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Review: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed Does What Nintendon’t

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Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Traditionally, I find the kart racing genre as fun as I do frustrating. In the effort to embrace players of all skill levels, genre giants like the Mario Kart series go overboard with weapons, punishing players for being better at driving with unavoidable weapons of mass destruction.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, on the other hand, continues its predecessor’s finely tuned weapon balance while vastly improving on the groundwork it laid two years prior. Between the core systems, track diversity, game modes, and great use of classic franchises, developer Sumo Digital has (barring a few technical issues) created what is quite possibly the best kart racer I have ever played.

General Info:

MSRP: $39.99
Publisher:
SEGA
Developer:
Sumo Digital
Genre:
Racing
Rated:
E10+ (Everyone 10 & Up)
Platform:
Wii U, X360, PS3
Release Date:
11/18/12

Weapons aren’t just balanced, they’re cleverly designed. The Hot Rod, for example, will give players a three-phase speed boost that can be manually disengaged to create a circle of flame to hit enemies. But wait too long to cut it off and it will overheat and slow you down. The risky nature of the item is far more interesting than any Blue Shell or Bullet Bill could ever hope to be.

The pace, a strong point of the first game, is as good as ever. Weapons never slow you down long enough to drive you crazy and falling off a cliff will respawn you almost instantly while still putting you at a big disadvantage. There’s nothing that annoys me more than being stopped in a racing game and it’s great to see a weapons-based racer understand this so well.

Easily the biggest change Transformed brings is the feature of its namesake. Fly through a blue ring and your vehicle will transform into either a car, a boat, or a jet. Rather than the subtle change found in Mario Kart 7‘s similar mechanic, Transformed completely alters its feel with each vehicle type. Waves throw your boat form around in open areas akin to Hydro Thunder. Jets move in all directions, bringing to mind the aerial, racing action of Digital Reality’s SkyDrift. And yet each of the three vehicles still have enough common elements to avoid feeling jarring despite their vastly different handling.

The track design uses these ideas to great effect. In most cases, each lap will actually change large sections of track. Bridges fall away to let your jets take over and floods happen giving your boat time to shine. In addition, split pathways and secrets are everywhere and sometimes cause you to use different vehicles than your opponents. Since the jet is the fastest form, this can sometimes make all the difference.

While it stands on its own without the present themes, Transformed is a loving tribute to longtime SEGA fans. Sonic is there, of course, but I was even more taken with tracks that span through games like Shinobi, After Burner, Skies of Arcadia, Panzer Dragoon, Golden Axe, and even Burning Rangers. Better still, each track features fantastic remixes of classic themes by SEGA music veteran, Richard Jacques. Just wait until you hear that Golden Axe remix.

After Burner - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

The fairly sizable roster is also enhanced by unlockable mods for each character. The more you use a character, the more stat variations you’ll be able to select. Later mods aren’t necessarily “better” so much as they are additional options to tweak things to your very precise play style.

Similar to the Wipeout series, Transformed divides its career into singular events across numerous types (though a standard Grand Prix is available, too). There’s a great sense of diversity in the events with everything from Boost Races that strip away weapons entirely to Pursuit Challenges which have you shooting down a giant tank while dodging waves of attacks.

Best of all, you can bring other players in (for a total of five on Wii U) on practically any mode. Whether you’re going through career events to unlock characters or playing online, you can do it all alongside friends. It’s the feature I always look for in racing games, but is rarely actually there.

Review: Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed Does What Nintendon’t

Of course, the game isn’t without a few flaws. An initial patch broke some significant portions of the game for a couple weeks before a fix was released. And even after the fix, I had two times where the game froze on the initial load screen. There’s also a small handful of design flaws in certain tracks. One specific pathway on the Golden Axe stage still causes you to bump into a ceiling and stop completely when playing on the unlockable, final speed class. The occasional audio glitch also rears its ugly head from time to time. But after the second patch, the problems are in the minority.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed may at first glance look like a “me too” experience after the release of Mario Kart 7, but SEGA and Sumo Digital is blowing Nintendo out of the water in regards to game balance, feature sets, and even respect to their source material. Technical issues aside, SEGA has earned the crown of kart racing king and it’s time for their former rival to step up their game.

This review is based on the Wii U version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed provided to the reviewer by SEGA.

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