Also available on PS3, Wii U, and Vita
Kart racing games have invaded our home consoles since the 16-bit era, when Nintendo showed us how it should be done with Mario Kart. Each generation has seen sad attempts at copying Mario Kart’s formula, but also semi-successful games like Crash Team Racing and Sonic R (just kidding). However, not until Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed has a game come along to question whether or not Nintendo should start taking notes from a different kart racer. Could it be? Has Sega started doing again what Nintendon’t anymore? Hit that jump button and deal with my awesome throwback.
Sonic & All-Star Racing: Transformed, which will now just be called Transformed, is a huge dedication to all Sega fans from every generation. With that in mind, however, it is still very much a mixed bag of racing, challenges, and some demanding unlockables. Transformed looks like a childish game at first, and rightfully so, as the first iteration was not challenging to master, aside from its lengthy process of collecting and unlocking every character, music track, and course. The sequel has a lot of things to do and various ways to do them, so let’s begin at the starting line.
Transformed has three different modes to it: Career Mode, Match-Making, and Custom Game. The first of those, Career Mode, is where the majority of your time will be spent. Within this mode is four more modes, so already you can tell that this game is heftier than its predecessor. The meat of the game is found in World Tour, where you make your way through race after race while collecting stars to advance your career. These stars unlock more racing cups, characters, and other challenges in the game. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I haven’t even told you how the game feels yet.
Races are won in Transformed by mastering the drift. While driving, taking tight turns and holding down the break button will put you into a drift, which results in one of three leveled boosts if done correctly. These boosts can sometimes determine the outcome of your race. Boosts are relatively easy to pull off, and once you get the hang of them you will be speeding past opponents in no time. Otherwise, the controls are rather simplistic with your rearview and firing button being the only other ones you need to worry about. I can’t forget to mention the trick moves though. These are mapped to the right analog stick and are another way to obtain a boost following any jumps on the track. Mastering the simple button layout aids any gamer to soon learn the depth and precision to win some of the more challenging races, especially those found in the Expert Mode for those seeking the S-Ranks.
So we know the controls, and we know the modes, but why is this game so special with its ca-razy transforming abilities? Well, this is far more than the so-called “varying play style” of Mario Kart 7 with air, sea, and road races. Driving in car mode feels the fastest with the scenery zipping past you. The boat races can most closely be compared to the feel of Hydro Thunder as you have a little give while speeding through water. The boat portions are where the “handling” comes in most noticeably with each racer’s stats though. If your handling is top notch, then you will sometimes accidentally make 90-degree turns until you get a feel for the boating portions. Still, this comes in handy when attempting drift boosts.
The flying mode gives you most freedom and room for error while racing. Flying in Transformed feels the slowest out of the three vehicle modes, but you’ll soon learn how to cover the most ground when attempting the risky turn-boosts. The biggest challenge when transforming into your flying vehicle is remembering that the controls invert in a split second. Then again, this is coming from someone who never uses inverted controls in any first-person-shooter, so I may be on my own with this difficulty. Overall though, the different vehicle transformations do add a lot to the game, especially as the racetracks themselves also transforms as the laps progress.
The racetracks in the game are among some of most scenic and beautiful I have seen in a racing game that wasn’t mimicking real-life roads or cities. Whether you are flying through the canyons of the Panzer Dragoon universe, speeding through the streets of Jet Set Radio, or cruising past battleships from After Burner, everything looks stunning. The tracks are also some of the most unique ideas portrayed in a racer. Take Rogue’s Landing from Skies of Arcadia for example. This race begins on bridges and dirt roads in a village while overhead you see massive flying pirate ships closing in for an attack. While speeding through the villages you also make your way through rivers before eventually flying past said ships. On the second lap, the bridges and roads begin to take damage as the ships begin attacking. The third lap of the race is completely in the air as the entire village has been destroyed, and you are now flying past the pirate ships while avoiding air mines. If you are in first place for the majority of the race you will witness the battle as it happens, otherwise you simply follow your opponents through the remains.
Tracks like Rogue’s Landing exemplify the fact that literally no lap in one race is the same as the last. Another unique track is the one from After Burner, which takes place on and off battleships at sea. As a car, you speed across two separate carriers at the beginning and midpoint of each lap, while in between you either zip across the ocean or fly across depending on which transformation ring you pass through. Considering how little of it takes place on a solid surface, the After Burner level surprised me the most.
My only complaint with the level selection is that there was an unusually large amount from Sonic games, and somehow also Billy Hatcher (a series with only one game!). Also, it was odd that most of the Sonic levels were simply neon or space-age themed. One level I could have done without was the one inspired by Transformed itself: Race of Ages. This could be comparable to Rainbow Road in any Mario Kart game as you can fall off the level at any second and completely lose the race just through a minor slip. I’ve never yelled at my TV so much as when driving the Race of Ages. On a more positive note, the Shinobi-inspired stage, Seasonal Shrine, shows how beautiful a full 3D Shinobi game could be and how badly I want one.
I should stop myself before this review turns into a description of every track, but really the game shines with its variety of locales.
World Tour mode shows you every track in the game through a nice map progression, while displaying how many stars must be earned to unlock each area and challenge. Ah, the challenges. Where do I begin with these? There are 6 different challenge modes to mainly serve as breaks from regular races. Some of these challenges, however, I could do without, as they really do slow down the pace of the game sometimes. First, the Drift Challenge: practice your drifting by guiding your way through sharp turns within a time limit. Versus Challenges are minimal, but interesting as you race up to 5 racers individually, usually before unlocking a character or driving Mod. The Boost Challenge is simply that: no weapons, no opponents, just you and the clock with nothing but boosts to get you through the checkpoints. Ring Races: in flight mode, you make your way through lit rings with the clock ticking down. Traffic Attack: swerve through cars while they try to prevent your from reaching checkpoints. Pursuit: Follow a slow-moving tank and gradually destroy its shield while avoiding its attacks. And finally Battle Race: where each racer has 3 hits before they are eliminated while also making your way through a regular race. At first, the variety is nice, but I soon began to dread Ring Races and Drift Challenges as the slightest error could cost you the race in harder difficulties and cause you to replay these challenges longer than the actual races against opponents.
There is also a Grand Prix mode, where you race through each Cup containing four tracks and eventually the mirrored versions of those tracks. Another racing game signature, Time Trial mode, allows you to race against Sumo Digital’s ghost data as well as records on Transformed’s leaderboards. Rounding out Career Mode is the Single Race mode, which is self-explanatory.
Outside of Career Mode there is local multiplayer and also online multiplayer in the Match Making mode. Two modes that only appear in the multiplayer portions are some of my favorite as they are more interactive than the races. Those modes are Capture the Chao and Battle Arena. Both of these modes take place in large areas where everyone is armed with whatever they can find, with the goal of either capturing the Chao the most times, or eliminating their opponents.
From what you have read so far, you probably think that I adore this game and have found nothing wrong with Transformed. Well, that’s not entirely true. While making my way through the World Tour and unlocking later Cups, I noticed the amount of required stars was increasing quickly and that a new mode had been unlocked: Expert Mode. With each mode of difficulty on a race, you unlock either 1, 2, or 3 stars and with Expert Mode you achieve an S-Rank for a race and unlock 4 stars. The only way to progress in World Tour adequately is to eventually venture into the most difficult mode in the game.
Expert Mode is without a doubt the most aggravating portion of this game. During races, every opponent achieves a boost-start, performs perfect drifts, and rarely falls off the track. Also, I am fairly certain that nearly every opponent’s attack auto-targets you. Supporting this theory is the fact that while driving in last place, I have been hit countless times with items that automatically shoot forward, meaning the computer has to make a conscious effort to fire weapons behind them in order to kick me while I’m down. Also, if you make it into the middle of a group of opponents then you better hope you have a Glove item, because otherwise you will get demolished. The Glove item is worth mentioning, as I don’t believe I have seen such an item in other kart racers. The Glove literally “catches” whatever is thrown at you and you then acquire that item to use as you wish. This item, and the All-Star move are the saving graces during Expert races. There will be Expert races where you literally cross the finish line next to a racer yet because their nose was further out you will lose a place. To those who complained that Sonic & Sega’s All-Star Racing was too easy, I blame you for this accursed Expert mode. It’s not challenging, it’s just unfair and aggravating.
The All-Star moves are not as impressive or varying as they were in Sonic And Sega All-Stars Racing. Each All-Star move works one of two ways while giving you a continual boost and temporary invincibility. You either have projectile weapons to fire ahead in hopes of hitting racers in front, or you can release a shockwave around yourself to damage those nearby. Some racers have nice callbacks like Ulala firing laser blasts while yelling, “Chu!” or NiGHTS actually flying as himself and performing his torpedo dash, but mostly the attacks fall into the two previously mentioned categories.
Between the amazing cameos, and varying level selection, Transformed really is Sega fan service at its finest. This game may be the closest thing to a Sega Smash Bros. that we will ever see, and I’m honestly OK with that. The game is easy enough to pick up and play on lower difficulty levels, but definitely has some challenge and depth when trying for all the characters and racing modes.One very nice thing is the fact that the entire World Tour can be played cooperatively, so if you are having incredible trouble you can always call a friend (or three even!) to jump online, or on the couch, to take out the annoying opponents while you focus on taking home the gold.
My only worry is that this game will appear to be aimed at kids and quickly lose an audience as they attempt to play through higher difficulties. The online community seems a bit dry at the moment, but I’m hoping that changes after some of us find this gift under our Christmas trees, especially now that we’ve received our special Christmas gift. Also, this may be the best Sega fan service I have ever seen in a game, as it put the biggest smile on my face for so many reasons (SPOILERS in that linked video if you haven’t unlocked everything in the game). Really though, it seems for kart racers, that to make them this good takes AGES.