Planes, Boats, And Automobiles
Perhaps Sonic is getting tired of wearing out his classy red sneakers in the name of going fast, or maybe SEGA is just looking to reinvigorate the Sonic franchise, but either way, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a thing now.
Basically, the premise is that Sonic and his friends, as well as characters from throughout SEGA’s somewhat esoteric lineup, get together and race karts around wacky, power-up laden racetracks. Sure, it’s not a brand new idea, and it’s probably even fair to call this a spiritual successor of sorts to Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing—if you’re the sort of person who uses any and every possible excuse to avoid the word “sequel.” The gimmick here, though, is that these karts can transform into boats and planes. Yeah, it’s the same gimmick that Mario Kart 7 toyed around with last year, but with Transformed, the idea feels like it was much better fleshed out. That doesn’t mean Transformed is a superior racer, though.
As I mentioned in my LittleBigPlanet Karting review not long ago, Mario Kart has this iconic catalog of power-ups that will probably forever be representative of the genre. I mean, the classic red and green turtle shells are almost as big a part of kart racing as karts themselves. What this means is that other kart racers have to try extra hard in order to step out of Mario Kart’s colossal shadow.
And Transformed certainly tries extra hard.
The game’s best feature has to be its incredible track design. Not only are these course layouts well thought out, but they come painted with this visual aesthetic that’s nothing short of fantastic. The courses are designed to represent various SEGA franchises—which, let’s be honest here, is to be expected for a SEGA-branded kart racer. But the level of detail is astounding, and these courses are all just a bit Sonic-ified, with splashes of the checkered patterns that will be instantly familiar to longtime Sonic fans. The environments are so full of personality that you’ll often find yourself wanting to step out of your vehicle and just start exploring.
For example, there’s one course based on Skies of Arcadia, where you will drive/fly through a battle between fleets of flying wooden ships. As the race progresses, the course becomes more and more littered with destruction, forcing you to take to the skies.
Yes, this is what’s cool about these maps: They change—often drastically—from lap to lap. The places you drive your car on the first lap might be completely flooded by the second, forcing you to put on your best pair of boating shoes. Or a piece of road might be obliterated by an explosion, requiring you to use your plane to fly over it rather than drive on it as per usual.
The plane and boat sections are, for the most part, well implemented. The problem is that, in my personal opinion, they are simply not as fun as the kart sections. Handling is completely different, which is to be expected—anyone who’s ever driven a boat, for example, will tell you that it handles absolutely nothing like a car—but it can be somewhat disorienting at first to have to swap handling styles on the fly. But you will generally spend a majority of most race types in a car, so even if you hate the boating sections, this won’t be something that hinders your enjoyment of the game too terribly much.
I find drifting in cars to be slightly weird as well. I’m admittedly coming fresh off binges of both Need for Speed Most Wanted and LittleBigPlanet Karting, so my perspective has definitely been colored by those games, but the cars seem to twist too far to the right or left while drifting. It’s like a cartoon parody of a drift, which is exactly what it’s supposed to be, yet it feels just off enough that it legitimately bothers me. It almost makes the cars feel somehow lighter than they should feel. Now, this is strictly my own personal opinion, but the thought stuck in my mind long enough for it to be at least worth mentioning.
Despite these weird personal quirks, the controls feel great. They’re as responsive as any high-speed racer requires, and they’ll be instantly intuitive for kart racing fanatics.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a pretty good lineup of SEGA characters present here, from Sonic and Knuckles to AiAi and MeeMee from Super Monkey Ball to Joe Musashi of Shinobi. One weird addition, though, is Danica Patrick, who you might recognize from, you know, real-life racing. Her presence is a creative decision that baffles me, as she doesn’t really fit into the über-cartoony vibe of Transformed’s world, and her character model seems pretty generic. It’s just hard to be excited about playing as a cartoonified real-life person when you have someone like Vyse from Skies of Arcadia to choose from.
But the cool thing is that these characters gain experience and level up as you use them. Leveling up a racer won’t unbalance the game, though, as each new level gained basically unlocks a different modification. For example, one modification might increase a character’s speed at the expense of handling. Still, it’s a great feature, and it feels super good to see your experience bar increasing, even when you’re consistently coming in last place. It keeps you motivated to keep playing even when the races start to get frustrating.
And that’s good, because some of the races will get frustrating. The Ring Races, which have you piloting a plane through a series of rings, are especially unforgiving, and they’ll most likely halt your progress as you attempt to unlock all the extra characters and things. Then again, it’s actually kind of nice to be challenged here, as you most likely won’t just blast through the entire campaign in a few hours.
Ultimately, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a worthy kart racer that surprised me by being offered at a discount price. Yes, this game retails for $40ish instead of the typical $60 of other big-budget titles, and that’s a fantastic deal for a game that, despite a few personal quibbles, would have been well worth the full price of admission.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Excruciatingly detailed environments that are simply cool to gawk at. 4.0 Control
I have a few personal quirks with the way drifting works, but the controls are responsive and tight. There’s a slight learning curve, as each type of vehicle handles differently. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Some of the catchphrases might get a bit repetitive, but the audio is otherwise satisfying. 4.5 Play Value
A level-up system, various unlockables, and online play all make this an experience you’ll come back to several times. This would have been a worthy full-priced title, so the discount price makes this an amazing deal. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best