Game Review: Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed [Xbox 360/PS3/PC]
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It should be made absolutely clear that I am a big SEGA fan, therefore the nostalgia level available from this game to me is vast. As luck would have it, Sonic Transformed goes above and beyond, delving through many more nooks and crannies of SEGA’s history than you would reasonably expect. This is truly a game for fans, but does that mean it’s a game ONLY for fans? I don’t think so. I think what you have here is probably the best the kart racer has ever been, but that’s not to say there aren’t problems along the way.
Given the original format of a kart racer, Sumo Digital could have easily gone the simple route for a sequel and just pumped out new tracks and characters, changing almost nothing. Instead, they have built heavily on the base systems they made for their first game, completely overhauled the weapons and most of the character roster, as well as their biggest change: the addition of flying and boat racing.
The standard ways of driving effectively in this game are efficient use of drift and boost. Whenever you drift, you slowly gain boost which can be increased to three levels. If you can plan your route so that you only stop drifting to make use of your boost, the top speeds can be yours. If you then combine those with the boost pads on the course itself, as well as doing air tricks to gain boost whenever you get some air (in car and boat mode, or when transforming), you will be able to beat all comers. When you get chains like this going, it’s a massive rush of adrenaline which you always know in the back of your mind can be ruined by not being attentive enough and crashing into a wall, or getting unlucky with enemy fire, which only serves to make it more exciting. The rules somewhat change in flight mode, where although hitting boosts is important, making your flight path as efficient as possible through the expansive space you are given to fly in most stages(there’s far more freedom to cut corners in flight than you would usually expect, which is much welcomed) while avoiding random bits of scenery will make you the fastest thing alive.
Instead of just sticking with the Mario Kart trope (yes, there’s gonna be a lot of MK comparisons here, but it only seems apt) of a Grand Prix mode of cups with four races each as the main mode (that’s not to say this format is missing in this game; it’s there as you would expect), Sonic Transformed expands on it with its World Tour mode. In this mode, you go through various types of event, earning stars to unlock new content. As well as races, you get to do various challenges, such as battle races where you have to survive to win, drift challenges where you have to stay within a coloured strip while in a drift, a la the challenges in Outrun 2 (a clear influence on this game, in terms of the drift model), and pursuits where you must destroy a tank that shoots stuff at you. That last one was unexpected. This mode is where the vast majority of the unlockable characters can be found, with the rest being in Grand Prix mode.
There’s also a time attack mode, which offers various ghosts to beat, one for each of the four levels available in the game, from Easy to Expert. These Expert ghosts are really challenging, and will require a decent amount of learning the course to take down. Expert difficulty in general works particularly effectively as a longevity extension, as it makes every challenge the game can throw at you a lot harder, but still rarely feels unfair. This is quite an achievement, especially in a kart game, where weapon pickups are random and can destroy your world if you get hit at the wrong time (this still happens, of course).
The weapons in this game are really quite interesting, mainly because not a single one of them is bad. There’s no banana skin or green shell level weapon, and everything will probably hit. They range from a blowfish that drops behind you and has a large hitbox to catch opponent, to a hot rod which gives you a speed boost for a limited amount of time, but explodes if you keep it too long so you have to drop it, which cause a splash explosion you can knock other racers into walls with. Each character also has their own All-Star, which makes you go at boost speed for its full length, as well as giving you a weapon which is different for each character. To give you an example, AiAi can throw bananas, and is in his monkey ball for the duration of his All-Star. While the game does weight pickups slightly depending on your current position, you can still get All-Stars in the first three places, which feels like rewarding you for playing well, as opposed to feeling like only those at the back could get it so they could use it as a comeback mechanic. This makes the game feel considerably less random in end result to its peers, and is much welcomed.
The audiovisual package as a whole is great, with stages containing cute little touches from whatever their base game is and catchy medleys of classic songs from the SEGA archives. The character models on some characters look a little weird, but that’s just where they have been slightly redesigned to fit the overall game style, and some voices have changed for the worse too. The backgrounds are gorgeous, and the animation is smooth.
It really is unfortunate that the game is pretty glitchy. There are some ramps that will occasionally just stop you for no discernible reason. The glitches get a lot worse when you get to online play. Matchmaking is certainly not stable at the moment, but is pretty entertaining when it finally works. Private sessions are very easy to set up and much more stable though. Ties in races can cause a weird situation where the game tells you you’re the higher rank, then the lower rank, then the higher rank again. This can cost you a Grand Prix and is therefore pretty annoying. This is all fixable, and hopefully a patch is forthcoming, but for now these are real issues, and hold the experience back from its full potential.
It’s clear in this game that Sumo have really thought about the kart racing genre, where it has become stale, and tried to advance it from a mainly luck-based party game to a legitimate racing game with weapons. To that end, I think they have really succeeded. That’s also not to say it can’t be enjoyed as a casual party game, as it still fulfills those criteria. There’s a lot of surprises in here for the long-term SEGA fan. I’m kind of glad I managed not to just spoil them all. I hope it’s something you will appreciate when you are wowed by them.