With Sack boy joining the mascot kart racing war, Sonic and friends needed to set themselves apart from being yet another generic racer. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed makes a sincere effort to alter the stagnant formula of the kart-racing genre with races taking place between land, sea, and air in a single race. While it has its flaws, it’s still a solid racer that is fun for the entire family.
Similar to your typical kart racer, Transformed provides you with an expansive roster of characters from Sega’s history to choose from. Aside from the more familiar characters like Sonic, Joe Musashi, Amigo, and AiAi, you will get a chance to choose lesser-known characters like Vyse from Skies of Arcadia and Gilius from Golden Axe. You can also choose Wreck-It Ralph, your Mii (Nintendo), or Avatar (360), and strangely real-world racer Danica Patrick. Each racer has unique stats affecting speed, acceleration, boost, and handling. Continuously using a particular character earns them experience points, which unlock additional modifiers. This allows to focus on one character or to choose characters that you would normally not gravitate towards using – I’m looking at you Dr. Eggman.
The World Tour places you on a branching path leading you through an alluring mix of standard races and special events. Whether it’s Ring Races that task you to fly through rings before time runs out or Pursuit, where you pick up ammo to shoot at a tank that constantly fires projectiles at you. These are just a few of the modes offered in World Tour, and it’s a good thing the missions are so varied, as completing each on various difficulties will earn you medals used to unlock gates leading to additional modes and new characters.
Similar to Mario Kart 7, the action takes place in the land, sea, and air, but instead of slight enhancements like deploying a hang-glider or a motorboat propeller that barely effect controls, the transformation mechanic is much more prominent. Vehicles fluidly transform into boats or planes during specific points in a race. The aircraft and watercraft control differently from the land vehicles, but even with that knowledge, the transforming can still be a little shrill. Thankfully, the driving controls feel tight, allowing you to drift around corners and weave through enemy attacks with ease.
Visually, Transformed is an impressive blend of colorful graphics and classic arcade details that will put a smile on any Sega fanboy/girl’s face. The vehicles transform into some creative and unique variations that perfectly depict each character’s persona, like Wreck-It Ralph’s tow truck turning into a helicopter and Sonic’s race-car turning into a supped up hovercraft. You will race through haunted halls of Curien Mansion in the House of the Dead universe, fly through canyons set in the Panzer Dragoon world, or zip through the seasonal shrines in a Shinobi themed stage. Each track design is creative and exciting with multiple routes to choose from. However, some courses suffer from being too busy with background clutter, making it difficult to maintain focus on the placement of your vehicle. Stages are accompanied by a remixed soundtrack, which further adds to the game’s nostalgia factor.
Adding to the madness on screen, Transformed features a decent array of weapons you can pick up along the path. But unlike its cast and courses, these items are generic variations of what we’ve come to expect from most kart racers. Each item is forgettable and strangely enough they appear to have little to no effect on opponents. You can send a swarm of bees to block the path ahead, or fire bottle rockets and ice attacks, but the AI opponents recover so quickly that you won’t be able to capitalize.
Drifting, performing tricks, and running over boost pads will provide you with a little extra speed but don’t expect to gain any distance or close gaps between your AI opponents. For a title aimed towards children, the relentless difficulty of your opponents is brutal and frustrating. One wrong move will quickly send you to the back of the pack where even the “All-Star” power-up which boost your speed and provides invincibility will not help you easily move up a position. 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.
Besides World Tour, you can claim the top spot in Grand Prix, which consists of five cups each containing four races, as well as standard single races and Time Attack, where you’re ultimately tasked with defeating each course’s staff ghost time.. The local and online multiplayer modes further adds to the value of Transformed. Single-player modes can be played split-screen with up to three others, or you can play additional versus games such as Battle or Capture the Chao. Battle Races act like battle arena matches except that players are racing at the same time. It becomes a game about survival more than anything as each player can only take three hits before they’re eliminated. Finally, Capture the Chao is a variation on capture the flag. In one of the arenas, Chao spawn and must be picked up and brought to a specific point. Whoever collects the most Chaos wins. The real fun though comes when you take the competition online and race against up to nine other players.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed makes a strong effort at advancing the karting genre. Its solid controls, assortments of modes, and unlockables make it a worthy contender but the unrelenting difficulty will ruin your childhood memories of your favorite Sega franchises.
Editor’s Note: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences. The Wii U version will be reviewed separately.