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When Sega and Sumo Digital released the original Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing two years ago, it was a solid take on Nintendo’s Mario Kart formula with characters from Sega’s lineup of franchises, but it needed a little more to be better than the competition. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is the sequel and fixes a lot of the original’s flaws to be a much better game. Whether you’re playing alone or with other players locally and online, there is a lot of replay value in this game. Despite some issues, specifically with the Wii U version, this sequel is a blast to play and arguably the best kart racer to play this console generation.
The cast of characters from Sega’s past and present are a good mix even though some characters from the original didn’t perform. Of course Sonic is there with most of his friends, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, and Shadow, but there are tons of guys from Sega’s iconic roster that are finally making returns. Vyse from Skies of Arcadia, Gilius The Thunderhead from Golden Axe, Joe Musashi from Shinobi. and NiGHTS are among some of the newcomers to this kart racer. Returning from the original are Space Channel 5’s Ulala, Beat from Jet Set Radio, Amigo from Samba de Amigo, Super Monkey Ball’s AiAi, and more. Supporting characters such as Jet Set Radio’s Gum and Space Channel 5’s Pudding are getting some limelight too, but they could of use easily been slots for some of Sega’s main characters from other popular franchises. Even characters are outside of Sega are playable racers with Ralph from Disney’s recent hit movie Wreck-It-Ralph, racing superstar Danica Patrick, and your Mii for those that have the Wii U version. More characters are on the way with downloadable content, but I’m okay with the roster Sega and Sumo ended up with for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and you can’t please every hardcore Sega fan.
The single-player career mode offers tons of replay value and will keep players busy for numerous hours. The standard grand prix is there in traditional kart racer fashion with a handful of four-race cups, but the main crux of the career mode is the world tour. The world tour consists of various events on all the tracks from regular races, challenges that test your boosting and drifting skills, pursuits where you have to fire missiles at a tank, racing a certain track with traffic in your way, and more. All of these events have four difficulties to choose from even though you have to unlock the expert difficulty in certain conditions. While the easy and normal difficulties are a little too easy for experienced players, the challenge does kick in on hard and expert to the point pure precision is required. This is a challenge I appreciate in a kart racer even though the CPU A.I. can troll it up in races at times, but not like the rubberband A.I. the Mario Kart series is known for and you’re getting hit by blue shells. The Wii U version does have a glitch regarding certain events where they’re unplayable. The majority of the boost challenges don’t have checkpoints and you can not move at all in the last event in world tour, which you can’t unlock the last character in the game. Sega and Sumo did address these glitches in a patch, but Nintendo has not released it as of the writing of this review. Other than those issues, Transformed’s world tour is both fun and one of the most challenging modes I played in a kart racer.
Besides the world tour and grand prix modes, all of the courses can be played individually and as time trials, where ghosts that are not easy to beat are there. Each character has their own level progression system where you gain XP for playing in all of the modes. Every level up unlocks a mod that changes their stats a bit where it is more handling-focused, better acceleration, etc. Special mods can be unlocked, Genesis mod for Sonic as an example, by playing the world tour where they increase your speed and boost at the cost of handling and acceleration. Speaking of stats, they do play a lot to certain world tour events where specific characters are good for the drift challenges while others are recommended for ring races. That’s also another reason I like Transformed a lot as you have to rely on multiple characters to beat everything the game offers than just one guy.
With the single-player modes out of the way, how is the actual gameplay in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed? Sega’s take on Nintendo’s Mario Kart formula is still intact and arguably better in certain cases in this sequel. Sure, the items used a similar template with the toy drone being this game’s version of the red shell or the blowfish being the same as a banana peel, but the weapons in this game are balanced fairly well. The only thing that is closest to Mario Kart’s spiky shell is the bee swarm, but it is very avoidable if your driving skills are good enough. Speaking of driving skills, Transformed relies a lot on the drifting mechanics like the original. This is also similar to Mario Kart where drifting for a long period of time gets you a boost, but there are three levels of drift in this game can be stored going from one left turn to a right turn and vice versa. The signature all-star power system has been changed slightly in Transformed as each character goes Bullet Bill style on the course for a limited time with items to fire as well. AiAi for example can fire bananas at opponents while in all-star mode. Hitting opponents with items can earn you coins if they’re picked up, which is a little similar to Call of Duty’s Kill Confirmed mode. These coins can be used in a slot machine where you earn items to use at the start of a race. This option also being available online can be both a gift and a curse if everyone starts a race fairly or someone is willing to get a head start in a dirty fashion.
The big deal in this sequel and why its called Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is the whole transforming vehicles concept. Most of the courses in this game having sections specifically for the car, boat, and the plane. These courses also transform to cater to those elements and the level design of them are cleverly handled well by Sumo Digital. In other words, the first lap can be only in the car, then the next lap has a boat section, and the final lap has you driving a plane. The boat and plane controls can take some time to get used to compared to the car, but after a few races with them, you’ll be fine. The stunt trick system also caters to each of the three vehicles. During jumps, players can flip and barrel roll multiple times with their vehicles to boost once they land and also during vehicle transform points if the opportunity is there. On a plane, for example, players can barrel roll in time to avoid getting hit by certain items. Other kart racers have done boats and planes before like Diddy Kong Racing and even Mario Kart 7, but Transformed has the best integration of them, especially having all three vehicles playable in one track.
The Wii U version has more content compared to the PS3 and 360 versions. Besides your Mii being an unlockable racer, there are extra multiplayer modes and gamepad-specific features. Playing the game with the gamepad feels great with the buttons, but you can use tilt controls for turns if you prefer that option. The gamepad screen is a map of the course, which characters they’re placed at and items they have. In addition, it can be used as a rear view when holding it in front of your TV. This game also supports the Off TV Play feature other Wii U games have as it can be played with just the gamepad instead of the TV by swiping down on the gamepad’s touch screen. As far as multiplayer is concerned, up to the five players can play races and battle arena-type games with one player on the gamepad and the other players using Wii Remotes. Exclusive to the Wii U are two party modes called Ninja Tag and Banana Heist. Ninja Tag has the gamepad player as Joe Musashi trying to tag the opposing players and converting them to ninjas. Banana Heist has the gamepad player play as AiAi and he has roll through the opposition in a monkey ball to win. These party modes are decent additions to the Wii U version, but it is not like 360 and PS3 players are missing much.
My other major gripe about this sequel besides the Wii U-specific glitches is the online play. There are matchmaking and custom game options with friends, but matchmaking is where most of the online activity will be taking place. However, matchmaking is handled poorly if you can’t find a match. The game will tend to start up a new room with a randomized course if you can’t join up a room with a maximum of ten players. At least guest players can join an online match if you have more than one person playing. After a race is over, players can vote on which one of three tracks they want to race next. In my time with the Wii U version, there aren’t many players playing since the system just came out and they rather be playing the races than the battle arena modes. As far as the actual online performance is concerned, races do run smoothly with little to no lag. Most matches, however, tend to glitch out and not be finished when they’re supposed to be. In other words, I would finish a race in 1st, but sometimes the game will say its only the second lap and I can’t finish the race because the time ran out with the result being different than I hoped. This issue can be frustrating if you have been doing well against online players and hopefully Sega fixes this in a future patch.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a beautiful game to look at on all three platforms. There is a great diversity of tracks from Sega’s catalog of franchises with stages from Panzer Dragoon, After Burner, and Golden Axe being some of my personal favorites. Even Burning Rangers gets some love with a stage in this game. The framerate is at 30 frames per second and can hitch up slightly whenever too much is going on in a race. This is already a love letter to Sega fans with the some of the courses and the same goes for the soundtrack too. Both original and some remixed tunes for the themed stages are in such as the infamous After Burner theme at the Carrier Zone track.
Sega and Sumo Digital have done a great job with this Sonic & All-Stars Racing sequel. The transforming vehicles mechanic was done beautifully and seeing how well it was implemented in the track design is awesome. The amount of replay value for the single-player is staggering with the world tour that will take dozens of hours to beat. It is unfortunate that some events are glitched in that campaign right now in the Wii U version, but they are addressed in a patch that should come out any day now. Even though they used most of the Mario Kart formula, the gameplay balance is pretty good with the characters and items. No one is super good stats-wise and no specific item is broken either. The online play is also a bit disappointing with matchmaking issues and matches being glitched. If you’re going to play this online regularly, go with the PS3 or 360 versions since the Wii U version doesn’t have much players, mostly due to the fact the system just came out two weeks ago. Despite some little issues, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is the new kart racer to beat and Nintendo has their work cut out for them with a new Mario Kart assuming they’re working on it right now with the Wii U. Sega fans and those who love kart racing games should not miss out on this game.