standard career mode sees you progressing and unlocking courses throughout various “World Tours”. While your first event may be a standard race you’ll soon be unlocking game modes that range from boost races (time only counts down when you’re not boosting), ring races (fly through rings and checkpoints to win), last man standing races and numerous others -- in co-op, vs, and online. The amount of content is huge.
What may seem frustrating at first is that you’re never really taught how to play the game. There’s no tutorial mode that introduces the importance of drift boosting, and you're not taught how to combo up stunts to ensure that, when you land, you get that extra hit of speed. There are small tips that appear on loading screens but the game really leaves you to figure things out for yourself - that is, until you are introduced to some of the more challenging game modes.
Boost Race will teach you how to drift like a professional, while Ring Race will help you master flight controls. The game doesn’t hold your hand at any time, except in the easiest modes, and there will be times when you’ll be tempted to give them a go.
Transformed gets its name from the fact that the vehicles piloted by the All-Star cast transform between land, water, and air modes at various points in each event. Each version controls differently and, while you may find yourself perfecting a land-based vehicle, it can be jarring to have the game switch you into something airborne. Of course, as you get to know the tracks, you’ll be expecting the change and pulling off a stunt mid transformation will see you extract a little more speed from what’s called a transformation boost.
It’s not only the vehicles you’ll need to learn to perfect, as every character has their own stats that can be upgraded with mods. Every event, whether you win or lose, will earn your character XP; use them enough and they’ll earn enough to level up, unlocking a different mod to alter their stats. While these don’t change the characters drastically, it does allow you to make a character you prefer control like others. It’s a nice addition for those that find themselves attached to one character in particular.
A nice addition to the career mode is that, should you have people to play with, they can jump in and help you try and collect all the stars. Each and every single race or challenge, whether it’s on or offline, allows up to four other people to jump in using Wii Remotes and Nunchucks.
Having the GamePad screen available for a fifth player is perfect, but its true purpose doesn’t become obvious until you have a simple two-player event. Instead of split-screen, you simply get a screen each; removing the clutter and strange aspect ratio of split-screen really helps you maintain your focus on some of the harder events.
Of course, that’s not the only benefit of the Wii U’s GamePad. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has some of the more clever ways of utilising the GamePad we've seen so far. While we’ve heard numerous titles have the off-screen gameplay as a feature, the majority involve you having to change an option in the menu system or have both screens showing the same thing at all times.
With Transformed, you get a map view while racing normally and, with a quick swipe down on the screen (and a press of the A button), you can switch the action to the GamePad - a swipe up moves it back to the TV.
What’s also nice, although it may never be as easy or intuitive as just hitting Y to get a behind car view, is the fact that by simply raising the GamePad up a small rear-view mirror appears at the top of your map screen. Quirky, but appreciated.
Transformed has plenty of unlockables available throughout World Tour mode and the fanservice present here makes it hard for any child from the 80s to ignore. The majority of Sega’s biggest hits are represented in some form, whether it’s characters from Dreamcast era games or tracks based on games like Afterburner, Golden Axe, or Shinobi, and it all works just so well. It’s quite something to be driving as Beat (from Jet Set Radio), hitting Sonic with a rocket and taking the win on a track dedicated to NiGHTS.
While the game isn’t perfect - the commentator is repetitive and overly chatty, and who the hell is Danica Patrick? - it really is a breath of fresh air for the kart racing genre. If anything, it goes to show that Nintendo may need to do a little more than just add a new feature to their next iteration of Mario Kart.