When gamers talk about kart racers Mario Kart is seen as the “de facto” standard that all others are compared too. Last year Sega released their own kart game, and although it was fun it did not live up to the standard so many see as the “high mark”. Sega is not one to give up though, and this year they have released Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed; and much to my surprise this game is in a class of its own as it offers so much for people to enjoy.
All-Stars Transformed is kart racer, plain and simple. Sonic is the headline character, but there is a pretty large selection of Sega’s other franchise characters to choose from. Sure, you can play as Tails or Knuckles from past Sonic Games but you can also play as Vyse (Skies of Arcadia), AiAi (Super Monkey Ball), Ulala (Space Channel 5) and B.D. Joe (Crazy Taxi) to name a few others. There are also two guest stars included as Wreck-It Ralph and Danica Patrick make an appearance. Ralph really is a surprise and fits in well, but as for Danica Patrick, I cannot understand why they put her in this game at all as her inclusion just does not make any sense. You can also race as your Xbox LIVE Avatar too.
As would be expected, each vehicle that is assigned to each character has its own set of stats such as speed, acceleration, boost, and handling. Depending on your driving skill, and style, one vehicle will be for you where others will not. I always prefer a vehicle that has good handling and average speed as navigating the various tracks can get tricky and being able to do so without that much trouble is advantageous over other cars. As you race you will unlock modifiers for your vehicle, so you can gain some much needed improvements in areas that your vehicle can benefit from. I found this a nice addition and something that could level out the playing field that much more.
The “wow” factor, so to speak, in the game is that each vehicle can transform from kart, to boat, to plane, hence the title of this newest Sega branded kart racer. This key element to the game is important as the tracks that you race across have water (or lava), land, and air sections. Seeing, and hearing, each vehicle transform into the appropriate form is pretty cool. Not each vehicle will look the same in it’s altered from too. Sonic’s boat is very different from B.D. Joe’s (Crazy Taxi), which is a hovercraft when transformed to a water vehicle. Control of each transformed vehicle is also different as you will have adapt to the change from land to water and then land to air. Each vehicle handles differently as the change from car to boat/plane is more then just visual.
As this is a kart racer Sega has included the usual power-ups to add a bit of flavour as you race. From the blowfish that you can drop behind you hit other cars to the turbo-boosts and honing missile that you can use at just the right time. Sure, the originality of the end result may seem generic, but the actual presentation and implementation of each power-up is pretty neat and does not seem the usual fare when used in All-Stars Transformed. For the record, I am just happy that there was no Mario Kart-like blue shell, which given the history of this long despised power-up, is a good thing. For that I say thank you very much as I have lost many a race in Mario Kart due to that damn shell.
I had a chance to play the All-Stars transformed earlier this year at E3 in June and back then I found the handling a little ‘loose’. Since that time things have been tightened up somewhat and the control is much better. You will be comfortably weaving through traffic and drifting around turns in no time. If I managed to fall off the edge of a track or hit the side of a mountain, it was usually due lack of attention and not the fault of the game’s control.
For those wondering what kind of modes there are, I am happy to report that there is a fair amount of stuff to do. There is a Grand Prix mode where you can race through a series of races against the computer AI for All-Star dominance (and the AI is not cheap in this racer). There is also a World Tour Mode. Here you will find yourself racing in traditional races as well as completing various challenges that will test your driving might. From having to hit every boost on the track to destroying your opponents with missiles, each of these special challenges will require skill. There are three different skill settings and you are rewarded with more stars when you complete each race/challenge in the higher skill modes. These stars are used to open up new branches on the “World Map amongst other things. There is also a Time Trial mode and Single Race mode too.
I should note that many of the tracks change as you race. Roads fall, walls open, and ramps all of a sudden appear. Given the constant change in some of the tracks you will have to keep your wits about you and your observation skills on alert for new and alternative routes. You will find that one moment you are racing on a land based road only to have it “open” up for a more water based experience and this type of change keeps you on your toes. If anything, the one thing I learned as I played was that memorization of the tracks and the various shortcuts that are available is immensely important to your success. Knowing where to shave a few seconds off is very important as those few seconds adds up when you are racing a 3-lap race. This game can be tough too. I was somewhat taken back by how much of a challenge the game could be, especially in the aforementioned World Tour Mode. Given that this is a kart racer, a lot of kids may find themselves struggling at times. That being said, it is still doable but kids should be prepared for a challenge now and then, as I know I was challenged and I am a fairly skilled adult gamer.
Not to be forgotten are the multiplayer modes. Up to four players can play split screen in the traditional race modes, as well as a Battle and a Capture the Chao Mode. All-Stars Transformed is also playable online with up to nine other players, which is pretty nice for a kart racer. Although I did not play online nearly as much as I had hoped, when I did I found the competition fierce and the experience fairly lag free. It was great to take this kart racer online, as there is so much to enjoy with others when racing the various tracks.
Visually I have to say that Sumo Digital really nailed it. The first thing that struck me was how vibrant this game is as the colours just jump off the screen. Each of the games 15+ tracks are themed after various Sega franchises such as Sonic (editors note: duh!!!), Super Monkey Ball, After Burner, Golden Axe, and even the storied Sega Saturn exclusive game Panzer Dragoon. The variety of tracks is very enjoyable and each one looks amazing. From the clear water in the Super Monkey Ball track to racing inside a mountain amongst flowing rivers of lava Rivers in the Golden Axe track, there is a lot of eye candy to be enjoyed on all of them with a bevy of special effects, lighting, and detailed textures throughout each. The framerate remains solid throughout most of the game and you will only come across the odd hiccup during your gameplay experience. These hiccups are minor and not found often, so they are far from a deal breaker.
I found that music is a key feature to the sound of All-Stars Transformed. Given some of the franchises that are included in this game there is some great history to recreate musically. Each level has music reminiscent of the game it represents, and you will find some great remixed music playing during key points in races. At no time did I ever want to turn the music off as I enjoyed it. As for the rest of the sound package, the sound effects are pretty good and each vehicle, no matter what form it was in, sounded great. I played most of the time in my media room and when everything was pumping out through my surround sound set up I felt even more enveloped in everything going on on-screen.
Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed is a kart racer that manages to step up and show that not all good games in this genre have to originate from just one publisher (come on, you know who we are talking about). With good looking visuals, solid sound, and gameplay that manages to buck the trend of “boring” or “childish” as it offers up challenge and reward, All-Stars Transformed is a game that many should not overlook as you’d be crazy to ignore all the good that it brings.