Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Wii U, PS3, 360, 3DS, Vita, PC) Review

We're in a reviewing kind of mood here at SuperPhillip Central. Next up is one of the better kart racing experiences out there, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. It's a game full of lovable SEGA characters and blazing fast speeds. Here is our review. Oh, and yes, we did the "by land, by air, by sea" joke with our Mario Kart 7 review already.

Where we're going we don't need roads...


Sonic is no stranger to racing games. His platforming existence is built on speed, for heaven's sake. Regardless, Sonic has had multiple run-ins with the racing genre. There's been Sonic R, Sonic Drift, Sonic Riders, and without a doubt the best of the bunch, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, one of the better kart racers out there. Now, developer Sumo Digital is back with a follow-up to that game with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Does this sequel create a transformation that evolves the kart racing genre, or does it wipe out on a tight corner?

There are two main modes of play to progress in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed: World Tour and Grand Prix. The latter is your typical four race ordeal where the player with the most points at the end is deemed the winner and gets his or her own place on the podium. World Tour is much more involved. It is a series of "worlds" that contain several event types. By clearing events you earn stars. You earn more stars for clearing an event on a higher challenge level (e.g. clearing easy difficulty events gives you one star, while clearing hard difficulty events gets you three stars). Clearing events allows you access to more events, and you can use stars to open up paths to even more events and to unlock new characters.

By land...
There are a myriad of event types available from simple three lap races to drift challenges, boost challenges, versus events where you must beat a series of AI opponents in a timed race, battle races where you must defeat all opponents with offensive items, ring races where you are in a race against the clock to fly through every ring of a particular track, and much more. The variety keeps things from getting boring, and what's awesome about World Tour is that you don't have to try to overcome it alone. Up to three other players can join you (four other players for the Wii U version), and only one of you needs to clear the event to have all of you pass it.

By air...
While not quite everybody is Super Sonic racing (many characters from the original Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing are confusingly absent from the sequel), the cast of SEGA all-stars is one that represents a multitude of classic SEGA series. There are obviously a great selection of Sonic series representatives such as the Blue Blur himself, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Shadow, and Dr. Eggman, but there are also characters from lesser known franchises like Gilius from Golden Axe, Joe Musashi from Shinobi, Ulala and Pudding from Space Channel 5, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, and Vyse from fan-favorite Skies of Arcadia. Perhaps my only gripe in the roster is the dubious inclusions of Danica Patrick and Disney's Wreck-It Ralph. Did we really need these two additions to leave out loved classic characters like Ryo Hazuki and Billy Hatcher?

By sea...
Regardless, each character has his or her own stats, and by using them enough, they gain enough experience to earn new levels. Each level earned gives that all-star a new mod for their kart, whether it be speed, acceleration, handling, boost, or what have you. You can only select one mod per event, so it's imperative to select a mod that will be beneficial to the track that you're about to race on.

While we're on the subject of tracks, even when a SEGA series is not represented by a character on the racing roster, it can still be represented with its own track. For example, The House of the Dead's track is known as Graveyard Gig, a ride through a zombie-filled mansion; there is an After Burner track that takes place on a couple of aircraft carriers; and there is even a Burning Rangers track that occurs in an underwater base of sorts. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed contains twenty tracks in total, four of which are returning tracks from the original Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing.

The "transformed" part of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed refers to how karts can change forms to suit the driver's need. Blue rings transform karts into boats or flight vehicles, so when there is no road left to drive on and there's nothing but water ahead, your kart will transform into a boat. The "transformed" part also refers to how the tracks change as the races progress. One instance of this is the aforementioned Panzer Dragoon track, Dragon Canyon. The first lap all takes place on roads, but the second lap has the road about a fourth of the way through submerged with water, altering not only what vehicle the racers use but the path to the finish line as well. The third lap is almost totally a sky affair, having you bob and weave through canyon walls and dangling cocoons. Not every track goes through a transformation each lap, but the majority of them do.

Super Monkey Ball's course is full of places
to fall off and paths to take.
However, not all is perfect with the track design (but make no mistake that the track design is really really good). For one, it can be quite difficult to see where you are supposed to drive and see upcoming turns. There's just so much going on on some tracks that seeing which direction you need to turn is problematic, resulting in slamming into a wall and losing several positions in a race.

Meanwhile, Adder's Lair from Golden Axe will
have you in kart, boat, and plane all in one race.
Another issue is that the game is quite glitchy. I have flown through walls, flown through ceilings, fallen off tracks and have the game take ten seconds to return me to my previous place on the track, and so forth.

Finally, an issue I have comes with the items. In the predecessor to this game, items were given a SEGA theme. In this game, items are much more generic in theme. They're still balanced, mind you, but they have no identity. There are ice shots that temporarily freeze foes, a twister that when it hits an opponent it reverses their controls, a firework that acts like Mario Kart's green shell, bouncing off walls, a swarm of bees that when unleashed, covers the track with huge hornets, along with other items. Additionally, all-star moves return, allowing those behind the pack to gain some places with ultra-helpful and character-specific abilities.  Finally and fortunately, I can happily say that there is no blue shell equivalent in this game. Hallelujah, said kart racing fans around the world.

All the features in the world mean little if the actual racing is no fun. Thankfully, this is not an issue in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (unlike the glitches). Karts handle tightly, and the controls feel great and fluid. You hold a shoulder button to perform a drift around turns and corners, and the more you drift the better your boost when you ease off the button. It's a drifting mechanic that feels as great as the controls in general do. In addition to drifting, you can gain a boost by performing tricks via flicking the right stick mid-jump and landing cleanly. Not only can you race hard, but you can race with style. Very nice.

Drift around turns and corners to keep your 
speed up and to gain an all-important boost.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is an immensely colorful game, but sometimes that is a detriment to racing. As stated, it can be hard to see where you need to turn, especially with the lack of guide arrows on many of the tracks. That said, most of the game's races run smoothly, and online isn't that shabby either. The music features an abundance of familiar arrangements of classic SEGA franchise tunes, all done by composer Richard Jacques, a name many SEGA fans should know and adore. All in all, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has a splendid presentation and grand production values.

Many folks have been suggesting that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed beats out every Mario Kart game on the market. That's a pretty bold statement considering All-Stars Racing Transformed doesn't even beat out its predecessor, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing. That said, Sonic and SEGA's latest kart racing affair is one that is an absolute delight, especially in multiplayer, only hindered by glitches and a lack of being able to tell where to go on a given track, leading to copious amounts of frustration. Whether you prefer to speed as Sonic, jet through the air as NiGHTs, pump up the jam with Jet Set Radio's Beat, or do whatever else as one of the other characters of the game, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is one of the better kart racers this generation. You, too, can be Super Sonic racing with this excellent, but flawed, game.

[SPC Says: 8.25/10]

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