It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. With as many times as Mario Kart’s been imitated, you wonder if Mario’s grown tired of being flattered. Most, however, do not flatter well. In 2010, Sega came as close to a Mario Kart game that any non-Nintendo company could make with Sonic and Sega All-Stars racing. More than two years later, they’ve released a follow up title with a twist: transforming karts. No longer bound to tarmac, Sonic and his friends take to the air as well as to the sea in All-Stars Racing Transformed.
The meat of any racing game is the single player, and Racing Transformed will keep you quite busy in this regard. There is the standard Grand Prix where you compete in races to win cup after cup, and there is World Tour where you partake in a number of different events and challenges. The game is quite challenging, so impatient gamers will be pleased to know that you only need a podium finish to win a cup. Playing on different difficulties determines what type of trophy you win. You’ll also unlock tracks for other modes as you race them in GP.
World Tour is where the real fun is. You earn up to three stars depending on your difficulty (a fourth difficulty and star will be available once you complete Grand Prix) and you’ll need a certain amount of stars to access other events and unlock characters. There are standard races, boost races, eliminations, time attacks, drift and boost challenges and even a few events where you pursue a tank and try to destroy it before getting yourself blown up. It’s a lot of great fun offering a good amount of variety and becomes very addictive as you strive to collect as many stars as you can.
The roster is made up of familiar Sega characters such as Sonic and Tails, Joe Musashi from Shinobi, NiGHTS and a couple of monkeys from the Super Monkey Ball series to the not so familiar, such as B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, Vyse from Skies of Arcadia and Gillius Thunderhead from Golden Axe. Two of the character slots seem almost wasted as they are Ralph from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Danica Patrick, a real-life female race car driver. These are obvious buy-ins to promote Wreck-It Ralph and Ms. Patrick’s racing career, which is a bit disappointing and even mildly insulting to hardcore Sega fans who wanted to see other characters make the cut.
Each character of course has their own distinct vehicle with their own base stats, such as speed, acceleration, handling, boost and All-Star. All-Star is a special pick up that increases speed, handling and grants a protective aura over the player. As you play with each character, they earn experience points. As they level, mods are unlocked which adjust the stats in different areas. Love Sonic’s speed but hate his handling? Try using a Handling Mod. Since the game is called Transformed, they also transform into airplanes and speedboats as well, usually with a design that fits each character.
The star of All-Stars would have to be the level design. There are courses from Sonic games, Jet Set Radio Future, Shinobi, Golden Axe, Samba de Amigo, Panzer Dragoon, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg and more, although the last two are inexplicably missing characters from their respective universes. The track designs are all very creative and fun, and they change dynamically as players enter Transform zones, turning into boats to speed on water and planes to fly through the air. The only downside to transforming is there are times where the game might not line you up right and you could end up crashing into walls as you finish the transforming animation. Also, some characters like Ulala from Space Channel 5 and B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi do not have their own tracks.
Gameplay is about as standard as you would expect from a kart racing game. Racers speed about the course collecting weapons from pick-ups laid about the track. Weapons vary from the straight shooting Ice to the homing Drone, and most weapons can be shot from behind as well. One of the more useful pick-ups is the Hot Rod which bursts the player forward overheating as they go and they can unleash a devastating explosion on nearby karts before their engine overheats. You can also collect tokens as you race, and these can be used during loading screens to play a slot machine that – with a successful match – will grant you a weapon to start out with for the next match.
There is also drifting in the game and it works and handles very similarly to Mario Kart games. The longer you drift, the more boost you earn. You can also earn boost performing stunts as you jump off ramps or narrowly evade objects by performing barrel rolls as a plane. Flicking the right analogue stick up, down, left or right will make the player do stunts in that direction, and they can be chained together, provided you have enough air time, for an even stronger boost. If you get good at drifting and stunt boosting, you can find yourself setting some incredible lap times.
The game has a few online modes, such as standard race, battle arenas and a mix of different events called Lucky Dip. There is local multiplayer as well. The game performs well online, although a little more work could have been done on the set up process. Tracks are randomly selected and then voted for before the start of the next round, and there’s no way to communicate to other players. Lobbies also aren’t very packed, so you’d have to aim for logging on in the afternoon if you want more than a few people to play with.
Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is a colorful looking game with a lot of excellent art direction. Inspiration and nostalgia abound each Sega themed track. They’re also teeming with life, so much so that it can be a fault at times with too much going onscreen causing a mistake or two here and there. Characters are exact replicas of themselves and the transforming animations are seamless. The game runs at a very smooth frame rate, although there are rare, hardly noticeable hiccups at times. The game also contains a few visual glitches that might see the player flying through parts of the track he’s not supposed to be seeing.
The game’s also a lot of fun to listen to thanks in part to the game’s sound design. Vehicles make that Tranformers-like sound as they change forms. There are whooshes and whistles of fireworks being shot, and that buzzing mechanical sound creeping up on you foretells your fate as a homing drone takes you out. Each character also utters numerous quips as they take out opponents and pass them or get taken out themselves. The tracks are loaded with arcade-style sound effects, and the music is immediately familiar to anyone who’s a fan of whichever game the tracks are themed after. The only irritating feature to the game’s audio is the incoherent babbling that your Mii characters make. If you’re playing as a Mii, it would be best to turn the volume down on the tablet controller.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is the price tag. At 40 dollars, it’s the cheapest of the Wii U’s launch titles, which makes the value that much greater. The gameplay mechanics are excellent, the tracks are loads of fun, and if you’re a long time Sega fan, seeing an unexpected character pop up as a racer is a joy in its own right. If you bought a Wii U and are looking for a solid racer, then Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is well worth your time and money.
Excellent track variety | Very solid gameplay | At 40 dollars, provides immense value
Can seem too difficult, even by kart racing standards | Roster isn't as strong as it should be (and Danica Patrick just doesn't fit)
Born and raised in Denver, CO in 1979, I've been playing games since I was old enough to hold a controller. I was weened on Atari, then Nintendo and Sega, and currently own just about every console and handheld made. I'm an avid hip hop fan and I love to read books. Favorite authors include Dean Koontz, Stephen Hunter, and Christopher Moore. I'm also an avid movie watcher and I try to collect as many Blu-Rays as I can.
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