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Since abandoning the console wars following the failure of the much underrated Dreamcast, Sega have since been keen to franchise out their key titles such as Sonic The Hedgehog while even squashing their rivalry with Nintendo as they cross branded for the likes of Super Smash Bros. on the Wii as well as the Mario and Sonic Olympic series. At the same time, they have been equally keen to preserve the legacy of the company through both the fantastic Mega Drive Collection and their Sega Superstars Series. Now following on from Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing, an enjoyable racing game which for some reason fell by the wayside, here developer Sumo Digital return for a second crack at crafting a Mario Kart beater only to end up creating a game reminiscent of Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64.
The original game was a fairly standard Mario Kart clone as players selected one of the many memorable faces to race through levels based on various Sega games from Sonic and House of the Dead through to more obscure classics like Panzer Dragon and Billy Hatcher. Not wanting to stray too far from this solid template, here the developers have changed things up by giving racers the ability to change–at set points on each track–their vehicle into either a plane or a boat. As with the previous game it’s a real mixed roster of characters that you can choose from, ranging from Sonic mainstays such as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Dr. Eggman, while from the Sega back catalogue we have the likes of Amigo (Samba De Amigo), BD Joe (Crazy Taxi) and Alex Kidd.
For those of you looking for the deep cuts, the game throws in the racers like Vyse (Skies of Arcadia), Ulala (Space Channel 5) and Beat (Jet Set Radio). It’s really a colourful group of characters, which players can choose from while at the same time also depending on the platform your playing on also including some more random selections such as Ralph from Wreck it Ralph who it could be argued makes more sense for his inclusion than real life racer Danica Patrick bizarrely replacing the likes of Billy Hatcher and the Bonanza Bros. from the previous game.
Each character comes with a vehicle based around their personality though compared to the previous game some of the designs seems more dull in comparison, such as Tails no longer getting to fly his bi-plane, nor does Amigo get to use his car shaped like a maraca. That being said, considering that Ulala previously looked like she was piloting a giant sperm its might have been for the best. Of course its not all bad as seeing these vehicles transform into their various forms with such natural flow during the races is such a delight to see, especially on the levels which change the vehicle being used with each lap. Thankfully, this time the vehicles are a lot more balanced with cheat vehicles such as Shadows Motorcycle (and its infinite boosts) now being removed.
As with Mario Kart, there are various collectables scattered around the track which contain weapons such as fireworks, snowballs and hurricanes which can slow down rival racers. There are also a number of boosts and blocks such as the blowfish and wasp swarms which if placed in the right place can really give you a strategic advantage. If you’re lucky, you can also pick up your characters all-star status which not only make you invincible but also provide a much needed boost of speed which really can give you the winning edge if found at the right time.
The main meat of the game is the world tour mode, which sees you racing in a variety of different modes across a variety of zones with each race won awarding you star, which can in turn be used to unlock new characters as well as allowing you to access new zones and races. The fact that its not just racing really brings something new to the genre while equally helping distance it from being a Mario Kart clone while testing your skills as a driver with challenges like the boost and ring races.
When it comes to the track design, the game really shines as each one is representative of a different Sega game with Sonic’s tracks drawing inspiration from Green Hill Zone, Casino Nights and even Robotnik’s Egg Hanger. The “Samba De Amigo” and “NiGHTS Into Dreams” levels meanwhile are based in surreal worlds were it feels that anything can happen over the course of the race. This inventive approach to capturing the spirit of the different games in these levels really adds to the game as its clear that its trying hard to not just rest on the nostalgia factor of getting to race classic Sega characters.
At the same time, these levels are packed with action happening around the track such as the navel battle happening on the “Afterburner” level or the collapsing structure of the “Burning Rangers” level where the ships computer advises you of the direction to go really add to the excitement of the race especially when your engaged in heated competition for first place. The downside to the track design is that often due to the size and the open nature of some of the tracks it can at times prove to be frustrating when you find yourself turned around trying to find your racing line.
The other main downside is with its unlock system, which has you collecting stars from races though you will inevitably hit a point where there only way to progress further is by going back and repeating races at a higher difficultly level. Seeing how some of these races are already tough on normal difficultly, things can reach controller snapping levels of frustration on hard, especially with the skill races like the drift and ring races which rely on precision to hit their tight completion times.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a great alternative to Mario Kart, providing a fun challenge for rookie and veteran racers alike even though the game could have been improved by a stronger unlock system. Still with a wide range of racers available alongside colourful and inventive track design this is an arcade / party racer well worth re-discovering.
Game description: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a 2012 kart racer where Sonic is joined by familiar faces from Sega’s history for another round of racing, only this time with a fun transformers style twist to provide a fresh challenge for the even the most seasoned racer, while a nostalgic trip for old school gamers.