Reviews// Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Posted 20 Nov 2012 18:54 by
By this point I think weíve all gotten over the fact that Sonic the Hedgehog is in a car. If you still have to ask why, then let me point you to the answer: Sumo Digitalís entertaining 2010 cartoon mascot racer, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing. It was nothing short of terrific, and more than a worthy alternative to Mario Kart.

Two years later, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has improved on every single aspect and introduced new dynamic elements to the mix. The result is a racing series that has elevated itself above comparison with Nintendoís classic karter. It is original, innovative and exciting enough to earn its own place alongside it.

The basics of gameplay will be familiar to those acquainted with the 2010 predecessor. You assume the role of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and an array of assorted SEGA characters, and dart about nostalgia-soaked tracks to win points and prizes. Veterans of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing will be able to leap right into the controls with no problems at all; right trigger is accelerate, left trigger is a combined brake/drift mechanic, and items can be fired off using the X button.

As before, newcomers expecting a racing experience that mimics the feel of Mario Kart will be sorely disappointed. Executing drifts is a key element to success, and the art of slinking around corners and through snake-bends will become second nature after some practice. In fact, youíll likely never want to go back to any other kart racing system again - such is the power of the OutRun-style arcade controls.

There have been a couple of changes to control in Transformed, however. Tricks are no longer set to the Drift trigger (thank God), but are now assigned to the right thumbstick. This opens up some more possibilities when performing stunts - flicking the stick left and right will allow you to barrel roll, while up and down execute backflips. Sumo also appears to have removed the brief second or two of invincibility that occurred when boosting - a useful perk in the original All-Stars Racing, but perhaps makes things are a bit more balanced now in its removal.

Gamescom 2012
Gamescom 2012
A new roster of weapons have been introduced, which all have very interesting and innovative characteristics. Wielding a baseball glove will allow you to catch any projectiles sent your way and use them against other players, while a swarm of bees can be laid out for first, second and third place racers to try and navigate past. Tornadoes can reverse a playerís left/right controls, and a Hot Rod jet pack gives you a monstrous boost - but must be deployed before it blows you up.

All of these new toys, while aesthetically underwhelming, make for a very balanced game in practice. There are certainly no Blue Shells here to worry about, and weapons have been tweaked so that targeting is as painless as possible whilst flying. Add to this a selection of statistics for each character (rating Speed, Boost, Acceleration and Handling) and unlockable mods to tweak these stats for each race, and you have a base experience that contains a fair amount of depth and balance.

In fact, if this cocktail of mechanics seems familiar to you, look no further than Activisionís criminally overlooked Ďreal-life Mario Kartí racer, Blur. Key staff from Bizarre Creations have hopped over to Sumo Digital and have provided their expertise in making Sonic & All-Stars Transformed not just a worthy sequel to its 2010 prequel, but a spiritual successor to Blur.

The big change in how you play in Transformed is in the fact that you can race on land, sea and air. Each character has an all-purpose vehicle that can - as the title suggests - transform on the fly into a car, boat or plane as you race through morphing track conditions. You may start a race on wheels and end up riding the waves mid-lap. Another track could start you in the air, plop you on the road in the second lap and bring you back into the air for the finale.

All the while, the level changes around you and provides new obstacles, paths and vehicle changes on each lap. Itís a fantastic technological feat, and works well to provide an exciting and gripping racing experience. Even on tracks that do not change, such as the Super Monkey Ball course, there will be challenges thrown up on subsequent laps that will make maintaining a lead (or reaching a target) that much more difficult.

As a result, the control experience also changes thanks to the differing nature of boating and flight. On water, it takes a little longer to get to top speed, but you can counter that by taking advantage of real-time, dynamic ripples and tidal wave effects that occur from objects falling into the scenery. These impromptu leaps offer a chance to perform a trick or two to stay ahead of the pack.

Flying is slightly more complicated, with inverted controls (which can be reversed) and a third axis to worry about in navigation, but Sumo seems to have done a good job in simplifying the process to make controlling a plane almost as easy as a boat or car. Transitioning between vehicles can really take some getting used to, especially when going in to or out of a flying zone - but there are clearly-marked boost areas, blue transform rings and other bright visual cues to put you on the right track. As with the tracks, being able to pull this off on a satisfactory level is nothing short of a technical marvel.

The tracks themselves are incredibly well designed - packed full of character, love and attention to detail in every corner. Each is pulled from a classic SEGA Mega Drive, Arcade, Saturn or Dreamcast game, and is lovingly recreated while still daring to build upon the franchises they represent. Super Monkey Ball, for example, has never included water in any of its games, but after playing Transformed fans can see what AiAiís world looks like when H20 gets involved.

Not only that, but the effort Sumo has put into these courses can really rub off on you. Most of, if not all of, these levels will evoke some kind of positive emotion. SEGA fans will naturally get a bigger kick than most from all the references and homages laid within, but even a staunch Nintendo fan will struggle to hold back a smile when faced with the overwhelming crimson horizons of Skies of Arcadiaís Rogueís Landing stage, married with some phenomenally heart-racing music to boot.

Perhaps the only drawback, amidst the visual and audio splendour, is that on some occasions, you can experience a brief drop in frame rate. Itís not enough to impact single-player or online races detrimentally, but it does speak volumes about how hard Sumo is pushing the consoles to try and seamlessly execute all of the action on screen. In split-screen multiplayer, framerate takes a noticeable hit, as expected, but itís no deal-breaker.

The level of care and attention to the tracks is most definitely Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformedís crowning achievement. There are some surprises and excitement to be had with the character roster too, but overall itís not quite as inspiring - falling somewhat short in comparison to the 2010 lineup. While itís understandably difficult to satisfy every SEGA fanís burning desire to have their favourite character included, I canít help but feel there was a missed opportunity here.

As many as seven Sonic characters feature (which is appropriate given the name of the game), but far too few franchises have been tapped here for the sake of adding an extra character from game series that are already represented. Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5, Super Monkey Ball and NiGHTS are franchises in the game with more than one character, and with limited roster space they could be seen as little more than duplicates. Seeing NASCAR racer Danica Patrick (who is little-known outside the US) and movie character Wreck-It Ralph (from a film not screening until February) in lieu of potentially more relevant, exciting characters is a pretty big miss in this regard too.

Youíll have enough time to pick a character you like and stick with them, though - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is almost stupidly deep in the amount of modes, unlockables and gameplay depth. A World Tour mode presents a formidable number of challenges that are reminiscent of OutRun 2ís Heart Attack Mode - races, drift events, traffic dodging, tank-destroying and battle races are just some of the different experiences on offer.

Thatís to say nothing of the XP system, tied to every character in the game (each racer can be levelled up six times - unlocking an aforementioned mod every time, as well as having access to unlockable secret mods) and the returning License that equates to online bragging rights. Grand Prixs and Time Attacks are also available, and your friendsí best times on all of these are listed within the menu for further brags.

Online, I have had absolutely no problems. Lag is practically non-existent post-launch, and while framerate may dip here and there, it seems that Sumo really has the networking side of things nailed down. Most importantly, All-Star moves have been included in the online racing experience, which was a feature sorely lacking in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing.

Joining races is a simple process, from your Friends List or via Matchmaking - the only downer I found being that there appears to be no way to filter down to a list of active lobbies, so you can choose which game to jump into. It seems to be tied to matchmaking or being invited to friend matches.

But these little gripes melt away the second you load up a stage and lose yourself in the colourful world of [spoiler removed], or the techno eccentricity of [spoiler removed] - especially when seeing [spoiler removed] while racing as [spoiler removed].

Thereís a lot to be excited about here, and the breathtaking presentation is just the icing on the cake. Fantastic Richard Jacques compositions which make you kill for a CD soundtrack release, and graphics that would make other competing racers blush. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is nowhere near a Mario Kart clone - itís in a class of its very own.

+ Tonnes of unlockable content and depth
+ Innovative, inspiring track design
+ Simply fantastic presentation

- Character roster is largely a missed opportunity
- Some framerate drops in places
- Perhaps the process of hopping online is too simplified

SPOnG Score: 9/10

This review was conducted using a PS3 version of the game, provided to SPOnG by the publisher.

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MartinB105 20 Nov 2012 21:24
"Some framerate drops in places"

Are you kidding me? The whole game runs at a framerate that's crap compared to something like Mario Krat Wii. There's no excuse for this on a system with the power of the PS3 (remember the original ran on the Wii, and didn't look much worse than this one).

It was a deal breaker for me.
Josh T 21 Nov 2012 05:59
@MartinB105 Are you really this stupid? Mario Kart Wii could have 60 FPS because its graphics were unbelievably cheap and terrible (bloom lighting EVERYWHERE, "compound hands", muddy textures, and the lighting hit the models in such a way that you could count every single polygon on them). The environments in this game are all rich, massive and beautifully detailed set pieces that put anything that MK Wii has to shame. You obviously has no idea how technology works because if you did then you'd realize how naive your comment is.
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Ergo 21 Nov 2012 09:58
@Josh_T Err, I think you missed his point: regardless of how "cheap" you think the game looks, 60fps is *always* better than 30fps from a gameplay pov, ergo they should have dialed back the graphics until they had 60fps locked *then* gone about adding detail until it compromised the frame rate--clearly you have no idea how gameplay works because if you did you'd realize how naive your comment is.

(And big surprise: a gamer in 2012 choosing graphic detail>gameplay...I'm terribly, terribly shocked...*rolls eyes*.)

Also, genius: you do realize that all of SEGA's arcade racers run at 60fps, right? For a reason? You do further realize, oh master of technology, that those games could have had superior detail had they dialed it back to 30fps and under? I mean you do grasp this salient *fact*, correct? I mean you being a huge expert on how rendering works....right?

Furthermore, @ the review, this game takes way, way way to much from Mario Kart, up to and including 7, to be considered its own animal. While it is fun, it is absolutely not, in any way, out from under Nintendo's sky-blackening presence, and owes pretty much all of its 'innovation' to its former console competitor--trying to wish this away, as most of the Euro sites seem to be doing in their reviews (I daresay some pride in what a UK dev has wrought may be coloring, err, colouring opinions just a hair...)
Dwayne Pipe 21 Nov 2012 10:46
Personally, I wish they'd run it at 15fps so it could look even prettier.
Dreadknux 21 Nov 2012 14:56
I do mention framerate issues. I stand by the point that it does not impede on gameplay or enjoyment of the game. The idea that this game doesn't look much better than Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing on Wii (or Mario Kart Wii) is both absurd and factually incorrect.

@Ergo - Thanks for the comments, but I assure you there's no colour in my thoughts on this game. In fact, if you want to compare any game with this, you may as well pick Diddy Kong Racing, not Mario Kart. It's a well-known fact that Mario Kart 7 was announced after work on SEGA & All-Stars Racing Transformed begun, so it's a bit disingenuous to use that as an argument. It very much is its own animal.

The comparisons with Mario Kart just don't work anymore, and the opening to my review of the preview game explains why:
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