Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Developer: Sumo Digital
If there was a game that I wasn’t expecting much out of this year, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed would be it. Don’t get me wrong, I go into every game wanting to like it, I just didn’t think that a racing game that starred a blue hedgehog alongside Danica Patrick and the star of Wreck-it-Ralph would be as worth anticipating as say Dishonored or Assassin’s Creed III. So imagine my surprise when this game quickly ratcheted itself up to one of the top ten games I’ve played this year.
|PROS||Extremely fast, Fun gameplay, Great single-player experience, Tons of nostalgia|
|CONS||Loose boat and plane controls, Nothing to do in multiplayer lobbies|
|WTF?!||How does Ralph drift with his helicopter?|
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is an arcade racer that pits Sonic and 23 other racers against each other over 20 courses in a friendly competition to determine who is the best driver. However, to shake things up, these races aren’t just taking place on the ground, sea, or air but a combination of all three. Over the course of each race, you’ll have to dodge obstacles and dangers based on games from Sega’s past.
The characters, cameos, and remixes of classic soundtracks from Sega’s most popular franchises are actually some of Racing Transformed’s biggest selling points. For example, one cameo that was noticed by most gamers before the game even hit was Ristar, who waves the flag and waits at the end of each lap to cheer you on, but even the Bonanza Brothers show up in one level. This also extends to the characters, who even include Vyse from Skies of Arcadia and Ulala from Space Channel 5.
This also extends to the courses, which are also based on classic games like After Burner, Shinobi, Sonic the Hedgehog, and even Billy freaking Hatcher. I think the first moment I squeed was when I saw Dragon Canyon, a Panzer Dragoon level that has a remixed version of the first track of the first game that sounds gorgeous. This led to a jaw drop when I saw Adder’s Domain, a Golden Axe level where you get to race around the giant ‘player select’ skeleton, and then an incident where I had to be tranquilized when I realized I got to race through Curien’s Mansion from The House of the Dead and dodge The Hermit, The Tower, and the The Hanged Man while watching zombies party down (one of the fat zombies is even playing in a bounce house). I never even realized I was that big of a Sega fan but each new character, course, and remixed theme made me smile wider and wider until I gave the Joker a run for his money.
A cynical person might say this game is a sad reminder of the heights Sega has fallen from and, considering this is the year that saw re-releases of Nights, Jet Set Radio, and Sonic Adventure 2, I can see why someone might think that. However, I don’t agree for two reasons. First, this game is more of a party for Sega’s line-up than a requiem, with its bright colors, loud music, overly-enthusiastic announcer, and amazingly lively stages (the Samba de Amigo courses are like running through a Central American Toon Town). Second, the game is really good.
While there are the inevitable comparisons between this game and the Mario Kart series–using famous characters from their developer’s most famous franchises, having collectable random power-ups, drift boosts, and themed levels–All-Stars Racing is more of an arcade racer than a kart race. The best way this is shown off is in how speed works in both games. In the Mario Kart Series, if you hit/use a boost, that’s the fastest you’ll go. In this game, you can boost WHILE boosting, and then boost again which will make you hit your max speed and make it feel like you’re on a rocket-powered roller coaster as you fly by your competitors. Drift boosts and stunts (which are performed by hitting the right stick when you are jumping) even allow you to reach that final level of boosts. One of the power-ups you get even straps a supped-up engine on to your ride and rapidly accelerates your car through the different boost levels until it either explodes or you eject it to use the explosion as a weapon.
Speaking of power-ups, this is another area where All-Stars Racing (both this game and its predecessor) distinguishes itself from kart racers. Normally, getting hit by a weapon could delay you for quite a while and even cost you a few positions. In this game however, weapons stop you for only half a second, are all usable by the leader, and are all completely avoidable. Like the last paragraph should have made clear, this game is all about speed so the weapons are all made to stop your momentum. For example, one of the power-ups allows you to release a swarm of giant hornets that other players will have to zip and dodge through to avoid hitting. There’s also an extremely fun defensive power up that will let you charge through barriers and steal weapons that are used on you. Of course, the big power-up that all players will hope to get their hands on is the All-Star upgrade, which changes the appearance of your vehicle, gives you an attack, and even changes the stage’s music to a remixed version of your character’s theme.
Of course, the big thing people are talking about when it comes to this game is the fact that vehicles can change over the course of the race into different forms. While other racing games, like Diddy Kong Racing, have had the ability to race on land, sea, and air, this game allows you to switch through all three over the course of one race. For example, in the After Burner stage, you start off racing across the deck of an airship carrier, then take off and fly to the other carrier so you can drift around the deck and then fall off into the sea where you race again to turn back into a jet. This makes the races have a lot of variety, especially when the course changes between laps. For example, in the previously mentioned Dragon Canyon stage, the dragon actually shows up and destroys part of the course after the first lap, forcing your racer to go through a new area, first by boat and then by plane. There’s even one course where the vehicle you use to get through an area is randomly selected.
Admittedly, there is one problem with this feature, namely that the controls are rather loose for the plane and boat modes. While the cars are extremely tight in their controls, boats control rather loose, similar to the vehicles from Hydro Thunder and the plane modes are similar (though you can use the stunts freely to pull off barrel rolls… and drift in midair somehow). This wouldn’t be a problem, and even adds some realism to the boating sections, if it wasn’t for the fact that some of the courses aren’t well implemented for theses sections. For example, while the After Burner stage planned all three sections out carefully, other ones, like Death Adder’s domain, make the flying and boating sections too claustrophobic, making new and even experienced players run into obstacles more than they should. This isn’t really a deal breaker but it does make some of the game’s tougher courses frustrating.
Luckily, you can learn all the ins and outs of these courses by playing the surprisingly robust and entertaining single-player experience. In addition to a time attack mode and the ability to race against the computer through any of the unlocked tracks (which you can unlock by playing single or multiplayer modes), there is also a World Tour mode where you can collect stars while playing through various events like races and minigames including drift challenges (where you have to drift through certain areas to gain time to complete a course), versus (where you have to stay ahead of a series of rival racers until a timer runs out), pursuit (where you have to destroy a transforming tank), and a host of other modes and minigames. The mode also allows you to unlock extra characters and mods by opening up sections of each tour’s map. I am not embarrassed at all to admit that I spent most of my time playing this mode.
That’s not to say World Tour mode is perfect though. While most of the events are interesting, the ghost challenges and ring challenges (imagine if Superman 64 controlled better) are a chore to get through. Additionally, the cost to unlock new characters gets ridiculously high ridiculously fast. Sure you can unlock the first few with less than fifty stars, but you’ll soon need over 100 to unlock even one more member of the GGs. This means you’ll have to complete the same events over and over on higher difficulties until you can unlock a new segment of the map, which can make new players get frustrated. Still, this is a far better single-player experience than most racing games and most of the events, like one where you dodge traffic, are a lot of fun and you can even test out a couple of multiplayer modes.
Speaking of multiplayer, All-Stars Racing Transformed is no slouch in this area either. In addition to playing through all of the courses and their mirror versions with up to ten players online or up to four on one console, you can also compete in new types of races and modes. For example, battle races allow you to kick other racers out by hitting them three times with your weapons. This mode is especially interesting in how it transforms the power-ups in the game from minor nuisances to death dealing attacks, making races a lot tenser. If you want to continue your rampage against other players, you can also go into battle arenas or play capture the Chao (one of the cutest mascots ever spawns in a random spot and needs to be captured for points). However, if you want to just duke it out in a test of skills, you can do a boost race, where all the power-ups and weapons are removed from the field.
While I never encountered any lag with multiplayer and it was a blast to play online, there is an annoying amount of wait time when you are in a lobby. When you get put into a lobby that is currently having a race, you can’t spectate or vote on what the next course is going to be. You just have to wait for the race to end and then for the current racers to vote on the next course. Considering a single race can take up to five minutes on some of the larger courses, this can get rather grating.
One final thing to mention about the game is its mod system. As you play the game, you’ll gain experience to level up your characters. Each level gives you a different mod which lets you shift a character’s stats towards making their vehicles faster, handle better, etc. These mods don’t overpower the characters, but do let you make a preferred character work better on a course you’re having trouble with. Additionally, you can find console mods which give special stats to groups of characters from different console cycles.
Overall, if you’re looking for a fun arcade racer or are just a big Sega fan, you need to get this game. Aside from a couple of control issues, its fast and varied gameplay, combined with its lively courses, and the feelings of nostalgia it creates makes it a must have for gamers of all ages. The single-player experience is extremely robust and the multiplayer is also very engaging, meaning you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
A copy of the game was provided by publisher for review and played for a total of 12 hours, with 8 being spent on single-player and 4 being spent on multiplayer. The title was played on the Xbox 360 but is also available for the PS3, Wii U, iOS, Windows, Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS.