GAME NAME: Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed
DEVELOPER(S): SUMO Digital
PLATFORM(S): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, 3DS, PS Vita, iOS
RELEASE DATE(S): 16 November 2012
2012 is turning out to be the year of the kart racer on HD consoles. We’ve seen the so-so F1 Race Stars and Little Big Planet Karting should arrive with us later this week but I’d like you to ignore both those in favour of what we have here. After nearly three years since its original release (Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing) Sonic is back to take a stab at Mario Kart once more and wouldn’t you know it, it looks like Mario got caught with his pants down. What we have here is nothing less than spectacular.
SEGA does not hide the fact that THAT kart racer inspired the concept. You’ll find the land/water/air mechanic just as you would in a certain 3DS racer, but that is where the similarities end. Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is a megabomb of SEGA fan service. New to the roster are Vyse (Skies of Arcadia), MeeMee (Monkey Ball), Gum (Jet Set Radio), Gillius Thunderhead (Golden Axe), Joe Mushashi (Shinobi), Pudding (Space Channel 5), Nights and Reala (Nights into Dreams), Danica Patrick (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Metal Sonic (Sonic CD) as a downloadable character with the Limited Edition. It also comes with one or two surprises, but that would be spilling the beans on something you need to experience yourself. If you grew up in the SEGA Megadrive, Saturn and Dreamcast eras then you’ll be like a little kid in a chocolate factory. Everything is bright and colourful. Why is it that only SEGA seems to get blue skies and water as bright and beautiful as they do?
The tracks come with its own set of SEGA cult classics. The Panzer Dragoon circuit snakes through red-rock canyons while dragons glide overhead and later smash the tracks to bits at the start of the second lap, forcing the race into the water. Then it’s off to a helter-skelter circuit from Super Monkey Ball, filled with glaring primary colours, raging whirlpools and dangerously big monkey balls. Everything is chaotic but at the same time very soothing. Gliding to and from the After Burner track between aircraft carriers or flying through rings in the Knights into Dreams level never stops being a jaw-dropping experience. All the tracks are filled with alternate routes, weapon pick-ups and stunt opportunities (activated by flicking your right analogue stick up, down, left or right). Successfully pull off a stunt and you’re rewarded with boost outside of the boost pads on-track and boost items.
Though the weapons feel balanced it’s possibly the one area I felt there could have been a bit of an improvement. Shooting out a hive of hornets straight for the leader randomly scatters hornets about the raceway to stop those ahead in their tracks. Ice Balls comes in handy but requires you to aim them at your foes. Fireworks ricochets from one side of the track to the next in the hope of hitting someone else, though it can backfire on you and Glove slaps a baseball glove behind your kart that catches any incoming weapon and lets you use it. Of course there is the All Star weapon that is character specific and generally acts as a Bullet Bill and more.
Transforming vehicles! SEGA hits me with that particular gameplay grenade mere minutes into my first track. Sonic’s vehicle-whirring Optimus Prime style transformation into a boat, into a plane and back again (awesome Transformers sound and all) had me biting my bottom lip with excitement. The animation is achingly cool, and in practice the transformations are smooth and brilliant. Crucially the handling has been nailed. Karts drift and boosts on land, roll and pitch through surf and swoop and dive through the air with a natural and intuitive grace. If you find that the flying bits are hindering the outcome of the race this can be changed with assist options. In fact if you suck, like I did at first, then the game will prompt you with a suggestion to solve your dilemma. Neither do races lose any sense of speed during the change up, and each environment presents unique opportunities for leaps, barrel rolls and nitro boosting. The water physics in particular had me salivating.
When it comes to modes the world is your oyster. You’ve got Career mode that includes World Tour (the meat of the game) where you get to unlock new tracks and characters by earning stars dependent on your difficulty you choose. Here you’ll also receive specific tasks such as drifting, boosting and modes that challenge you to your utmost abilities. The more you play this specific mode the more you increase the level of the character you’re using which in turn adds new mods (presets that effects the speed, acceleration, handling, boost and All-Star ability of your kart). Earn coins on the tracks and these can be gambled in a casino slot machine that might give you an advantage in the coming race such as starting with a boost or the Hotrod weapon doubling the damage it hands out. Grand Prix mode offers a pre-defined set of tracks, like those in Mario Kart, and the expected Time Attack and Single Race modes are all there for you to enjoy. All these modes can be played with up to three other players in split-screen.
Jump online and there’s more. Not only can you race or battle against other peeps around the world, but you can bring your three other friends in the lounge along for the ride. Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed shines even brighter when you’re playing with other people. Stick to single player and you are sure to lose some hair. It’s the one thing that’s keeping this from being a perfect kart racer – it’s as hard as nails. If you stick it out on the medium or hard difficulty there is much to celebrate. This is indeed what Brett and I thought we experienced at E3 earlier this year. A tweak here and a tweak there and Mario and his peers could very likely be out of a kart-racing job next time round.