Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is the sequel to Sumo Digital’s 2010 Sonic & All Stars Racing, following the same idea as before Sonic and his pals race around tracks taken from SEGA’s back catalog ranging from games from the Master System era to the Dreamcast. And no, I still have no idea why Sonic needs a car.
There is no over arching story, there is no motivation for why the players are racing, what this game looks to do is provides the player with a pure nostalgia trip for those who grew up playing SEGA titles. The game features a wide and varied cast including a large amount of cameos in various forms such as stages, brief appearances, for example Ristar as the games flag man. House of the Dead, Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5, Skies of Arcadia and Samba De Amigo are merely some of the games that show up. Each game has a level themed around it, including a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog levels such as Sky Sanctuary Zone retooled to work as a race track (including, much to my pleasure, the music from Sonic Generations). The games tracks are fairly varied in design but as a whole are all designed to play slightly like a level from the game, apart from a few where it isn’t possible. The House of the Dead level is more like a house party, than a deadly mansion, with zombies on bouncy castles and blaring music with a dubstep remix for the level intro. Yet where the theme allows it, the level plays out like it would in the game it came from, for example Sky Sanctuary Zone crumbling away under foot. Some of the choices for games are really grasping at straws in terms of “All Stars” but it’s good to see them regardless, especially since they are some cult favourites such as Skies of Arcadia and the recently re-released in HD, Jet Set Radio, which both have some characters and levels in the game.
Making itself stand out from its prequel, Transformed adds several new mechanics into the mix, All Stars Racing was a fairly standard karting game and yes, resorting to an obvious comparison, a fairly good Mario Kart clone. The games main twist on the traditional karting system to make itself stand out is that it offers players the ability to drive three different vehicles. Cars, boats and planes are available to players, a majority of levels have sections where you are forced to change your vehicle in order to progress. The standard car is in my opinion the easiest to use, each vehicles handling is intentionally very different with boats being the worst handling vehicle. Boats can travel on any terrain and perform multiple jumps when they take off in the air easier but their handling can at times be a slight irritating sometimes slowing the pace of the race down quite substantially, so much so the game actually gives players tips stating that they may wish to get out of the boat mode as quick as possible since it’s the slowest of the vehicle types. The plane is the fastest vehicle, it turns sharply and can dodge quickly to avoid fire from other players but it’s harder to drift around in it due to the fact it turns sharper than other vehicles. As with a lot of carting games the ultimate aim to get through levels is to find the quickest route through the level, the games tool tips suggest that the extra vehicle modes act as a way to get through levels quicker as mentioned previously, but apart from a few circumstances very few tracks in the game actually actively take advantage of this.
The career mode is one of my favourite parts of Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed. The career mode is a series of challenges, this is more like a single player version of the multiplayer challenge modes such as Battle Race, where you have to either come first or knock out every other player using weapons, Drift Challenge, where you have to drift inside of certain areas in order to continue and pass through the checkpoints in time. These act as a good distraction from the standard racing modes and never get so hard that they become frustrating, they also give a reason for the games mod system to exist outside of the multiplayer aspect. The mod system changes how your kart handles, you unlock mods as you level up your character something that takes a few hours for each character. To speed up this process you can unlock console specific mods, Mega Drive, Dreamcast and so forth and use those when leveling characters. Your ultimate reward for completing career mode, other than the thrilling credits sequence and an achievement that references Phantasy Star Online (De Rol Le Credits), is the games mirror mode cup and “Expert Mode” for the career and grand prix modes which increases the difficulty of the NPC AI or in the case of things like drift challenge, narrowing the area that you drift in.
The tracks are fairly well designed with a large amount of them having some kind of vehicle changing mechanic in them, each track is fairly simple but has small shortcuts you can take in order to maximise your track time, as is standard in most games of this nature. My only complaint is that when you are thrown between vehicles some points you can be sent flying into a wall when you come out if you are aiming at ever so slightly the wrong angle but this is just a minor irritation. As mentioned each track has a cohesive theme and the theme plays into the levels play style, for example in the Burning Rangers level the level starts to flood over time in order to control the fire, your pathway through the level will change again and again adding extended boat sections, or in the case of the Golden Axe level, more flying sections. This keeps the stage from becoming stale and predictable and prevents players from getting too comfy with the track. Simple repetition will get you used to these parts of the level but on the first play through it is a nice surprise.
The games skill level is interesting and rewards the players for learning small mechanics, the drifting mechanic is different enough from other karting games to stand out on its own. Not so different that it ultimately doesn’t give the player a boost but you may find yourself drifting around multiple corners and continuing your drift, getting to a third level boost around a series of difficult corners feels really rewarding and the game adds several elements of risk and reward with the flip mechanic. When you drive off a ledge you have the oppourtunity to to perform a flip and the more flips you do, the larger boost you get and if you screw up you simply slow down. Whilst none of this is revolutionary it’s just fun since once you get it down and figure out the points at the map you can do it best it really helps you get through tracks faster. As far as I can tell this is where the game really comes together in terms of skill since characters do not seem to have any specific statistics themselves apart from which mod is equipped to them.
In my time playing the game I found very few major problems with the game, the online multiplayer seems to be fairly stable and any problems I had found seemed to be patched up by Sumo Digital fairly quickly, such as the initially non-functional battle mode in multiplayer, and I found only one weird and annoying bug with the audio during my time. I was playing the PS3 version, however I hear that the Wii U is the most stable version of the game which also features 5 player local multiplayer, the Wii U and Xbox versions have the ability to play as your avatar which is good for online play. At times the frame rate can suffer at times too, if you play split screen multiplayer you can expect the game to nearly grind to a halt in some parts but this happens very sparsely. This isn’t a game breaker but it’s definitely a shame.
One major issue I would like to point out with the game is the design of the assets, whilst the stages overall are pretty good things like the drivers and their vehicle designs themselves are fairly lacking. Some characters look odd outside of their normal style such as Beat, who looks oddly pudgy and washed out. Whilst the models for Sonic and company appear to have been taken out of current gen games some of the characters redesigns do not seem to work too well, but this may be down to personal preference.
Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is a solid game, it’s fun and has some great multiplayer modes and the fact you can play through the world tour and grand prix modes with friends is great. A competent karting game, I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who enjoys the Mario Kart titles or is looking for a multi-platform alternative.
Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is available for £14.99 on Amazon, it is also on sale at several outlets. The version used in this review was for the PS3, the PC version is to be released soon. There is also handheld versions available for the 3DS and the Vita..
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