When Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing was released back in early 2010, I loved it. Sumo Digital delivered a solid kart racer with tons of SEGA fan service and it held up reasonably against the King of Karts, Mario Kart. Perhaps the best part of all with that it was the first quality non-Nintendo kart racer since Crash Team Racing for the original PlayStation. The focus on drifting around corners via the press of a button and building boost to power past opponents was a great idea, and both solo and multiplayer action were loads of fun. Two and a half years later, the game’s sequel – Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed – has arrived just in time for the holiday season and is as easy to recommend as the first game.
The sequel builds on the original game by adding new tracks, new characters, new power-ups, and three different vehicle types that players will wind up switching between during races. The new tracks are based upon popular SEGA franchises, including Golden Axe, Sonic the Hedgehog, Panzer Dragoon, Burning Rangers, Super Monkey Ball, Skies of Arcadia, After Burner (which is my favorite track), and more. More than 25 characters and their associated vehicles can be chosen, and each can be leveled up with experience from races to unlock various mods which can affect performance in areas like boost, drift, and handling. Certain race types may be easier to clear using these unlocked additions, so they add an element of strategy to the game. There is a nice mix of power-ups to collect during races, including Hot Rod, a new pickup that acts as a limited speed boost that must be detonated before it overheats. The short-range detonation can take out surrounding racers as well.
The track design is quite good, but the transforming bits are what really stand out. Karts, boats, and aircraft are the three vehicle types that most of the tracks will switch between during the course of a race, and each handles much differently than the others. Karts handle as you’d expect cars to steer, and the drift focus from the first game remains here. Boats don’t drift quite the same as karts do, and the addition of waves for certain tracks add to the challenge of handling. Aircraft have more freedom of movement and are faster than the other vehicles, plus savvy players can gain boosts by barrel rolling away from obstacles at the last second, almost similar to the near misses from Criterion’s Burnout games. Some tracks have branching paths that use different vehicle types, and with certain vehicles being faster or more maneuverable than others, some experience is required to learn the ins and outs of each track in order to earn the best results. Vehicle transformations during racers keep players on their toes and really keep the game from getting stale. These are a great addition to the standard kart racer formula.
As with Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, Transformed offers plenty of gameplay modes for both solo players and for those looking for human competition. World Tour mode is the main draw of the single-player game, as it pits players to complete different challenges across all of the game’s tracks. Some events are standard races, while others challenge players to drift through certain zones or activate boosts to stop the clock. Head-to-head Versus events pit players against a series of opponents, and they are not as easy as they sound. Traffic Attack events challenge players to clear checkpoints against the clock while colliding with as few vehicles as possible. These events and more each have up to three stars that can be earned, one for each level of difficulty. Easy difficulty is a breeze and good practice for the tougher difficulties. Medium is considerably harder than Easy, and perhaps too much so at times. Hard is just as it sounds, and you can expect more than a few instances of rage-driven tantrums.
Earning these stars is important, as some events and other unlockables are stuck behind locks than can only be released when you’ve accumulated enough stars. This includes the game’s final race, which cannot be unlocked even if you beat all of the other events on Easy. Aside from World Tour, Grand Prix and Time Attack modes are also available for solo players. Multiplayer action is available either locally or online, and there are some great players out there already.
Visually, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is very good. The frame rate is a steady 30 frames per second, and each track has a lot of detail and activity going on in the background. The After Burner track, for example, takes players across a crowded canal full of naval vessels doing battle and also skims the decks of a couple of aircraft carriers, each hustling and bustling with activity. Sumo Digital really did a nice job bringing each SEGA game to life on each track, and it’s easy to lose track of your racer while surveying everything that’s going on around you. As for the music, it’s fantastic. Richard Jacques, no stranger to SEGA fans, delivers new arrangements of classic SEGA music. These are all new arrangements, so if you’re expecting to race to Super Sonic Racing or Can You Feel The Sunshine, as you could in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, forget it. The new songs are good enough on their own to make up for the absence of the original pieces.
I enjoyed Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed very much, despite not being the biggest fan of the uneven difficulty spikes in the World Tour mode. The vehicle transformations are the stars of the show here, along with the new tracks and games that they represent. In fact, the vehicles and tracks stood out more to me than the selection of characters that race in or on them, respectively. Transformed is one of the best kart racing games that I’ve played in a very long time, and it earns a strong recommendation, whether you’re a diehard SEGA fan, a parent looking for a fun game for the kids, or maybe just looking for an entertaining game to play over the holiday season.