Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing Transformed is Sumo Digital’s second effort breaking into the kart-racing sub-genre. Previously in 2012 we also saw efforts from United Front with LittleBigPlanet Karting, and Codemasters with F1 Race Stars, with both being met with relatively mediocre critical receptions hopefully Transformed can turn things around and provide a genuinely fun, fresh kart racing experience.
Fans of the previous Sonic & Sega All Stars (S&SASR) game will be familiar with the games controls and aesthetic, but really that’s where similarities end. Sumo Digital have made a plethora of changes to the mechanics established in S&SASR to the point that little you learnt from the original still applies. Drifting has been altered and whilst it still feels the same it takes much longer to go through the boost charging stages, as a result there’s reduced viability in snaking (drifting constantly for constant boost). However there’s more emphasis placed on chaining tricks, drift and boost pads together.
Obviously the largest change is evident from the title alone; Transformed sees player karts transforming between Car, Boat and Plane at different sections throughout the games 20 courses. These transformations also come with some pretty sizable gameplay changes too. Once you’re on open water you’ll transform into a boat, suddenly the game feels much more like Wave Race than it does a traditional kart racing game. You’ll notice your boat bobbing with the waves, this effects gameplay significantly as you find yourself using waves to gain air and boost. Similarly changing into a plane changes things up simply by allowing you to move freely through the air. It’s fun and the constantly changing gameplay will help keep you entertained for longer.
The transformations benefit the track design too, allowing Sumo to be much more creative carving a race course from Sega’s intellectual property. All of which have been beautifully crafted to the games artstyle and offer a unique slant on many of your beloved franchises. For instance you’ll find yourself furiously drifting around an aircraft carrier only to plummet into the ocean transforming onto a boat, only to again again transform shortly after take to the skies in an After Burner styled track. It’s much more varied than a traditional kart racing game. There are twenty tracks in total, covering a range of themes like the expected Sonic and Super Monkey Ball, to the less predictable like Golden Axe and Nights. Each course is a decent length too, lap times typically clock in over a minute. It depends what speed class you’re playing on, but the game offers much more bang for your buck per track than any of the recent Mario Kart titles.
Structurally the games pretty generic, there’s grand prix, time trial and career mode. Career mode is somewhat unique in that you’re presented with relatively novel missions to playthrough such as drift challenges, regular races, boost challenges and so forth. You earn a varying number of stars depending on the difficulty level you select which allow you to progress to more missions, unlock new characters and chapters of the career component. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s enjoyable but the presentation is a little lackluster. It’s a shame they couldn’t have streamlined this content into a fleshed out story mode like those seen in Crash Team, and Diddy Kong Racing – but I guess that’s too much to ask and far beyond consumer expectations from a kart racing game.
Progression through said career can become difficult however as the game is genuinely challenging. For a relatively seasoned kart racer like myself the game didn’t stretch me too much but that’s not to say I didn’t feel challenged. However for more casual players it might be a problem as you’re liable to struggle to unlock all the characters or unlock all the trophies. I relished the challenge but others (younger audiences in particular) may resent it.
Initially you begin with around 10 playable characters, but unlock more as you progress through career mode. The roster features characters you expect and recognise like Sonic, Amy, Amigo and Aiai, and others you perhaps won’t such as Nights, and Vyse. Each of which have unique statistics, but these can be drastically changed with performance mods unlocked as you level up each character. Characters comes with their own vehicle which embodies their style. Sumo have had to pay extra attention to this, this time around because as they’ve had to craft models for all 3 forms of each kart, boat, car and plane.
Character unique All-Star moves also return, but this time around they’re less effective, but found more frequently in pickup. In the previous Sonic Racing game these would only drop if you were trailing behind, but now you can find these even up to second place. It’s a better system as it means even the best racers will get to use their characters all star moves but each all star move is very similar, so the novelty wears off after a while.
Powerups in general have been renovated from its predecessor and for the most part these have been welcomed changes. Sumo scrapped many of the Sonic references like the bubble shield and speed shoes in favour their own alternatives. Many of these are what you’d expect but others are a little quirky. The snowball pickup allows you to fire three snowballs at your opponent, if they’re hit with all 3 they’re frozen solid for a few seconds. It feels fresh, and they’re different enough from what’s typical of the genre to evade the game being considered a Mario kart clone. Powerups don’t work so well in the air though, as opponents become much more difficult to hit, particularly when firing backwards as you’re forced to either look backwards or hold down. This might sound fine, but looking backwards means you’re not looking forwards; and holding down in a plane will cause you to gain altitude. In this regard the implementation is pretty sloppy, and ill-conceived. However minor gripe over arial combat mechanics aside, the games powerups manage to be very balanced and don’t feel cheap.
Of course the main reason consumers purchase kart racing games is liable to be their multiplayer components; unfortunately this is where Transformed is a little hit and miss. On the one hand the offline offerings have everything you can expect, you can play through grand prix mode, or custom races and battles. However in terms of online play Transformed is something of a dinosaur, whilst you can still play custom races and battle with your friends, that’s about all you can do. You can’t play online ranked together, and you can’t co-operatively play through the grand prix or career modes. It’s a shame because with it’s high difficulty and intricate mechanics the game lends itself to an adult audience too, but snubs them by making often the preferred method of connectivity inferior.
Whilst the game features some flaws, the whole package manages to come together into something really quite brilliant. The aforementioned trick mechanics combined with traditional drift, boost and pickups that are balanced much better than those that feature in any Mario Kart game in addition to the varied gameplay make the game an absolute blast to play. The dynamic gameplay should keep kids engaged, whilst the intricate boost and trick mechanics give the game depth and appeal to adults too. Overall Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed is a fantastic Kart Racing game.