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With Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, some might wonder why the fastest hedgehog alive would need a vehicle in the first place. Of course, as any game company knows, mascot racing games are a great way to please fans by bringing a roster of favorites together in one game. And with a history as extensive as Sega’s, this might not seem like an easy task, especially when it’s hard not to compare such a game to the Mario Kart series. But while it’s clear Mario easily loses to Sonic in a footrace, little did we know the blue hedgehog could pull off a kart racing game as good as this one.
Transformed plays like your typical kart racer and includes a roster of over 25 characters, largely from Sega’s lineup of games. This means you can play as Sonic’s famous furry pals, the monkeys from Monkey Ball, and even lesser-known characters like Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe and Vyse from Skies of Arcadia. You'll also see characters like Wreck-It Ralph, who blends in nicely, and real-world racer Danica Patrick, who does not. Each racer also comes with unique stats influencing speed, acceleration, boost, and handling. Using characters gains them experience points, which unlock additional modifiers that let you tweak and balance their stats, so you’ll never feel like you’re at a disadvantage picking your favorite.
True to its name, the theme of the game is transformations. Vehicles aren’t limited to just the road and can transform into boats or planes during specific points in a race. Courses themselves are also dynamic and often change their structure from lap to lap. These factors, added to its fast-paced gameplay, make for very intense races, forcing players to quickly adapt to new driving controls and physics when racing on water and in the air. Regardless of the vehicle you’re handling, controls are simple and stay responsive amid all the changes thrown at you.
Visually, the game is an impressive blend of colorful graphics and classic arcade details that will put a smile on any Sega fan’s face. For instance, players can race through haunted halls in the House of the Dead course and fly through the vibrant world of NiGHTS into Dreams. Each stage is accompanied by a remixed soundtrack, which further adds to the game’s nostalgia factor. For the most part, tracks are designed with racing in mind, making each one fun to play through and a sight to behold. However, some courses suffer from being too busy with background clutter, making it difficult to keep a handle on where you're at.
Adding to the madness on the road, the game features a decent array of weapons you can pick up and use. But unlike its cast and courses, these items are generic variations of what we’ve come to expect from most kart racers. Blowfish can be dropped as obstacles for enemies in the rear, drones can be used to home in on those in the front, and boost pads act as advertised. There’s nothing “Sega” about them, and they’re all quite forgettable. There is, however, an “All-Star” power-up that is unique to each character, and offers a boost of speed and invincibility along with flashy visuals and character-appropriate theme songs. While helpful, items aren’t overpowering and most can be avoided, making technique the focus of a race.
Transformed is a hefty game and features quite the selection of single-player modes to choose from. You can race against the computer and claim the top spot in the standard Grand Prix mode or you can deviate from the norm and play the game’s World Tour, featuring a mix of traditional races and extra challenges that truly test your driving skills. These challenges include racing through traffic, hitting every boost in order to reach the next checkpoint, or chasing down and taking out enemy racers. They add variety to the game and set World Tour apart from GP mode. Each of the game’s modes come in three different difficulty settings, and it’s evident you’ll need to memorize all the shortcuts and tight corners of a racetrack to stand a chance against the computer in the hardest setting.
The game also offers plenty of local and online multiplayer modes, which further adds to its value. Single-player modes can be played split-screen with up to three others, or you can play additional versus games such as Battle or Capture the Chao. The real fun though comes when you take the competition online and race against up to nine other players. With a connection as smooth as this one, it’s hard not to spend hours racing online and increasing your score.
Sumo Digital has done a superb job creating a kart game that works. It may suffer from a lack of originality, but the game is definitely worth your attention. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed could have been another mediocre attempt at a kart racer, but its solid controls, plethora of modes and unlockables, and iconic characters allow it to shine on its own podium.
This review was conducted on the Xbox 360.
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