When you think of kart racing games, you’ll most likely instantly think of Mario Kart. It’s alright, most others do as well. Last year Sega released a kart racer and although it was fun, it wasn’t anywhere near to dethroning Mario from his kart racing empire. Sega and developers Sumo Digital are back behind the wheel with Sonic & All-stars Racing Transformed (referred to as Transformed for the rest of the review) and a slew of additions and improvements. If you don’t know developers Sumo Digital all you really need to know is that many of the creators from some of the best known racers work here. Their previous bodies of work range from Blur, Project Gotham Racing, Pure, and more; so fret not, they know how to develop racing games. Does that necessarily translate into a fun karting game though? I was actually surprised with how much I was enjoying Transformed once I caught on and learned all the mechanics.
If you’re wondering why the title has Transformed in it, the answer is quite simple; during certain points of races your vehicle will transform between kart, boat, and even plane. This mechanic alone makes for some interesting course and map designs that can instantly change the flow of a race. Not only will you have to master drifting with your kart, but the driving feels very different and much looser when racing as a boat. If you’ve played Mario Kart 7 you’ll understand exactly how these transformations take place mid race.
New to Transformed are also a handful of new weapons for you to use against your rivals as you battle for first place. You’ll have many interesting weapons such as snowballs you can shoot, puffer fish to lay a trap behind you, boost power-ups, and even a baseball glove that will catch any objects thrown at you for you to use back against your rival. While there isn’t a huge assortment of power-ups, the main few do the job adequately and can keep races on the more difficult settings much more interesting.
Even if you’re a casual Sega fan, you’ll probably recognize a few of the playable characters included and unlockable in Transformed. If you’re a true Sega fan though, you’ll really see how far Sega has gone to please its fans with the inclusion of some of the characters and their corresponding levels. With almost thirty characters to play and unlock, it’s obvious that Sega has done a great deal for their fans. Some of the returning characters include Sonic with his sports car, Miles “Tails” Prower, Knuckles, Metal Sonic (with this Bonus Edition), Amigo from Samba De Amigo, Ulala from Space Channel 5, Beat from Jet Set Radio, B.D. from Crazy Taxi and more. There are some new comers to the race scene this year though, such as NiGHTS, Joe Musashi from Shinobi, Gilius Thunderhead from Thunderaxe, Vyse from Skies of Arcadia among other notable characters from Sega franchises.
On the 360 version you can even unlock your avatar to be used as well. There are even a few third party characters included; one of which seems fitting where the other seems completely out of place. First is Ralph from the new Disney movie Wreck It Ralph which makes sense, as he jumps into other video games in the movie (and characters from the sonic franchise appear in his movie as well). Oddly though, Danica Patrick of real life NASCAR fame is also an unlockable character. Each character has their own unique and transformable vehicle along with having their own home track that suits their corresponding game world. To unlock more characters aside from the initial ten selectable at the beginning you need to play and progress in the World Tour mode by earning stars.
With over twenty tracks (4 of the popular ones from Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing return), you’ll be challenged on land, water, and air; it’s a good thing your vehicle can transform to adapt to all of these situations. World Tour Mode is the main career progression where you’ll start off with single events, but eventually branch out to others that will also have you not only racing against your rivals, but also time attacking, drift challenges, traffic attack, and more. As you pass challenges you’ll earn stars based on which difficulty you pick (1 star for easy C class, 2 stars for medium B class, and 3 for hard A class). The more stars you earn the more branching paths and unlockables will open up for you. There are also other modes such as Grand Prix, Time Attack, Single Race, and more. Grand Prix will have you racing a series of four tracks in hopes to earn the victory and move onto the next cup series.
As you earn coins during your races you have the opportunity to spend them in a slot machine before a race for five coins per pull. If you’re lucky you’ll have match three icons, thus earning you a special power-up at the start of the next race. Also, as you complete races, the racer you use will also earn XP that goes towards leveling them up which eventually unlocks vehicle mods that will allow you to set your vehicle with specific stats which can be perfect for all different types of races and events. Sometimes you’ll want more handling as opposed to speed or boost, and this is where these unlocked mods come in.
With the ability to play local co-op with four players, everyone will be able to enjoy racing as their favorite Sega character against their friends. If you don’t have friends to come over and play you can also compete over Xbox LIVE with up to ten players total. The online lobbies are left to be desired and will have you waiting quite a while as players continue racing if you join late. Also a frustration is the inability to have two people playing as the same character. So if you really like your one character and someone else in the lobby chooses them before you, you’re forced to race as someone else.
While I really enjoyed the land and air racing, the boats didn’t handle well at all, even when I had Tails’ full handling mod equipped. You’ll instantly think you’re playing Wave Race or Hydro thunder, but it doesn’t control nearly as well as those games unfortunately. The problem is only with the water vehicles, as it just feels really loose.
What I initially thought was going to be Sega simply trying to borrow as much from Mario Kart what they could; I found the game was fun and simple enough to distinguish itself amongst the competition. Sure we’ve seen the transforming vehicles before, but Sega has done a great job at making these transitions feel natural and distinct from one another.
Transformed is a fan service from Sega; not only from the inclusion of many obscure Sega characters and levels but even the music that has new and remixed Sega tunes that will surely put a smile on your face once you recognize the song. The game seems very balanced, has a challenging difficulty (when on hard), has solid drifting mechanics, great race courses, and characters that everyone should recognize and enjoy. Honestly, I was much more impressed than what I was initially expecting. I may have been expecting a mediocre kart racer that would feel like many others but what I got was a solid and fun kart game with recognizable characters and fun drifting mechanics that has a lot of replayability and game modes for you to enjoy.