Sonic and many popular SEGA characters are back to feed their need for speed in the sequel to Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Transformed mixes up the racing genre a bit by making it a land, air, and water racing game all in one. With this combination, SEGA is hoping to “transform” the racing scene a bit. How do these new feature for the series handle? Is Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed one of the year’s unsung heroes of gaming? Or does it crash and burn?
Having played the first game in the series, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, I was quite optimistic about this game. I enjoyed the first game thoroughly and thought it was a refreshing addition to the arcade and party racing scene. But what could they add or change to the series that made the game seem new and progressive, instead of sticking to the same cookie-cutter formula? At the same time, how could they keep the game balanced and simple to have that same fun pick up and play factor? Well my thoughts were put to rest soon after playing because it became quickly evident that Sumo Digital succeeded in creating a whole new game and not just an upgrade of the first.
Probably the most noticeable difference between the first game and this sequel is the fact that now you can race in the air and water too. Each car has an automatic “transform” function that adapt with the diverse and dynamic maps found throughout the game. The addition of air and sea racing is quite a welcomed, visually stimulating, and exciting addition to the game. Another change? Items. Instead of sticking to the exact same items found in the first game, there is a whole new weapons set in Transformed. In addition, new characters, game modes, and gameplay style keeps this game fresh and fun.
There are three main menu game modes (Career, Match Making, Custom Game) which break off into several different sub modes offering tons of gameplay styles and lots of content to play through. While some elements are kept from the first game, overall, you’ll find a lot more options to play through. The Career Mode brings back the classic Grand Prix where you simply race through a series of tracks against other characters for the top spot. In addition, there is the Time Attack and Single Race modes. The major change here is probably the World Tour mode which is similar to the Missions of the first game. World Tour is a fun and challenging way for you to unlock characters, tracks, and XP by completing a series of challenges (like a series of boosts to keep the clock running or flying through rings) and races. What’s more, each game mode gives you a choice of difficulty that will test your skills and push you to the limits. New battle modes, challenges, both online and offline, and more are added to the game. Factor that to friends and worldwide leaderboards, you will find that the amount of content in the game ensures tons of gameplay time and a high replay factor.
Character selection gives us a good amount of different racers to choose from, over 20 are available after unlocking everyone. Initially you will start the game out with about ten racers. These include Sonic characters and other SEGA representatives like Beat from Jet Set Radio, B.D Joe from Crazy Taxi, and even Ralph from the new Disney film Wreck It Ralph (which had SEGA characters in it). Each racer has their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the car’s speed, acceleration, handling, boost, and All-Star power-up. However, each character can level up with XP and unlock other racing styles that will allow them to take advantage of other racing styles. This racing style unlock function allows the game to become balanced over time, especially when racing online. If you play through the game with at least one character, unlocking their several different racing styles, you will have total control on whether they are a speedy racer, someone with better handling, or if they’re a balanced racer. There are about 7 different racing styles including each character’s default. Characters vehicles are also stylish – some with fun new designs all staying true to the character and their franchises.
One of my favorite things about this game is the fact that the tracks are dynamic, fun to play, and beautiful to look at. While there are a few classic tracks from the first game to offer a bit of nostalgia, the majority of the [over] 25 tracks and arenas are brand new and make use of the new transforming vehicles features offering land, sea, and air to race on/through. Each track is different, fashioned after a SEGA IP, and offers a fun and simple place to play through in addition to a few features that some might find challenging to get through – like hazards. The shift from land, sea, and air on each stage is clean and seamless. You will find yourself tearing down the road which suddenly ends and your vehicle is soaring through the air instantly transforming into a plane for air races. Or you can find yourself on a track which drops off into a body of water and your vehicle is now a boat. These seamless transitions not only add diversity to the environment but also a different way to play. You’ll find that racing in the air and on the water both have varied and distinctive feels apart from racing on land. I really enjoyed the diversity of the maps and the challenge that different terrain provided. Kudos to Sumo for their work on an engaging playing field.
Control-wise, the game is very responsive and plays well. They are easy enough for a casual player to get a hold of and there are different control schemes available for those who might be used to racing in with a different set of buttons for each function. The vehicle handling goes back to the characters, their particular strengths and weaknesses, and what racing style you have unlocked for each character. Whatever style you pick however, you can feel and see the differences accordingly, while playing the game. Some might find it a little more challenging while racing in the air and on the water. Fortunately, especially for the air, there is flight assist which can help those having a little more trouble.
The items in the game – weapons, are scattered throughout the air, water, and land in races, arena battles, and even in many challenges. Unlike other racing games of similar fashion, SEGA opted to throw out the old set of items and bring in a whole new set. This includes the All-Star move which is now different even for returning characters. I appreciated that there are new items, it kept the new feel to the game while not completely abandoning its roots as some of the items do provide the same functions as items in the first game. There is also a good balance to the items. Nobody is going to have an unfair advantage over the other because they got an item that is unavoidable. Even the coveted All-Star power-up seems to be random and while I never personally picked one up in first place, you do not have to be in last place to get it either. What if you’re in first place? Items are still balanced and random so you do not have to worry about only picking up the lamest of the items and worry about being knocked out of first place because someone had a stronger item than you did. The game is very skill based and while capsule items are a nice perk, they do not provide anyone with a clear advantage over others. You will still need to hone your racing skills to win a race and items can be used as a tactical tool.
Graphically, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed looks great. While the animation style is more cartoon-like and does not call for realism, the textures are smooth, colors vibrant, and animations are fluid. I did not notice any latency issues, screen tears, or frame rate issues. Everything looked and worked great.
While the game has loads of positives, making it one of my favorite racers of the year, it isn’t without its fair share of problems. One issue I noticed, at least on the PS3 version of the game, is that there can be long load times, especially at the main menu. One day I was playing the game and I thought it froze, when in fact it was just taking a long time to load. There are some features in the game that also could use a bit of an explanation. There isn’t a tutorial and someone new to the game could be confused when it comes to the coin collection and modes in the game. The UI could be a little more friendly and the online functions do experience a bit of unwanted lag at times. These are some of the irksome things I found in the game but they are not at all deal breakers.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed offers a solid, fun, engaging, and long-lasting racing experience that is great as a party game or even played on your own. The diverse tracks, the new air and sea additions to the game, and various types of game modes makes this game a must-have for anyone who loves a good racing game whether arcade racing or even one that will put your skills to the test. Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed is truly a great game that may go under the radar for many, but like its predecessor, really should not. Hopefully the series will continue to make bring something fresh and fun to the racing genre. Take notice, competitors! SEGA has transformed the racing genre and we’re loving it.
[Note: A free copy of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, was provided for review by SEGA]