Nowadays, any arcade racing game is instantly compared to Mario Kart, and for this reason, many fall short or are called copycats. This is why it is somewhat surprising just how original and well done Sonic & All-stars Racing Transformed actually is. It doesn’t compare to a Mario Kart game at all, instead standing on its own two legs and proudly proclaiming itself.
There is a lot to do in Transformed, including a career mode full of all kinds of game modes. Some are basic races, others involve speeding through all the checkpoints before time runs out, and there are even a couple of levels that have you battling a tank. It keeps the gameplay changing constantly, so it never feels repetitive. The difficulty of the race determines how many stars you get after completing the level’s objective, and you need a designated amount of stars to unlock later sections in career mode. You won’t be able to unlock every stage on easy, and even medium may pose a challenge to unlock it all. However, if you only want to race then there is also the Grand Prix mode, which allows just that. As one would expect, there are time trials and a battle mode, which are expected in racing games nowadays. Best yet, local split-screen is available throughout career mode as well, so you can enjoy all the stages with friends.
One of the most spectacular elements of Transformed is the visuals. The stages are vibrant and full of colorful scenery, busy with all sorts of creative elements to really sell the world they are representing. It is an amazing tribute to previous Sega games, as one level has you flying through the rings of Dream Valley from NIGHTS Into Dreams, while another has you racing around a crumbling world in Rogues’ Landing from Skies of Arcadia. From Super Monkey Ball to Jet Set Radio, if you’re a fan of Sega you will absolutely love the amount of references this game includes. Even the catchy music for each stage is based off the actual games and will have Sega fans smiling from the nostalgia overload.
Most importantly, the racing is just downright fun. It may take a couple of races to get used to the controls, but once you do, everything becomes perfectly fluid. The drifting aspect is well done, which is important since the game relies so heavily on it. As the name of the game states, at certain points in a race, your vehicle will transform to match the changes in the track, so you may be speeding down a road when it suddenly cuts off into thin air. With a mechanical adjustment, the car becomes a plane and you soar into the skies.
This keeps the racing interesting, so it doesn’t just feel like another kart-racing game. The levels can change after a lap, which makes each new lap different and unique, as you use one way and then suddenly the entire course changes. You’ll find yourself scrambling to keep up with the new twists and turns. There are other moments where the path forks, which leaves it up to you whether you should travel by land, sea, or air. This adds a strategic element, since you may be bad at driving a boat, but excel at racing on the road. Logically, you’ll avoid water and try to stick to the road at all costs. However, planes are faster, so you’ll jump at any chance to transform into a plane to get that extra speed.
No kart-racing game is complete without weapons, and Transformed doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. There is no automatic weapon to kill the person in first place; however, there is something called a Swarm. This weapon causes a swarm of large bees to appear on the track in front of the leader, who then has to dodge them or risk spinning out. This is great for one main reason: it’s fair. The first-place person isn’t blown out of the water by someone in the back of the pack, but if they aren’t paying attention, it could still be costly. There are offensive and defensive weapons to keep things even so the weapon system isn’t unbalanced. Each weapon has its own little strategy to follow, which will allow you to get the best use out of it.
There is even some personalization in this game. You earn stickers which you can place on your license plate to show off when you play online, and as you play the career mode you level up your character. This will unlock car mods, which affect the stats of the racer. Say that Sonic has too much speed (no such thing) and you want to slow him down while increasing his steering ability – well, the balance mod will be perfect for you. This is a great touch, since it allows you to tweak your favorite character to better fit your driving style or fine-tune your car for a certain race.
There are a couple of flaws which can get annoying. While the levels feature all sorts of wonderful environmental characteristics, these can be distracting. This isn’t a problem when driving a car or boat, but when you’re flying, things can get tricky. Normally, the game does a good job of leaving a breadcrumb trail of where to go, but when you’re in the air, the game is a little less forgiving, and it’s easy to make a wrong turn and slam into a ghost wall. This is exemplified in split-screen, as multiple screens on one TV can make navigating through the complex levels more than a little difficult. There are also some awkward instances when the car goes off a jump but isn’t supposed to transform. When you go off a jump askew, two things will normally happen: you will either fall down an infinite abyss to your doom or a ghost wall will bounce you back in-bounds. When you hit a ghost wall in this game, sometimes you will stick to it and very slowly slide down until you’re back on the track. This takes up considerable time when you should just bounce off the invisible wall and be on your merry way.
Sonic & All-stars Racing Transformed brings out the best in karting games. It is able to stick up for itself and put down all those naysayers who claim every other karting game is a copycat of or not as good as Mario Kart. The ability to play split-screen at almost any point in the game is great, and you can also take your skills online against the world. The levels really are amazing to look at and pay amazing tribute to the games everyone has come to love. The gameplay is fun enough on its own, but the ability to transform keeps the gameplay unique, and the long and difficult career mode will challenge even the best racers. Above all else, there is an endearing aspect in playing as some of the best Sega characters ever created. Except for you, Danica Patrick: you do not belong in this game and I don’t know how you managed it.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Sonic & All-star Racing Transformed developed by Sumo Digital and distributed by Sega.