It’s been quite a good year for the Kart racing genre. Games like LittleBigPlanet Karting and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed have been able to at least challenge Mario Kart at the top of the podium. But how well does Sonic’s new racer hold up against Mario? Quite well in fact.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is the sequel to the 2010 Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing. This time round, Sonic and his crew have pimped out their rides, opting for travel across land, air and sea. After recently re-purchasing Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64, when I first loaded up the game I couldn’t help but think back to the horrible handling that plagued the sea and air aspects of Diddy Kong Racing, and so I went into this game with some real concerns.
The first Grand Prix does a great job of easing you into the three different ways to race. What’s great about Racing Transformed is that each vehicle plays completely different to the others, but in a way that helps deepen the game, not frustrate players with a part of it. The car racing is pretty much identical to what it was in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars. While in a boat you have to contend with the very large turning circles as well as maneuvering the constantly changing surface. Some levels have cliff sides and monkey balls falling into the water creating some large waves for you to jump over. With the flying sections, although the controls are a little floaty, the ability to fly in four directions (and do barrel rolls) puts it as my favourite way to race.
What I love most about Racing Transformed is the speed that is felt when you’re racing. You are encouraged to go fast and when you do it feels amazing. Boost pads are placed all over the place and every corner is a drifter’s dream. The drifting with cars feels incredibly natural to anyone who has played a Kart racing game before. Although you can’t drift on straights, you are able to hold onto your drift if you quickly change directions whilst tapping the drift button. On paper this system might not seem fluid, but it works very well in motion. That said, with the boat and plane, it’s a different story. They work, but compared to the car you don’t feel as if you’re actually drifting. There doesn’t seem to be any resistance and the boost that you’re rewarded with seems like it isn’t a reward and you’re just given it.
Another staple of the genre, items, return in force and are all great. Normally when discussion of items of a kart racer, the horrible blue shell of the Mario Kart series is mentioned. In Racing Transformed, it is replaced by a swarm of bees that fill the track in front of the player in first place. What’s great about this, when compared to the blue shell, is that it’s completely avoidable, and may not necessarily slow down the player. Additionally, the bees stay on the track for quite a while, so if the player in first place happens to dodge them all, you can still hit second or third place. Additionally, any item that hones in on a racer can be avoided with a well-timed speed boost, either from a boost pad or a drift boost. The result is that this game’s item system does not seem to bury the skill needed to win races; an increasingly-common complaint with Mario Kart.
There are twenty courses to play through, four being ‘classics’ from the previous game. Racing Transformed featured tracks designed around many SEGA franchises including; NiGHTS, Golden Axe, After Burner and even Burning Rangers. Most courses are built in such a way that no lap is ever the same, and throughout the three laps, roads will break open revealing large skies or vast waterways. Looking back on it as I am writing this review, it seems to be a cheap way of implementing boating and flight sections to the kart race but it works, and each track is jaw dropping visually on the first play through. Additionally, each track brings with it music associated with the game it was from. There are lots of remixes of old game tracks that many SEGA fans will recognise.
One of the most important aspects of a kart racer is the racers themselves. Staying true to the title, the game brings both Sonic characters and All-Stars from the SEGA universe. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles are in the mix with Ulala, Aiai and Amigo from SEGA’s less well-known franchises. Xbox and Nintendo owners also are able to race with their avatars, alongside Disney tie-in Wreck-it Ralph as well as real life racer Danica Patrick.
Mods are also introduced to add individual customisation to characters. At the end of each race, you are given experience points depending on how you raced. Once you get a certain amount you unlock a mod. Each mod changes one aspect of the way in which you race, tuning your vehicle to make it faster, give bigger boosts, or balance everything together. It is a great way to tweak and individualise the character you prefer to use, but you won’t be able to drastically change much.
Racing Transformed offers a robust single player mode. In World Tour, players can compete in various challenges. Some of these challenges include performing and holding drifts for a certain period of time, avoiding moving objects while trying to pass through moving gates and of course, racing. It is a really nice way to mix up what would otherwise be a boring single player experience. Every challenge can be competed on the three difficulty levels the game offers. If completed on Easy, the player is rewarded with one star, medium, two stars and three if you complete it on hard. While it proves a challenge, inexperienced players will struggle to get the full experience as the World Tour is the only means of unlocking most of the characters and certain mods. Albeit, the first few unlocks are not that hard, but later requirements will test even the best.
As with most racing games, Racing Transformed is improved even more by its incredible multiplayer. Split-screen multiplayer is available both offline and online, and as an added bonus for Wii U players the Gamepad can be used as a fifth screen. Aside from the basic racing there are many other modes to play. My personal favourite was Battle Race, which sees an F-Zero style race to the death to occur on any of the stages playable. There are also battle modes, which include a capture-the-flag and your typical deathmatch modes. All modes that are on offer in the multiplayer can be played both offline and online, adding great longevity to the game. Additionally, characters still gain experience during multiplayer matches, which allows for on-the-go modding.
It would be wrong to pass Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed off as another Mario Kart clone. Rather, it takes what Mario Kart has established and improves on its predecessor to offer a game that is a genuine challenger to the crown.
– Sam M
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