By: Casey Curran
Last fall, Sony released two games: a kart racer (LittleBigPlanet Karting) and a game based on giving fans of their many franchises a brawler (PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale). It’s funny then that Sega, with Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing Transformed, was able to better accomplish both of these in one. Transformed not only gives fan service that will delight every Sega enthusiast, but it also offers a racer so good that even someone that has never played a Sega game before can enjoy it.
The Transformed subtitle is not some meaningless term (looking at you, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception) as every track not only has a kart segment, but it will transform into boats and aircraft in accordance with the terrain. Of these, driving is easily the strongest. In fact, it’s probably the best controls I have seen in a kart racer. The cars had a nice speed, drifting felt natural and power ups were very easy to use but still had a layer of strategy. Boating feels very similar, though a little less tight. Fortunately, this feels due to the change of terrain rather than less polished controls.
Flying, which initially had me worried, turned out to be very strong. Like boating, it is not as tight, but once again it feels more due to the altered terrain. The one issue I had with it was that using a power up for an enemy behind you requires holding down, which also alters direction while flying. I could not help but feel that two separate buttons for using power ups ahead of you and behind you would have helped.
While not a graphical powerhouse, tracks in Transformed are all a lot of fun to look at. Each one from Jet Set Radio’s stylized streets of Shibuya to House of the Dead’s mansion manage to capture the look and feel of their series without falling victim to PlayStation All Star’s issue of the series’ not all meshing well together. Some of the better courses had so much going on that they felt like a very fun rollercoaster ride.
Music is smartly taken from various Sega franchises and, since Sega has made some of the best music in video game history, this is definitely a good thing. Sonic, Jet Set Radio and Samba de Amigo courses in particular delivered great musical scores. The voice acting will make fans very happy, as each character feels like a perfect transition. The one exception is NiGHTS, who is based on the annoying talking Journey of Dreams version, which will not please fans used to the silent character of the Saturn original.
Transformed is not only a polished kart racer brimming with fan service, but it brings many new ideas to the genre that raise the bar to a higher standard. Unlocking new characters and tracks is done with a mode consisting not only of normal races, but also many alternate modes which give a breath of fresh air. These include flying through rings, races that remove power ups in exchange for more boost pads, and putting a tank battle on tracks with many other types that made it so acquiring new content never got old.
I should also note that while the C and B rank challenges can be cleared without too much trouble, the A and S rank ones are brutally difficult but necessary to unlock everything. More than a few challenges took almost an hour to complete due to their difficulty, which is beyond what I am used to in a racing game. It never feels unfair, however, as it lacks Mario Kart’s rubber band AI and cheap power ups (with one exception — more on that later). Transformed may be tough and unforgiving, but it was almost always fair.
Tracks are also constantly changing where new obstacles can be added on the second lap with the third lap offering longer air or water portions. This variety within the tracks kept that “one lap too many” feeling I often get playing Mario Kart from happening in this game. Speaking of Mario Kart, Mario Kart 7’s hang gliding and underwater segments feel like pathetic changes compared to this game, which really takes these ideas to the next level. Combine that with more modes, a better online interface and Sega’s entry puts Nintendo’s series to shame (a statement which I’m sure gives Genesis owners goose bumps).
I have very few issues outside a few nitpicks. One tornado power up felt a little too overpowered, featuring a lock on, large stun and the ability to force the target to drive backwards until they collide into something. In a game where most of the power ups only hinder momentum rather than halt it, getting hit by one feels a little too unfair. This was not even close to as annoying as Mario Kart’s blue shell, however; it’s more like a single-targeted lightning bolt.
I was also disappointed by the instruction booklet. I normally do not care, but in a game that takes so much from Sega’s history, I could not help but want a nice, thick book that goes over every detail use. Also, Danica Patrick is a racer. It may sound petty, but lose to her and try telling me that this is not a serious problem. That points to another problem; while many Sega games are well represented, that so many franchises were cut from the last game or left out again feels a bit disappointing.
Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing Transformed was not only the best racing game of 2012, it is the new king of kart racers. It offers many new fresh ideas that create a very compelling and deep racer. At $60, this game would be a great value for any racing fan. At the $40 price tag, however, it becomes a steal and a must buy.