Previews// Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed

Posted 30 Apr 2012 17:27 by
Besides Nintendo, only one company exists with a rich and vibrant back catalogue, the power of which can send fans quivering in delight. That company is SEGA.

For the last couple of years Sumo Digital has been trusted in delivering spinoff experiences that mash together the best of the Japanese publisherís formidable history. Its latest project, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed, looks set to dethrone Mario Kart as the king of mascot racers.

Although it is similar in appearance and concept to Nintendoís own moustache-heavy karter, this - and its 2010 predecessor, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing - is quite a different beast in terms of control and gameplay mechanics. Indeed, Sumoís own Gareth Wilson told SPOnG that it was more like ďOutRun with WeaponsĒ than Mario Kart. And itís hard to disagree.

While the original All-Stars Racing was a lot of fun, it didnít quite hit the mark when the inevitable comparison to the Nintendo favourite was made. In Transformed, Sumo has taken the core driving concept and cranked it up to eleven - car drifting is a lot tighter, and handling feels very responsive no matter who you play as. Tricks on the L1 and R1 buttons have been replaced with a barrel roll manouevre, which still results in a burst of extra speed upon landing but can double as a quick mid-air cornering function. Double-tapping the trick button whilst on ground can also result in a quick dash to the left or right.

Where the game comes into its own however is in the transformation of just about everything around you. Tracks consist of three different kinds of vehicular racing - car, hoverboat and plane. As you drive from tarmac to a water ravine, your vehicle automatically alters shape to better compete in the changing elements. Launch from a ramp on water to a mid-air section, and your hoverboat transforms dynamically into a plane.

Each vehicle has different challenges and control mechanics to overcome in order to guarantee pole position. On wheels, things are pretty familiar to anyone whoís played the original All-Stars Racing. Whilst on a boat, controls are floatier as you bound about on water, and youíll need to adapt your driving skills to compensate for any waves that head your way. Itís very focused on physics-based play. In the skies, thereís little in the way of track to worry about, but you do have to navigate through various tricks and traps, with controls that feel similar to Diddy Kong Racingís plane segments.

The karts, planes and boats themselves have had a lot of care and attention lavished upon them in terms of design, and they really reflect the character thatís sat within them. Amigo, for instance, scoots around on a Samba de Amigo-themed Train on ground, which transforms into a steamboat on water and a classic biplane in the air. Dr. Eggman has a rather menacing waterboat, and Knucklesí kart features some rather spiky attachments.

If All-Stars Racing was a great display of SEGA fanservice, youíll go absolutely gaga for the level of detail placed in Transformed. Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe and Vyse from Skies of Arcadia are included as brand new characters to the racing track, and the courses I played - Panzer Dragoonís Ruined Palace and Super Monkey Ballís Temple Tumble - were enough to make any SEGA fanaticís jaw drop.

Graphically, Transformed is gorgeous - using a future-proof engine thatís suited for next-generation platform games. And visually, it shows - Panzer Dragoonís stage is full of dragons and yondo-worms that get up close and personal as you fly inbetween them; and Super Monkey Ballís colourful and vibrant presentation is all present and correct.

Itís not just the vehicles that transform, either. The stages themselves dynamically change according to your actions on the track - or via scripted events. In Ruined Palace, you race around the first lap in car, before an imperial battle cruiser lands onto the track in lap two, forcing you to take a brand new water-based route. On lap 3, a bridge is destroyed by a yondo-worm, which kicks in your plane mode.

Not every track will use every kind of vehicle - the Super Monkey Ball track only used wheels and water-based play - but they still transform and put pressure on racers as time goes on. Totem poles rise from the ground on successive laps on Temple Tumble, and huge balls plop into the water, causing tidal waves that can be tough to overcome.

The nature of the All-Star power up has changed, too. Rather than a random power-up handed down to lagging players, All-Star moves are earned by collecting All-Star Coins on the track, or by performing tricks in the air. These build up a meter in the corner of the screen, which offers a chance to power up when filled. Sumo tells me that the All-Star move can now be used in online matches, too.

All in all, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is looking like a breathtaking, bold new direction in the genre of mascot-based racing games. While Mario Kart takes baby steps into offering customisation and different modes of transport, SEGA and Sumo are diving headfirst into change - and all signs point to a rather amazing party game.

Read our exclusive and in-depth interview with Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed design director Gareth Wilson at Sumo.

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