Grand Prix or box cart racer? Find out as Chet Rovias reviews Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
2010’s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was two things: brilliant and utterly pointless. Essentially a high-definition remake of the rightly lauded Mario Kart 64, it brought nothing new to the table but was nevertheless executed with real confidence and brio. The hellish rubber-banding of the online component was never adequately rectified and the single-player side of things was far too easy, so unfortunately its shelf-life was basically non-existent. It was a very good game, but not a great one.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is superior in every department. It’s still a love letter to anyone who’s ever fallen madly in love with a Sega game, and visually speaking it’s a staggering reminder that nobody does “garish” quite like Sega. The colours are deafeningly loud (molten lava, for example, is rendered in fluorescent yellow) the game’s announcer barely stops shouting at you for long enough to draw breath, and every single track shifts, explodes or rotates more-or-less in perpetuity. In summary, it makes Super Mario Galaxy look like the Steven Soderbergh film Kafka.
The tracks alter so much because you’re rarely just racing in a car: Transformed has you piloting boats and aeroplanes as well. Sometimes the change between vehicles is purely cosmetic, such as in the Afterburner-inspired sea level - the game’s finest - which has you bouncing on and off the water (and a couple of huge airplane carriers) to spectacular effect. On other tracks, this dynamic invites you to experiment with vehicle-specific shortcuts, but the formula for success tends to be broadly simple: any opportunity you find to take to the skies, grab it with both hands. Planes are fast.
The AI is also absolutely ferocious, and Transformed is as difficult as its predecessor was easy. Once again the whole game is based around Mario Kart 64’s drift-activated boosting system, and you’d better get used to using it: your opponents sure as heck will, even on the easiest difficulty setting. You have to be careful about how you use power-ups too, and ditching a weapon because it’s useless at one specific moment tends to be less effective than waiting for a good opportunity to use it. Your assailants will take advantage of every second that you don’t have something useful in your arsenal.
You’re not restricted to traditional races either, and some of the side morsels are as gripping as the main dish. The drift challenges are a particular standout, forcing you to turn drift-time into seconds on a clock that’s stuck on perpetual countdown. However, be warned: as with everything else here, they’re quite ridiculously tough. The online side of things is decidedly threadbare but at least it works, and victory when you’re facing off against nine other players is gratifyingly hard-won. It looks like a party game, but it certifiably isn’t one.
There are unlocks galore and countless mods for all of your vehicles, along with a levelling-up system that’s designed to essentially take forever. There are a couple of dud tracks - do we really need another casino-themed level in a cart racer? – but some unadulterated classics too, inspired by properties as disparate as Panzer Dragoon, Shinobi and Skies of Arcadia. It’s unbelievably slick as well: so frantic, so busy and so seamlessly assembled that it feels like a project made by people who fully understand the hardware that they’re working with. Several developers appear to have really found their feet with the current console generation over the past twelve months; an unfortunate reminder that the rug-pulling exercise of introducing upgraded hardware isn’t going to benefit anyone for quite some time yet.
If you ever played Blur or Split/Second – the handiwork of some of Transformed’s creators – you’ll know exactly where you stand here. It may look like the waking fever-dream of a sugar-rushing infant, but it’s about as deep and hardcore as racing games get. However bustling with great games your shelves are at present, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed deserves a spot on them.
Author: Chet Roivas
Position: Guest Writer
By day, Chet also writes for the Zavvi blog. Feel free to check out his other work by [clicking here].