Taking your company's mascot and putting them behind the wheel of a small car has becoming increasingly more common place in video games, so much so that Sony just release their own version of it within the last few weeks. Sega, company that has a much deeper history of characters and games than Sony, are also bringing their version of kart racing to stores this holiday season in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, the sequel to 2010s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. The new release is an ambitious project, attempting to bring together three different types of racing - land, air, and sea, into one game.
Transformed is a pretty straightforward sequel as far as kart racers go – it's the same basic idea (win the race) with more – more cars, more characters, more tracks, and more modes. The biggest departure from its predecessor (and a lot of games in the genre) is the fact that each character's vehicle changes as the race course changes paths. For example, you can start a race on the ground, but quickly be behind the wheel of a boat, before driving off of a waterfall and taking flight in an aircraft. On top of that, certain courses change during the race; what was once the street on the first lap, could have been destroyed, and replaced with a stretch of water.
Each character is well equipped to deal with the changes, since they have their own unique forms of transportation, as well as their own stats influencing their speed, acceleration, handling, and super moves. As you play with each character you unlock modifications that upgrade certain skills, which can be chosen at the beginning of each race.
In terms of racing options, Transformed includes everything you would expect. There is a World Tour mode allows players to work their way through a host of challenges (races, battles, boosting and drifting challenges, etc.), winning stars based on the difficulty of the event to further unlock more of the game. Grand Prix mode has players looking to claim the top spot in a series of four races. And, once you think you've gotten a firm hold on the game, you can take your skills online to go up against opponents from around the world.
First and foremost, the thing that Transformed does best is keeping its fans happy. The amount of characters that are crammed into the release as racers, combined with the levels that are inspired by some of Sega's longest standing franchises, makes for one of the best fan services games of the year. The team at Sumo Digital seems to have gone out of their way to squeeze both first and second-string characters, along with oft-forgotten franchises into the Transformed in one way or another. All of the expected big names are there, Sonic, AiAi, Beat, B.D. Joe, but if you look a bit closer, Ristar, Billy Hatcher, even the Sega Dreamcast controller all show up at one point or another. For a Sega fan, this is almost as good as finally seeing the localization of Segagaga ... almost.
Transformed also manages to extend that fan services over a ton of levels and gameplay arenas. The World Tour mode itself will take hours upon hours to fully complete and unlock everything, and then, after that there's still GP as well as online multiplayer. In short, Transformed goes well above and beyond the amount of content that you would likely expect to see from a $40 title.
The gameplay gimmick in Transformed is clearly that the vehicles transform, allowing the player to race on various types of courses, all in the same race. The tricky thing about switching up gameplay on the fly like that is that whomever has the controller in their hand has to immediately adapt to the new controls or else they're going to find themselves at the back of the pack. While each character has their own attributes that factor in to how they handle on the ground, in the water, and in the sky, players also need to adjust to entirely new physics – drifting a corner with your wheels firmly planted on the ground is a lot different than trying to make a hairpin turn in the water. The quick changes make for some intense gameplay, but it can be frustrating for some people who are used to straight kart racing.
One of the other things that Transformed has working against it (or for it, depending on your feelings) is that it's hard... really hard. Each mode has four different levels of difficulty, and, frankly, anything above a "B" level challenge is almost impossible. It's likely that most players will eventually hit a wall at some point in the World Tour, since you need to attain stars to unlock branching paths of the mode. The upshot of this is that most of the game is playable without being an expert, however, if you want the full experience you're going to have to dig deep, put in the hours, practice, and really perfect your technique to take home first place in the game.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed seems to have all of its bases covered for a kart racing game – solid competition, responsive controls, compelling gameplay, an abundance of characters, and lots of fan service. While the difficulty spike may be a bit too high for novice gamers, it will actually serve as inspiration for the dedicated fans to keep playing. Transformed is a great value, and will offer gamers, especially Sega fans, hours of entertainment mixed with a hearty dose of nostalgia.