More than two years ago, SEGA decided to challenge its long-time rival, Nintendo, by releasing its own kart racer. The result of that successful experiment was Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, an incredibly fun and thoroughly well made racer that stood out amongst its peers for all the right reasons. As such, it didn’t come as a surprise when the publisher announced that Sumo Digital was hard at work on a sequel, entitled Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
During the months that fell in-between the follow-up’s reveal and its late November launch date, those of us who loved the original release were teased and treated by visceral screen shot drops, tantalizing gameplay trailers and juicy bits of news. In fact, it was the latter category and its interesting details that made me even more excited about the second entry into what will hopefully be a long-running franchise. That’s because it was through a SEGA press release that I found out about the game’s transforming vehicles, which can morph into cars, boats and jet planes. As a long-time fan of Diddy Kong Racing, a classic title that is arguably the genre’s best effort so far, the idea of using different types of vehicles made my inner gamer jump for joy.
Now, before you get the wrong idea, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed isn’t a clone of Diddy Kong Racing, nor is it a clone of Mario Kart. Like its predecessor, this sequel stands as its own entity. Sure, there are obvious similarities, but the presented action is noticeably faster than what the other two offer. Going further, there are other differences to point out, such as the fact that the presented tracks change throughout each event, changing up most laps. Of course, the most obvious difference pertains to the included roster characters and their individual all-star moves. Those allow struggling players to move through the pack with ease, thanks to a mix of unique projectiles and time-limited invincibility.
The aforementioned mechanics make Sumo Digital’s sophomore effort a blast to play. The morphing system works as it should, altering vehicles on the fly whenever the need may arise, and the new all-star moves show improvement over those that came before them. Granted, at the core of this experience lays a traditional kart racer, though that’s not a bad thing, considering the genre’s rather straightforward description. No matter how much developers try to push boundaries, they’re still restricted by the formula that Nintendo created all those years ago. The good news is that it’s still as fun as it ever was.
When it comes to this type of game, controls are king. After all, dominating colourful courses and defeating familiar characters isn’t an easy thing to do, and it becomes almost impossible when there are steering issues. Thankfully, Transformed performs exactly as it should, without any issues. All three vehicle types can be piloted with ease, thanks to an accessible system that doesn’t require a lot of effort or memorization. Generally speaking, you only need to worry about following each track. However, learning how to drift well will help you take the checkered flag. Even on easy, your opponents will be challenging, and the three difficulties that follow ramp things up. Therein lies the only major downside that I discovered, as the game will be too difficult for some casual folk. Although it’s accessible to play, it’s tough to master. As a result, those who hope to unlock all of the in-game licenses and achievements will be tested.
Instead of relying on traditional races throughout its main World Tour mode, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed presents an incredible amount of event types. You’ll come across traditional time trials and versus races, which are complemented by traffic avoidance challenges, ring-focused time attacks, battle races, drift challenges, boost-based time trials and boss fights. Needless to say, there’s no lack of variety to be found here, and the great thing is that all of the event types are of quality.
To go into detail, the World Tour sees players working their way through several different regions. That is, if you want to call them that. Although they’re named after different elements, the locations boil down to a mixture of events that are connected by white lines. If you’ve been gaming for a while, you may remember the described design from Star Fox 64. In this iteration, everything still works the same: you make your way through each area by completing competitions, then picking where you’d like to travel next. Each pathway provides something different, whether it’s a varied game mode, a new track, or an unlockable racer. However, in order to progress through locked gates, one must have earned a certain amount of stars, which unlock according to the player’s chosen difficulty level.
While the ‘globe-trotting’ option serves as Transformed‘s dominant mode, the game type is not alone. It’s complemented by time trial challenges, single race scenarios, and cup challenges in the vein of Mario Kart. Most of the modes allow for four-player split-screen gaming, and the same is true of the other major option: ranked online matches.
As expected, you can hop online at any time, in order to test your skills against the world. Doing so is as simple as pressing a button a couple of times. However, you will need to make a decision regarding the event type you’d like to compete in, as a few different ones are available. First up is the core race scenario. Next, there’s the battle arena, where opponents try to collect a certain amount of SEGA themed creatures. Last, but not least, is a daunting option, which takes away power-ups and bonuses in favour of mano y mano racing.
Now, if I were you, I’d be saying that, while all of the above sounds great, the real question relates to how well the game runs. Thankfully, it performs like a dream. During my review session, I didn’t experience any hiccups. The frame rate was stable, and the action was frenetic. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how great the game looks and sounds. Its visuals pop with colour and detail, and each one of its creative tracks comes with a tailored historical song. Since this is essentially an interactive SEGA history lesson, you’ll find characters, courses and songs from games like Golden Axe, NiGHTS into Dreams, Sonic the Hedgehog, Samba De Amigo and Jet Set Radio.
Those who are looking for a great kart racer to pick up and play over the holiday season shouldn’t look any further. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is an incredibly well made and very entertaining option that will keep you coming back for more. In fact, this sequel is of such great quality that it’s an absolute steal at its forty-dollar price point.
This review is based on an XBOX 360 copy of the game that was provided to us.