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Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed (PC) artwork

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed (PC) review

"There’s no way to avoid the fact this is a response to Nintendo’s famous racing franchise, however engaging."

Can you expect me to go through this review rewriting that absurd title every single time? Let’s just call it Transformed from here on out. Sumo Digital’s previous offing of a Sonic Racing game left us with an unfortunate mix of Segabucks unlockables, possibly the most annoying announcer of the 0’ghties, and the stumbling assumption that Sonic in a car might be more fun than him on foot.

It was, undeniably, the best racing game to grace the Wii after Mario Kart, and that is a comparison that persists even though this sequel learned from all of its mistakes. Revitalized with smoother, tweaked physics and new mechanics, Sumo isn’t about to let its past create drag in its new, streamlined product.

Transformed is bright, colourful, and alive with moving creatures, scenery and activity that could be horribly distracting. Thankfully, beginners have a chance to acclimate with these features, and you’ll need it, as they directly impact the occasions of vehicular transformation. Sometimes the track will give way as a ledge drops to a lake, underground water channel, or lava which means you’re quickly sporting a boat.

Transformations seem innocuous, and don’t distract visually or affect steering much. Usually. In the case of transforming from a car to boat, or back, you can maintain a drift without any difficulty. Becoming an air-worthy vehicle, on the other hand, introduces new physics and has an irritating learning curve. It seems Sega, or Sumo, knew this, and either restricts changes to the last lap of a race, or dedicates the entire race to this mode.

Sega doesn’t hesitate to support the PC, and for players demanding the Kart experience, there aren't quite as many options as other titles sport. What's more is that most of those are contained in a launcher. You won’t be disappointed, however, by the attention to detail given to its most important features. Both controller and keyboard configuration settings are easily assigned for up to four players on a single PC.

There are a few graphic settings, but the presets of “Low” to “High” should give you the frame rate you need to succeed, and in this case, more is certainly better. Playing whilst in the 30fps range had me losing more races than winning. It feels like the game physics are tied into the frame rate, which isn’t unheard of, but makes for very poor responsiveness below 60fps. When in doubt, sacrifice some detail, even though this title is well optimized for performance.

Single player and multiplayer modes are presented behind just one button press at the main screen. After the main menu you’ll even see if any of your Steam friends are online and playing Transformed, which is a smooth bid to quick start some friendly – or not so – competition. Microtransactions, even for Sega’s funbucks, have been disposed of and replaced by a more traditional unlocking scheme.

Career Mode, World Tour and Time Trials all provide useful practice for multiplayer sessions against friends or strangers in Transformed. You’re going to notice the short list of racers at first, as just a handful of the available twenty are rarin’ to ride until you spend some time in Career Mode, earning stars and unlocking tracks, racers and more.

As in its predecessor, as you spend time with your preferred racer, they will gain levels which unlock “mods” that alter their performance statistics. At level five you’ll be granted their “Ultimate”, which puts heavy emphasis on their highest stat and boosts the rest. For instance, Sonic gets a boost above the maximum of five in Speed, giving him an advantage in the stretch.

Racing against AI opponents gets tiring soon enough, but the meticulously themed levels will keep your interest for a while. Earning a rare racers like Gum, Nights or Lala for multiplayer exhibition adds a brief Pokemon collect-a-thon element to the game. Unfortunately, the Transformed community has stagnated since its launch, which leaves the question of its playability largely on local multiplayer and single player.

Vehicular transformations are more than a gimmick; massive level changes like an attack on the environment from forces representative of the attributed world make for some exciting moments. Drifting provides crucial boosts in addition to pads littered throughout the tracks and in the air. Tricks performed during after a healthy jump give you a tidy boost as well. Discovering and acquiring hard to reach gold item boxes can give you a momentary advantage and brief satisfaction. Unfortunately, this is what has lead to the stagnation of Transformed as a multiplayer game.

Who dropped the transformation bomb? Ultimately, Nintendo’s infant propeller/glider innovations first seen in Mario Kart 9 gave us a clear indication of the next big trend, and its next iteration on the Wii U overshadowed Sega’s flashy approach to the concept. Transformed delivers some truly spectacular showcases of action and tributes to the glories of games of Ages past. However, Nintendo knows better: Let the players shine in the spotlight. Thankfully, in the long and winding road of tried and true friendly competitive racers, Transformed is a solid representative of the genre.

This racer has the odd accompaniment of Downloadable Content in the form of full fledged racers. Metal Sonic, Outrun, Yogscast and Ryo Hazuki can all be purchased with mods unlocked in all of their polygonal greatness. There’s little satisfaction racing a purchased racer, however, as you don’t get to experience their growth curve, and they give you no substantial advantage over any other character. Neither should they, but it just didn’t make a lot of sense in 2013, and it makes even less now.

Transformed races as good as it looks, and its forgiving drift and trick mechanics ensure it is deep enough for career drivers. Controller options are plentiful, as are multi and single player modes. New racers and tracks are unlocked with practice and hard work, giving you a good sense of achievement and increasing the longevity of the game. The soundtrack is a stand out exploration of classic themes which would have fit in as a DLC package.

Earning stars against AI alone is harder than it needs to be, and without an overall difficulty setting, less skilled players won’t be getting the completion bonuses to show off and share with friends. Racing can feel item dependant at times, and All Star Mode is all flare but no advantage. Transformed just isn’t fun without other players to race, and that’s the fact.

This is the sort of game you buy if you know your friends are already playing it, and the 4-pack is a great deal if you’re feeling generous. You may feel compelled to wait for a sale, but with the amount of content on offer, it’s hard to do better for the price. This is quite likely one of Sega’s most polished Steam titles.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (January 02, 2017)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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