GAME NAME: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
DEVELOPER(S): Sumo Digital
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, PC, PS3, Vita, 3DS, Wii U
GENRE(S): Kart Racing
RELEASE DATE(S): November 16th 2012
It’s been a great festive season for kart racers. Little Big Planet Karting and F1 Race Stars are very competent kart racers, each bringing their own spin to the Mario Kart dominated sub-genre. However, a new challenger has arisen from an unlikely source. SEGA’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is brought to us by Sumo Digital, their second iteration of the series they started two years ago. With the experiences of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing holding them in good stead, can they challenge the untouchable Mario Kart?
In concept, this game shouldn’t work. It lacks originality, lifting ideas from any number of titles and throwing them together. However, this is in fact the key selling point of the game. SEGA have a long and storied history with plenty of material for Sumo to draw upon. There’s a wealth of recognisable characters to choose from, with icons like Sonic recognisable to all while the more hardcore will recognise B.D Joe from Crazy Taxi or old school classics like Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe. Each racers is also unique in several key stats like acceleration and handling, meaning it’s not simply a case of cosmetic skins. Fear not however, there’s also a persistent progression mechanic, much like in your favourite RPG or FPS titles, that allows you to unlock mods, allowing you to customise how characters play, ensuring that you can play with your favourite character even if their initial stats don’t suit your style of play.
While an extensive roster is nice, especially one filled with characters from my youth, gameplay is what makes or breaks a kart racer. I’m happy to report than that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed absolutely nails it on that front. The action is incredibly fast paced and very drift-orientated, with handling that is forgiving but still requires a touch of skill, especially if you want to earn those post-drift boosts. This is exactly what I’m looking for in a kart racer, a perfect style that means I can play with my son and have fun while going online will provide a more competitive environment. Weapons are of course scattered around each track and each weapon feels nicely balanced. As an added bonus, there’s also no blue shell equivalent.
The titular mechanic, the transformation of the vehicles from cars to boats and planes, is another high point. All three vehicle modes are balanced well, each working together to create a seamless racing experience. The plane is the fastest, and offers the opportunity for both vertical and horizontal gameplay, which requires tactical planning. Do you go high and avoid the obstacles, but deprive yourself of access to weapons, or do you slog it out with the other racers, taking them out with blowfish mines and rockets? Transformations are initiated by hitting blue gates scattered throughout the levels and some are even hidden, allowing players to discover shortcuts.
Speaking of the tracks, it’s yet another triumph from Sumo Digital. Once again SEGA have provided them with a wealth of material to work with from their 25 year history, but Sumo have still risen to the challenge and produced a stellar collection of tracks. Each is inspired by a different game in SEGA’s library and several are absolutely magnificent, changing from lap to lap as the environment shifts, ensuring a real sense of freshness. I challenge anyone to play through the After Burner aircraft carrier track and not be blown away by how much fun it is. As previously mentioned, tracks are littered with shortcuts, weapons and the all important star coins, which when collected can be spent in slot machines between levels to unlock random bonuses that allow faster recovery from weapon strikes, longer boosts, etc……. The only minor complaint I could make concerning the tracks is that many of them must be unlocked in single player before they can be played with friends in multiplayer, much like with the characters available for selection. I can understand why this decision was taken, but it does mean that a significant time commitment must be made to the game first before you’ll see all the content. Not that that’s a bad thing!
For single players there are three main modes of play, single race, time trial and World Tour, which serves as the career mode. Littered not just with races but also a collection of challenges that encourage players to explore all aspects of play, the Tour is a magnificent journey through SEGA’s back catalogue. As mentioned earlier, as you play through it you’ll unlock new tracks and characters for use in multiplayer but in no way should that be seen as the only reason to tackle the lengthy campaign. With three difficulty modes available on each event it caters to all skill levels, even if you are able to finish most but struggle at one specific event type.
Multiplayer support is also spot on, with both split screen support for up to four players (five on Wii U) and online play for upto ten. Players can race competitively, but there is also a Battle Arena mode if you simply want to slog it out. Playing with friends is great fun, and in my experience, a very painless experience. Connections were solid and dependable, with zero technical issues. This is a highly polished game in all areas and the solid online side of things is something we applaud, games like this thrive on an active online community.
Graphically, the game is gorgeous. Bright visuals with fantastic levels of detail on both tracks and vehicles, it’s an artistic triumph. One minor complaint however would be the lack of 60fps. Locking it to 30fps is understandable, but a game this fast and good looking deserves to be running at 60fps. Sound-wise, it’s all good. Iconic tunes match well with the levels they have been matched with and will help invoke the sense of nostalgia Sumo were aiming for here. Some of the audio taunts when taking out an opponent can be a little tiresome after a prolonged playtime but it’s a trivial complaint really.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is perfectly poised to be the sleeper hit of holiday 2012. It’s tremendously good fun, but in single and multiplayer modes, even offering the very family friendly split screen mode for when your relatives visit. The best part however, is the price. SEGA have really rolled the red carpet out here, ensuring that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a budget priced title, available for just £25 in most places! That’s a tremendous value proposition, for what is, simply put, the best kart racer I’ve played in years. Go out, buy it, and have an absolute blast.