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Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed (PlayStation 3) artwork

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed (PlayStation 3) review

"Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing: Transformed is a kart racer that quickly and cheerfully dispels any cynicism about the genre. "

If there was an award for unwieldy game title of the year, Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing: Transformed would be a prime contender. One can only assume the developers at Sumo Digital really wanted players to know about everything the game has to offer. And why wouldn’t they? The roster goes far beyond the Sonic franchise, featuring such well-loved Sega characters as pirate rogue Vyse from Skies of Arcadia, Alex Kidd, and Wreck-It Ralph from the Sega-affiliated kids’ movie of the same name. All Stars, indeed. The ‘Transformed’ portion of the title is also a well-earned subheading, thanks to the addition of water and aerial racing that bypasses gimmickry to--and I apologise for being trite here--take a huge step towards transforming the entire kart racing subgenre.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed asset

Transformed’s predecessor was a solid but uninspired racer, with its thrilling karting mechanics undermined by lacklustre track design and limited gameplay options. The thrill has been retained here, and the focus remains firmly on the execution of long drifts to chain together boosts. The tracks themselves are now just as joyful as those other familiar efforts, though, combining vivid colours with creative design that includes risky shortcuts with more drops and jumps than a theme park ride. Sumo is clearly staffed by Sega enthusiasts. It’s hard to fight off a smile as you skid around the gloomy Golden Axe-inspired Adder’s Lair or explore the dusty vistas of Panzer Dragoon’s Dragon Canyon. 16 tracks (augmented by mirrored versions and 4 returning favourites from the previous game in the series) might seem thrifty on paper, but there’s a great deal more to each offering than immediately meets the eye.

Pass through a glowing arch on the track and, depending on the upcoming terrain (or lack of it) your car will fold up into a fully-equipped boat or plane. The change is more than aesthetic; once waterborne, you’ll have to play by the laws of physics and consider your vehicle’s turbulence. In the air, it’s remarkable how large an adjustment is required to account for the ability to move vertically as well as horizontally. Making things even trickier is the fact that you’ll have to navigate swelling waves, snapping dinosaur mouths, and flying cannon balls. The contrast between each mode, and the fact that a single lap can encompass all three, means that every race feels varied and encourages you to learn a wider set of skills if you mean to find consistent success. Becoming adept at all three disciplines is a must because tracks dynamically change from lap to lap. You might return to a bridge on the second lap only to find it’s been destroyed by volcanic fallout, which forces you to drop to the bubbling lava below. Some tracks are destroyed so completely that the final lap is contested entirely in the air. As a result, the action is often unpredictable. Individual tracks are tougher to memorise and races can last upwards of eight minutes before you hit the podium.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed asset

There is also a greater emphasis on skill throughout Transformed than is commonly found in kart racers. Whereas the weapon system in the previous game was a weak spot, here it’s been beefed up. There are still the basic projectiles (fireworks and snowballs) and drop-behind traps (puffer fish, for some reason), but other pick-ups require skill and timing, such as the Hot Rod. That particular item is essentially a rocket pack that attaches to the rear of your car. You must monitor its visible gauge to manually end the boost. Time it right and you’ll blast any competitors around you. Let the gauge drift into the red and you’ll take the hit yourself. Rubber banding is rarely an issue, with All Star special pick-ups being less powerful than before. The obligatory 1st place-targeting weapon, a swarm of wasps, can be avoided with skilful driving. In fact, if you’re good enough, any attack can be intercepted or evaded by striking back, timing boosts properly, or executing aerial barrel rolls. It’s a system that rewards skill, and returns a sense of balance to an area of kart racing that can otherwise prove frustrating.

Skills can be further developed in the substantial World Tour Mode, which serves as the core of Transformed’s single player experience. Players complete events to earn stars, with the chosen difficulty setting determining the amount that are awarded. These stars in turn can be used to unlock gates to new events or characters, which means you have some choice over how you progress. Although conventional races are the main draw, there are plenty of other objectives on offer. Although challenges rely a little too heavily on checkpoint racing, there’s fun to be had here. Traffic Attack sees you battling meddlesome traffic to beat the clock, and Ring Races are entirely airborne checkpoint attacks. Weakest of the events is Pursuit, which pits you against an Enforcer tank in a one-on-one battle around the track. The action here feels clumsy and soon becomes tedious. Still, the varied objectives in the World Tour feel worthwhile as they teach you a wide skill set to improve your racing ability. It’s no walk in the park, either. Play any event on Hard difficulty or higher and you’ll find yourself locked in a grueling battle for victory.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed asset

The XP system places further emphasis on skill. XP is awarded for good driving, effective weapons strikes, and overall performance. Levelling characters up with those points will unlock mods for their cars. Once the appropriate mods are unlocked, any character can be set up to focus on acceleration, boosting, handling, etc. While there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from levelling up, the resulting versatility could discourage experimentation with different characters. Rather than matching a racer to an event based on their stats, players can simply apply a Mod and stick with their favoured Sega mascot.

This could be a disadvantage when you venture into multiplayer, particularly online. As you’d expect, only one person can choose any given character, so not having a second or third choice could leave you at a disadvantage. Multiplayer gameplay is fun, but it doesn’t offer the same variety found in the single player game. Locally there is split-screen play, with the ability to add up to 3 other players with whom you can compete in races or the obligatory battle mode. Choices are similarly straightforward online. Importantly (on the PS3 at least), getting into an event is usually quick and the action is free of issues.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed asset

Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing: Transformed is a kart racer that quickly and cheerfully dispels any cynicism about the genre. While the Sega license may not boast as many bona fide stars as certain other karters do, the attention to detail and sheer enthusiasm with which it’s been treated here makes Transformed a consistently joyful experience. The impact of boat and plane mechanics, combined with the creativity of the dynamic track designs, makes this one of the finest kart racers from recent years, and one that might well set the bar for years to come.


space_dust's avatar
Staff review by David Owen (February 03, 2013)

David Owen is a freelance writer who also contributes to VG247, Eurogamer, IGN, and others. He likes Gitaroo Man more than is healthy.

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