It’s not exactly easy to be a successful kart racer without featuring a rotund plumber or giant ape blessed with the uncanny ability to play the bongos. But if you had to pick a company not named Nintendo to pull it off, Sega should be first on your list. Not because the publisher has been pushing out the highest quality products over the past few years; in all honestly, they seem to miss more than hit these days. Yet, the bundle of colorful characters Sega has under its belt allows for a game like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed to exist, and the talented folks over at Sumo Digital make this fast-paced sequel more than just another Mario Kart clone. With its beautiful visuals, solid handling and diverse set of tracks, Transformed proves to be an entertaining experience both alone and with a friend.
As you’d guess from the title, the majority of the racers available in the game are from the Sonic universe. You’ll be able to control the Blue Bomber, Knuckles and a load of other fuzzy animals in their unique vehicles, but a few surprises will be waiting for long-time fans of Sega’s work. Alex Kidd, Vyse from Skies of Arcadia and many more unique faces from the company’s history can be unlocked through extended play, and thankfully, each addition feels unique. Different vehicles, which are tied to varying stats, encourage players to experiment from race to race. You may eventually settle on Sonic as your driver of choice, but a progression system specific to each character is enough incentive to take a tour of the full roster.
Not all characters are available right off the bat, though. To see all the bizarre personalities, you’ll have to sink some time into the game’s standout World Tour feature. This mode, which can be played either alone, or with a friend on the couch, takes players on an extended journey through different race tracks, game types and challenges. New characters are unlocked by accumulating a higher number of stars, which are earned from each event. If you tackle a regular race at the medium difficulty and finish in the top three, you’ll earn two stars. Complete a stage on the highest difficulty and you’ll find yourself three sparkling, golden rewards richer.
It’s a feature riddled with things to do, and thankfully, it never pushes too much of the same thing in your face. Races are interspersed with drifting challenges, battle modes where item pickups are required to stay alive and clock-based affairs that often come down to the wire. You can always enter the Grand Prix or explore the Time Trials, but the multiplicity of the World Tour makes it the premier attraction. The level of difficulty may be a bit too high early on, as a few missed turns or unlucky incidents with a stray rocket may sink your race – even on the medium difficulty. But it’s still a blast to play, and it’s hard to get too upset over restarting a level when the core gameplay is so smooth.
Just edging around a corner in a kart representative of a specific character’s personality is thrilling, but similar to the N64’s Diddy Kong Racing, there’s more to the action than what’s found on the asphalt. Certain portions of each track transform a character’s kart into either a slick speedboat or high-flying aircraft. These unique variations renovate more than just the vehicle’s aesthetics, as the water forces your boat to make wider turns and the open skies allow for both vertical and horizontal movement. Offensive and defensive items, as well as the game’s drifting mechanic, translate well to the three planes of a particular level, but the actual flavor of the race quickly changes as your vehicle transforms into a new shape.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed also looks damn good throughout each and every lap. The colorful stages based on classic Sega franchises seem to pop off the screen, but thankfully, aren’t so hypnotic that they force attention away from the race at hand. The characters, too, burst with color and detail. Sumo Digital manages to blend 29 characters into one universe, and surprisingly, no one but real-life racer Danica Patrick feels out of place. You can’t go wrong getting behind the wheel as any of these Sega staples when you explore the large, dynamic tracks.
If you get sick of your friends hogging the screen in local cooperative play, there’s always a competitive online mode to fall back on. Races, as well as the objective-base modes, are accessible here, and as long as you can find an active game, it’s an entertaining feature. The lack of a game-changing item like Mario Kart’s Blue Shell allows the races to feel more balanced than your average kart racer, so if you’re looking to test your skills against the real world, the option is there.
Sega’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed manages to combine a solid roster of racers, a bevy of content and polished mechanics into one, quality product. What makes it all the more impressive is the $39.99 asking price, which is a true bargain for such a content-rich package. The difficulty may be a bit too high at times for casual players, but Transformed does more than enough to step out of the shadow of the genre’s main attraction. Sonic hasn’t exactly been consistent over the past few years, but that shouldn’t stop you from revving your engine and shooting for a top spot on the winner’s podium.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was developed by Sumo Digital and published by SEGA. A Playstation 3 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.