Sonic & <insert Sega characters nobody knows> Racing.
Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is much like PlayStation All Stars: Battle Royale in the sense that it is a game that came out this year in a genre dominated by Nintendo; respectively party kart games and party brawling games. Much like Battle Royale, this is a near-perfect conversion of a home console game to Sony’s latest portable system. Racing Transformed is the sequel to Sonic Racing, and while I have not played that game, I feel safe in saying that Racing Transformed innovates and improves decently over the earlier iteration. Where we saw Mario dive underwater and glide across portable screens last December, this year it’s Sonic and friends’ turn.
I have never been a Sega gamer. I have never played a Sega-made game except for this game and the HD re-release of Jet Set Radio (expect a review soon). Still, while racing through Racing Transformed’s wide variety of spectacular tracks, I instantly recognized all the lost potential that remains, and even though Sega has now returned to being a relatively unimportant player in the games industry, occasionally churning out another mediocre Sonic game, they still own the rights to diverse franchises of which they have not published a (serious) new installment in a long while. Names such as Skies of Arcadia, NiGHTS into Dreams, Panzer Dragoon remind of the Sega that once was (and how much of a sales failure the Dreamcast was relative to the amount of good games it had) but is not anymore. They sure know how to play their nostalgia cards right, though, with releases such as Jet Set Radio HD, NiGHTS into Dreams HD and as of lately, a second installment in a karting game featuring characters and stages from well-known Sega games (ring any bells?).
This game does not truly change anything in the kart racing genre. It is well-known among publishers that people (and with them, gamers) do not like change. However, Sumo Digital did a great job of adapting and refining current standards while still adding refreshing bits in. The main eye catch of this game is, of course, the three different ways of racing. Karting on land is pretty much as you’d expect; controls are good, and there is a nice sense of speed. I like how there is emphasis on different levels of drift and start-up boosts- drifting longer distances feels more important than drifting tightly, because the difference in gained speed is quite substantial between different boost levels. A very welcome addition is the ability to change directions while still keeping the same boost building up while you drift.
Flying is great; you often have the freedom of going a different way than your opponents, allowing for shortcuts or a more powerful item. Some stages are built around this theme very well, such as the excellent Afterburner inspired stage which awed me the first few times I played it. It was also great to see the track crumble in a Skies of Arcadia course and taking off while looking around at everything that was happening around me. However, the boating sections aren’t the best. First of all, they look bad; the liquid you are rafting on is almost one big slab of one monotone colour. Secondly, the controls are very floaty and feel quite inaccurate, and sadly, these sections cover one third of the race, usually.Racing Transformed features plenty of content to keep you hooked. There are a lot of unlockable characters, 21 tracks and several different modes; the World Tour, where you complete different challenges varying from drift challenges to normal races. Of course, classic modes such as Time Attack and Grand Prix are also present. Online multiplayer consists of more than just racing; the only kind of challenge that is limited to single player are the time trials. Completing events gives your character experience; enough experience levels them up, which unlocks modifications for your car. These mods do not change the appearance, but can make the car more speed- or handling-oriented.
I felt that throughout the single player Career mode, tracks returned a bit too often; there are a lot of events to beat, while the number of tracks is decent but not high. I like that you are given the opportunity to not have to beat them on every difficulty to obtain the maximum number of stars (needed to unlock characters or for completion); completing hard is enough. The courses are like rollercoaster-rides, and the best part of the game. Driving or flying through them feels fast and frantic, and contrary to you-know-which game there are massive differences in height and almost every track experiences hefty scenery changes. There are often shortcuts or alternate routes, and the length also feels great. Still, it’s sad that a decent chunk of the tracks are boating sections.
The items in Racing Transformed are probably the only things that are barely connected to SEGA, and feel quite boring and uninteresting. They vary from an ice ball to a glove with which you can catch items directed at you and throw them back. My favourite item is the Hot Rod, a rocket engine which speeds up in phases. However, if kept working for too long by not pressing the L button in time, it will explode on you and will set you back in speed because it causes an explosion. You can also let it explode yourself to attack nearby opponents and, of course, to prevent it from slowing you down. I also like that Sumo Digital created an item akin to Mario Kart’s infamous blue shell, called the swarm. This item will unleash a swarm of bees which will first and foremost hinder the race leader (but also racers shortly thereafter) but can be avoided and does not impact the race very much. Aside from these two, the items are quite bland and unimaginative, sadly. One can also, by collecting star coins which hit opponents drop, activate All Star mode; it speeds up your vehicle and gives you opportunities to hit enemies with rockets or other items, and renders you invincible for a limited time. The star coins you collect to get to All Star mode (you can hold a maximum of 99) can be used before starting a new event to gamble in casino-like slots in order to attain an item or another helpful feature at the start.
The visuals of the game are a mixed bag. Some of the tracks, especially the ones with a lot of different smaller surfaces with more action on your screen, look great. There is a wide variety of snazzy colours and ample amount of detail present, making the game look and feel like a carnival of sorts. On the other hand, there are the courses with larger surfaces and the boat sections, which look awful and bland. I think this is the case because the colourful art style used in the game barely features any texturing, making larger structures look bland and boring. I also found that the game drops below 30 frames per second quite a lot, especially on the busier and prettier tracks. Luckily, this does not affect gameplay very negatively but it can be a minor annoyance. There isn’t much to say about the audio, except that it fits the whole upbeat atmosphere of the game well. I am not the biggest fan of generic-sounding electronic beats which are occasionally accompanied by faint music from the game associated with the track you’re racing on.
Conclusively, Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is a very enjoyable karting game with fantastic tracks, a nice variety of modes and a great (though somewhat depressive) throwback to the many franchises SEGA owns. It suffers only slightly from an art style not optimized on every track and a boring score. The water segments hold the game back a bit but will not bother you as much once you get used to them. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys or is impartial to a kart racing game, as the core concept is very enjoyable and worked out superbly.