Developer: Sumo Digital / Publisher: Sega / Played On: 3DS / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Mild Cartoon Violence]
It seems even Sonic the Hedgehog, the “fastest thing alive,” enjoys getting behind the wheel from time to time. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is Sonic and company’s second racing outing after 2010’s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. The majority of the game is similar to the first: you can play as Sonic and many other familiar Sega faces as you race around tracks based on popular Sega franchises. In short it’s another case of “whatever Mario can do, Sonic can do better” from Sega. But Mario Kart this is not.
There’s over 20 playable characters to race as, including the expected favorites like Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Dr. Eggman, as well as other popular Sega characters like AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, Joe Musashi from Shinobi, and Nights from Nights into Dreams. Also included are some less familiar characters that diehard Sega fans will enjoy seeing; my favorite is the AGES characters, which switches between a Dreamcast VMU memory card, Daytona 500 car, and a jet from After Burner. Also of note is the inclusion of Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph as a playable character, and Sega sponsored NASCAR driver Danica Patrick.
Each character has different attributes that affect how they drive, including acceleration, handling, and speed. Completing a race earns your driver experience points and levels that unlock mods to the car. Only a handful of mods are available, but they can alter your driver’s specs by enhancing acceleration while decreasing boost speed, so it’s a give and take. It’s easy to find a character that suits your play style, and the number of familiar and classic faces is sure to please.
Much like the game before it you race across stages that are inspired from past Sega titles. Standouts are the Samba de Amigo stage with a cornucopia of colors and wacky cacti on the track, as well as the After Burner level that has you racing on and around an aircraft carrier. Stages are full of references to the games they come from, so if you’ve played, say, House of the Dead, you can appreciate the Hydra monster snapping at you in the corner of the sewers. The variety in levels was well done; instead of including a group of levels from the more popular Sonic franchise Sega has included stages from games that should appeal to nostalgic gamers.
Everything is going good so far: a nice selection of racers and decent levels to race. Unfortunately those are the highlights of the game, as the racing itself is a bit of a letdown. The gimmick that sets this game apart from its predecessor is in the title: transforming. Races often shift from driving on land to flying in a plane and/or driving a speedboat on water. Your vehicle automatically transforms to adapt to these changes. Aside from missing an obvious tie-in with the Transformers series, the game doesn’t handle these transformation sequences well.
When you enter a new terrain zone your car/jet/boat slows down immensely, creating an unnecessary halt of the action during the race. During these shift times you cannot steer, thus if you’re careening towards a wall you’re going to smash head on in a matter of seconds. Shifting from boat to car is particularly bad for this, many times I would lose almost all momentum during these instances, not to mention fall back in the standings. Smoother transformations would have made the game feel more coherent: I found myself wanting a traditional kart racer instead of one that forces me to slow down mid-race. Also worth nothing, the hit detection is off, especially while flying. I flew through rock formations without slowing down at all, only to barely scrape the edge of a blowfish and have my car spin out.
As you build up speed and boost off ramps, you inevitably get some hang time. In the air you can perform tricks like flips and rolls, which if landed, give you a boost. It’s fun to see Alex Kid flipping around in his buggy and getting extra speed, but every now and then these tricks don’t work. On several occasions I would try to do a trick only to have my driver just sit there in midair. If you execute a trick while transforming from one mode of transportation to another you also get a boost, but more often than not you’ll fail to land the trick. I played several races where I started to transform from car to boat, hit the trick button, and before I even landed the announcer said I failed the trick!
I didn’t even land it yet!
I like the idea of being rewarded for the extra risk while airborne, but the inconsistencies in the system left me with a bitter taste. Like Mario Kart before it, drifting is the best way to get around corners. Holding your drift for an extended period of time will grant you a short speed boost. You’ll need to master these bonus boosts in order to complete the game’s other modes.
Grand Prix has you facing off against seven other racers in a four-track tournament. Career tasks you with completing various goals on a stage: coming in first, winning under a certain time, or completing a race with only rockets as the pickup item. Boost challenges present you with a clock that counts down every second you aren’t boosting, so you’ll need to drift and trick boost in order to come up victorious. Playing through the various single player modes unlocks extra characters to play, as well as stickers of your accomplishments to adorn to your StreetPass ID which players will see should you connect via StreetPass.
An online mode is present as well, and it was simple to hop online, setup a game, and race with players from around the globe. The selection of modes is fine, but it won’t be long before you complete every Career challenge and win every Gran Prix trophy. After that you’re left with an online mode, and given the gameplay problems, I found myself wishing I were playing Mario Kart 7 instead. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed isn’t a bad game; it’s just not as good a game as Mario’s.
Transformed on the 3DS visually is a mixed bag. Stages are detailed and brightly colored, but the racers themselves aren’t as smooth. While not a huge issue, I found the spin out animation to be laughable. Rather than flip over or fly in the air when hit by an object, your car just spins around in a jittery fashion. It’s like the animation wasn’t completed. It’s particularly offensive when you perform a trick and the vehicle flips and spins much more smoothly. Pink boost pads are placed throughout the course but they’re hard to see from a distance because they blend in with the track itself. I’m sure the game took some hits and had to remove some flourishes in the transition from console to 3DS, but some of these sacrifices are detrimental to gameplay.
Even with its handful of faults I had some fun with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The roster of Sega stars and tracks is commendable. When the game hits its strides it can even be as entertaining as genre king Mario. But more often than not the game’s suite of issues holds it back from greatness. Sega aficionados will enjoy the game, as well as kart racing fanatics, but for the money and time you’re better suited sticking with the plumber.