December 13, 2012
Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is not for kids. Let's just get that small caveat out of the way right here, right now. It's hard as nails and doesn't pull its punches. It's a racing game for karting purists, with three difficulty levels to choose from (four including the even harder S-class) and a neat selection of SEGA characters and guest stars to choose from. Appealing to the misty-eyed SEGA nostalgic, Sonic & All-Stars is truly a labour of love, with the house that used to build brilliant consoles held aloft, its legacy there for all to see.
Like its predecessor, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed does a great job in drawing upon SEGA's back catalogue, featuring a plethora of fondly-remembered faces from yesteryear, but with vehicles that can change forms when passing through designated rings on the track. There is however a great deal of overlap in the character roster, with both AiAi and MeeMee from Super Monkey Ball essentially being the same, while Ulala is joined by fellow Space Channel 5 cast member, Pudding. Beat and Gum from Jet Set Radio also make it in, where just Beat would have sufficed. Pointless? Yes, and wasted slots for characters from say, Streets of Rage or perhaps one of SEGA's other numerous franchises like Toejam & Earl or even Yakuza. Ryo, Billy Hatcher and Virtua Fighter's Bryant siblings have also been cut, confusingly.
Yet for every character that's been removed, or for every head-scratching inclusion (Danica Patrick), there's a fan-pleasing addition. Vyse from Skies of Arcadia, Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe, Joe Musashi from Shinobi and Nights from NiGHTs into dreams... are some of the new additions that push the right nostalgia buttons to please the fans, but you can't help wishing that there were a few more dug up from SEGA's rich heritage.
While there's missed opportunities in the roster, the tracks are a brilliantly diverse and appealing bunch, taking in everything from the loop-the-loops and brightly-coloured casinos from Sonic the Hedgehog's past, to the skies above a busy aircraft carrier from After Burner and the winding magma filled caves of Death Adder's lair from Golden Axe. There's even a Rainbow Road style Race of AGES track and a gorgeous dreamscape inspired by NiGHTS. Each and every track consistently has the capacity to delight and entertain in equal measure, keeping races interesting, even when you're having a torrid time being bombarded by power-ups.
And chances are you will have to go through a steep learning curve to get to grips with the game. Sonic All-Stars doesn't do things by halves when you're racing in single-player. It can be a punishing racer even on the medium B-class difficulty, which means beating the A-class and unlockable nigh-on impossible S-class races will certainly take some doing. If you find yourself struggling however, there's always plenty you can do in the range of modes, whether it's setting up a custom race, engaging in one of the Grand Prix tournaments, or playing with friends in split-screen.
Transformed is laden with options and modes, from the World Tour career to the Grand Prix and swathes of online and offline multiplayer options. Battle Races are a particular favourite, recalling the elimination antics of the WipEout games, with weapons at your disposal and three lives per player. Like any karting game worth its salt, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed comes into its own when played in multiplayer, especially sat on a couch with friends. There's a good balance of weapons on offer, although like the first game, none are tied-in to or particularly related to any of the SEGA titles homaged elsewhere. A little more imagination wouldn't have gone amiss in the weapon selection then, but given that they do the job and cover all of the bases, it's hard to criticise.
In fact the only real criticism we can level at Transformed is the unforgiving difficulty curve, which will have the young 'uns crying to mommy if they're not throwing a tantrum and hurling objects at the screen. Even we were tempted to do both at times. Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed rewards patience, persistence and practice, with mastery of the powerslide key to winning races. But in light of the sheer fan service and the array of modes and content crammed into the game, you can't really fault the fundamentals that developer Sumo has brought to the table for the Sonic All-Stars sequel.
Even playing multiplayer online is a blast, with a neat matchmaking mode that's quick and easy, getting you into a race as fast as possible. There's Race, Arena and Lucky Dip lobbies to choose from when playing online or you can tailor a custom game to play online or in local split-screen, which supports up to four players, as you'd expect. Joining straight up races in the custom match menu are Battle Arenas where you can shoot each other into oblivion, or our personal favourite, the aforementioned Battle Race. There's also Capture the Chao, in which you fight over a Chao statue and race to score by capturing the little fella in the designated goal, and finally, there's the Boost Race, in which you have to boost to the finish line, obviously.
A lot of this content ties-in to the achievements, which run the gamut across practically all of the game's modes. This means that there are some multiplayer achievements to be had, but these are fairly simple and straightforward to obtain, while the majority of the single-player or local multiplayer ones can be pretty tough. Any that demand completion or wins on expert difficulty you'll likely have to fight tooth and nail to grab, whereas others seem to be more reliant on luck more than anything else. Some achievements are also slightly ambiguous, like the stunt ones, where anything less than utter perfection simply won't do. All in all, it's a mixed list, consisting of some pretty easy achievements and some rock hard ones that'll test your skills and patience.
Don't let its playful, colourful looks deceive you, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is a tough racing game, but one that rewards in spades. A fantastic piece of fan service for the SEGA faithful, there's something here for almost everyone, with added depth in the levelling up, mods and stiff challenge for race purists, as well as more accessible thrills for casual players in the lower difficulties. World Tour offers a solid career with characters to unlock, and multiplayer promises limitless gameplay with or without friends. Whether on land, sea or air, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is exceedingly demanding, but immensely gratifying. A supersonic blast.
Fantastic remixes of classic SEGA themes and lots of taunty voices, whizzes and bangs as power-ups fizz around the track. It does the job and does it well.
Wonderfully crisp vistas, exemplary vehicle and character models. Sonic & All-Stars Transformed truly looks the part. Gorgeous.
Mastering the art of holding the brake for a powerslide while maintaining your speed is the key to victory as you earn boost. As a racer, this rewards persistence and practice. In multiplayer, it's almost up there with Mario Kart.
A decent-sized World Tour accounts for the career component of the game, while the Grand Prix, single race and custom games flesh out the rest of the game. Multiplayer is every bit as fun as you'd hope.
Not a bad achievement list by any means, but one that requires a lot of time and effort. There's no grinding involved, but some achievements are somewhat too demanding, while others seem to unlock arbitrarily through dumb luck. A neat, if somewhat unremarkable list.
A brilliant sequel that compares favourably to Mario Kart in the mascot racer stakes, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed might be hard as nails, but it's a kart racer that's all kinds of fun in multiplayer and proves a rewarding romp played alone. Sharper than a cyber razor cut, to be this good takes AGES.