Sonic and the gang are back with all new transforming racing vehicles. Having played the original Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing to death, I was curious to see what kind of changes would be made to the next game in the series. Sequels are always filled with promise, and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed is no different. It offers more tracks, updated graphics, and all new gameplay.
The biggest feature is the transforming vehicles, a dead giveaway in the title. Each character’s vehicle swiftly transforms into either a kart, a boat, or a flying machine as you race. As you progress through the game, you unlock more and more tracks and characters, such as Sonic, AiAi, Shadow, Knuckles, Alex Kidd, and many more.
Each of the 25 tracks and arenas are, like the characters themselves, straight from the Sega universe. It’s great to have the Sega crew together, though I suspect many younger gamers will be unfamiliar with the large majority of Sega’s past offerings.
In Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, the karting gameplay is - as you would expect from a karting game - full of powerslides and high-speed boosts, which blast you through each level. Most gamers will adapt quickly to the kart mode, but the second your vehicle transforms it’s a whole different ball-game.
These transformations totally change the gameplay, with one form handling entirely differently to another. This increases the difficulty curve, and affects the overall gameplay experience. In the boat form, realistic wave physics come into play, allowing you to utilise the water physics to propel your boat into jumps and speed boosts. The plane form is high speed and therefore requires quick reactions. It features some pretty hardcore airdrift powerslides, too. But the inverted flight controls take some getting used to, particularly for newer gamers.
You transform into the different vehicles by passing through set markers, and these markers shift due to the terraforming environments that change lap after lap. It is worth commending Sega for trying something different with the transforming element. While it isn’t perfect, it does a nice job of mixing the levels up and introduces a healthy dose of variation.
The difficulty curve makes the game challenging. On medium difficulty, you can expect to have a battle on your hands. On hard, you’ll be struggling to keep up to first place. Even a near perfect race at this level will leave you straggling behind the top three.
In Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, the weapon pick-ups are similar to the original game, however the nature of the attacks is different. The weapons are effective and appear well balanced. You can send a swarm of bees to block the path ahead, or fire bottle rockets and ice attacks.
What is really disappointing are the changes made to the All-Star mode pick-up. Previously, each character would utilise something unique from their world. I.e. Banjo and Kazooie would drop puzzle blocks in front of other karters. Now, All-Star mode only involves transforming you into your flying form, giving you a marginal boost on your opponents. The fact that it feels slightly underpowered suggests an effort to better balance the attack, but it’s not necessarily for the best, as it only barely gives you an advantage.
Graphically, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed looks good, but a recurring issue is the busy tracks and colour schemes. These make it hard to pick your path and make out the contours of the track, and at times involves significant bashing into corners. In fact, as a plane, the levels don’t have the usual trackside boundaries, meaning you can sometimes end up flying sideways in the wrong direction.
Again, given the target audience, this really takes away from the mindless fun factor. For me this is the heart of the issue, because if I’m having a karting bash with a bunch of friends, I want to make sure the game is easy for everyone to play.
A big bonus to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed is that up to ten players race against each other online, either in arena game modes or your usual races. If you’d rather play in your living room, you can play with up to three friends on the single console, either in normal races or in co-op mode. This adds serious longevity to the title, and offers a substantial improvement over the original game. Multiplayer is great, though due to the various gameplay elements it was difficult to get on an equal playing field with my opponents.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed makes a solid effort at advancing the karting genre. It takes some risks, and for the most part they pay off. The transforming vehicles are fun, and the tracks are colourful and exotic.
On the downside, the track design is at times too busy, combined with complex colour schemes. This makes the game harder than it perhaps needs to be, possibly making it less accessible for younger gamers. But karting games are not thick on the ground on modern consoles, and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed scratches a good sized itch. It’s available now on PS3, Xbox 360, PC, iOS, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, and Playstation Vita.