Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
by Chris Fox
©2013 Chris Fox
Nearly three years ago an underrated little racer known as Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing was released to give 360 and PS3 owners their very own kart racer to break out at parties.
It featured a range of characters, tracks and music from the SEGA universe and while it was a lot of fun, it never quite reached the heights or acclaim of its peers.
While Alex Kidd may not be anywhere near as recognisable as Mario, the SEGA fan base are a hardcore, passionate bunch and they definitely deserve an excellent kart racer of their own.
It’s a good thing, therefore, that Sumo Digital have now delivered one.
Like Diddy Kong Racing (and, unfortunately for SEGA, the latest Mario Kart), Racing Transformed has you helm a car that can change into both plane and boat to accommodate the needs of the approaching terrain.
It’s great fun to see what the sea and air incarnations of your selected racer’s vehicle will transform into, and the transformation animations look slick too.
It’s not only the crafts that metamorphose; the tracks do too. What may have been a solid piece of road in lap one can suddenly crumble away to reveal a lake of lava on which to sail in lap two. This keeps racing fresh, surprising, and is something all the best party racers do.
Sonic and his anthropomorphic friends return to fight for first place and dominate the character roster, as in the last game.
Being an old school SEGA fan, I was slightly disappointed that the previous title didn’t take full advantage of SEGA’s diverse back catalogue of characters and settings.
While there’s still no sign of the Streets Of Rage gang tearing up the tarmac in their Battle Wagon from the UK Sonic The Comic series, there is so much here to appease those SEGA fan boys out there.
Let’s go for a mega drive
Well, how about tracks based around Golden Axe and Afterburner? Or having Joe Musashi a.k.a. The Shinobi as a selectable character?
Old tunes from Mega Drive classics have been delightfully remixed here to provide the game with a banging soundtrack. It’s evident from the get-go that this game has been made by SEGA fans for SEGA fans; Ristar waves the checkered flag for crying out loud!
Sumo have even given the community the opportunity to vote for future DLC characters. A company that listens and responds to their fans is alright by me. Why, just now I fired up the game and was greeted by a Christmas message and free character in the form of Alex Kidd!
The biggest achievement of Racing Transformed is the visceral sense of speed it delivers. A lot of racers can feel like you’re not traveling very fast at all, but this game lives up to the titular hedgehog’s namesake and can be quite breathtaking as you soar through the air at super sonic speed.
Another string to SART’s bow is that every vehicle mode feels and handles completely differently. Corners are tight on wheels but are much harder to handle on the water. When on sea, the waves can make a huge difference to your racing line and can even be used to score cheeky stunts from.
As a massive fan of Wave Race 64, this pleases me greatly. Flying in plane mode is a whole new ball game, though. When in the air, the game feels more akin to an aerial dog fighting game, like StarFox. Stunts like barrel rolls and loops can then be strategically used to avoid projectiles or incoming obstacles in the nick of time
Does what Nintendon’t
Characters still have their unique All-Star attacks, but gone is the blue shell-like rocket. In its place is the swarm, which plagues first, second and third place with a mine field of wasps to avoid. It’s good to see some innovation in the kart racer weapon department.
While these items are certainly different, they aren’t always acquired in a logical way. Too often I’ve been given an All-Star when I’ve been in second or a Blow Fish while in last place, and this is something which could perhaps be ironed out in the next game.
Power sliding operates as expected and works well. Successful power slides reward the player with varying levels of boost, as do stunts that can be executed in air.
While it’s not a brand new drifting system by any means, it puts games like F1 Race Stars that don’t even have power slide mechanics to shame.
SART does, however, have a unique way of achieving a boost start; simply accelerate along with each number in the countdown. It’s elements like this that have really helped this series of Sonic Racers carve their own legacy separate to the Mario Kart franchise, and it’s probably time people stopped constantly comparing the two.
After all, we stopped calling First Person Shooters “Doom clones” a long time ago.
Unlock and load
Additional in-game content can not only be unlocked via the standard Grand Prix mode, but also through World Tour. Grand Prix is your standard tournament of four races that can be raced solo or with friends.
After completing every GP, the obligatory mirror mode becomes available. There’s even a classic cup featuring four tracks from SSR. I have to say I would have preferred more brand new tracks as I think the series is still too new to start recycling old courses like that.
The same can be said for the appearance of Seaside Hill (from Sonic Heroes) AGAIN. We’ve seen this environment in the first SSR game and Sonic Generations, yet here it is again. How about Scrap Brain Zone or Lava Reef? This said, Sky Sanctuary is present and is an absolute joy to race on.
World Tour differs from the GP formula quite considerably, as each race takes the form of various missions. These involve flying through rings, dodging traffic or destroying your opponents to pass. SART definitely doesn’t skimp on variety and you’ll have lots to keep you occupied with here.
Progress in World Tour comes from unlocking stars; one star is awarded for completing a mission on easy, and three for finishing on hard. Each difficulty has a target, such as needing to finish at least third in medium to succeed.
This works well for the most part, but a lot of missions need to be repeated on higher difficulties to unlock further missions and characters. It may have been more intuitive to go with one set difficulty and award three stars for first, two for second, and one for third.
Mods can be used to tweak your vehicle to various different settings and stickers can be used to attach to your SEGA license. The stickers feature artwork from very talented individuals which really encapsulates the love for SEGA that this game emanates.
All of this gives Racing Transformed a hell of a lot of depth and certainly more than you’ll find in most kart racers.
I have been predominantly been playing the Wii U version, which comes with all of the current DLC included. Another benefit to this version is the ability to play multiplayer with one person using the TV and the other using the GamePad screen.
It is so fantastic having your own screen in these multiplayer races and combines the best of both worlds from local and online play. Sadly, I have to state that at the time of writing this mode has been causing my Wii U to hard lock fairly frequently, but hopefully this will be fixed soon.
In single player, the GamePad screen is used to display the map, but gameplay is so lightning fast that you’ll barely have enough time to look down at it. Also, due to the fact that the Wii U needs to split its processing power between the console and the GamePad, the visuals aren’t quite up to scratch.
Compare SART on the Wii U to the PS3 and it’s immediately clear which is visually superior. This said, the game still runs at a blistering frame rate with no glaring graphical problems.
The stuff Dreamcasts are made of
Until there’s a track based on Yokosuka’s Dobuita street from Shenmue, this is as perfect as a SEGA racer can get.
Even if you know nothing of the company, SART is a frantic, exciting, and thrilling driving experience that will enthrall all who play it.