Developer: Sumo Digital
Platform: Wii U, PS3,
Xbox 360, PC, PS Vita, 3DS
Release Date: November 18, 2012
ESRB: E10+ (for Everyone 10 and Older)
A retail copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review. This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.
When it comes to Sonic the Hedgehog, speed is the name of the game, but Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed channels that speed in a new way. Having not played the original game in this new racing series some 2-3 years ago, the thought of Sonic driving a car seemed somewhat redundant and strange; after all, why drive a car when you're the fastest hedgehog alive?
Then again, it wouldn't do to have everyone be beaten by Sonic in a foot race, so evening the odds a bit by racing in cars does make a world of sense here, not to mention a more fun experience overall. That said, if you still have any reservations about the idea of Sonic and friends racing in cars and other vehicles, you can rest assured that Sumo Digital has brought the goods and delivered what is quite possibly one of the best kart racers in years.
Once again, SEGA's mascots have gathered together in a competition to see who can put the pedal to the metal and come out on top when it comes to racing. You'll be able to play as a variety of different characters, including the more famous and well-known ones like Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles; to mid-tier franchise characters like Ai-Ai from Super Monkey Ball and Ulala from Space Channel Nine; to even lesser knowns like Alex Kidd, Vyse (from Skies of Arcadia), Joe Musashi (Shinobi) and more. Of course, Ralph from the Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph also makes an appearance here, as well as real-world racing star Danica Patrick, whose odd and out-of-place inclusion is made even weirder by having her compete alongside anthropomorphic video game animals. Nonetheless, there's a solid cast of characters new and old that SEGA fans will no doubt love to see and play as.
Of course, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed's marquee feature is the addition of having your vehicle transform into both watercraft and/or aircraft during races. This effectively makes All-Stars Racing Transformed the spiritual successor that Diddy Kong Racing never had, except that you can't transform each vehicle into watercraft or aircraft mode whenever you want. Instead, each of the different characters' vehicles will transform from one to the other at select points around the map (as marked by large blue ring). For example, many races start off with everyone in their default karts, but the road may suddenly drop off into a river, at which point you'll pass through a transformation ring and your vehicle will transform into a hovercraft or speed boat. By the same token, you may reach a point where your vehicle will drive off a ramp through a transformation ring and turn into an airplane.
This sequence of changes helps keep things both fresh and entertaining during races, especially with courses where the layout dramatically changes over the course of three laps. A good example of this is the Skies of Arcadia level, in which you'll start off by racing around a floating island amidst a battle between airships, which will inadvertently destroy certain sections of the course until you're relegated to flying in an airplane by the 3rd lap. Sumo Digital was pretty clever about not forcing each of the three different vehicle types, as not every course uses all three but only the ones that can use them to good effect. The course design in general is pretty excellent, and really puts even recent Mario Kart games to the test in terms of how creative and fun they are to play through. In addition to courses from the more well-known franchises like Sonic, Super Monkey Ball, House of the Dead, and Jet Set Radio, there are also a few from more obscure games like Burning Rangers and Afterburner, which help keep things fresh.
There are two main single-player modes that you'll be playing through in the game: World Tour and Grand Prix. World Tour is much of the core experience, as it is comprised of individual races and other challenges as well as being the main way you unlock other characters. Grand Prix is your standard race tournament in which you select a cup and play through four consecutive races across four different courses (each based on different SEGA games and franchises). Leaderboards are also viewable here if you have any friends registered through Miiverse. In addition, there is a Time Attack mode and a Single Race mode should you wish to practice on a specific course. The game also has a bevy of multiplayer modes, including Race, Arena, and Lucky Dip (a mixture of the previous two). You're also given the option of setting up custom games either locally or over online, as well as playing a number of party games on the Wii U Gamepad.
What's also interesting about the game is that each character will gain experience from races and eventually level up multiple times, unlocking different ways of handling their vehicle and giving you more customization as to how you want them to perform (for example, better handling as opposed to more speed). Not only does this add a bit more depth to the game, but it also gives you more of a reason to try different characters out. And with up to 5 different mods to unlock for each racer, you'll be playing the game for a long time to come before you level up all of the characters to the max.
It must also be said that the controls in this game are excellent. Races rely heavily on drifting expertise and boosting, so there's a slight learning curve at first as you get used to the controls, but most vehicles really do feel like they have weight to them and act in a manner that would reflect their physics in the real word. The water physics are also genuinely great, especially as you're racing down a river and your speed boat or hovercraft bobs up and down and splashs around amidst the swells in the current.
Visually, the game is bright, cheerful, and looks great. Sumo Digital did a fantastic job of creating each course to resemble its respective franchises, especially so with the prehistoric track set in the Golden Axe world and the Super Monkey Ball course, the latter of which is a downhill run not unlike the actual gameplay of that particular series. Framerate is steady and doesn't stutter much if at all. The image on the Gamepad is, of course, reduced in quality from the TV output to a degree and may appear a tiny bit fuzzy at first, but overall it looks fine and it's great that they were able to get Gamepad-only functionality working with a title like this.
- The Wii U Difference -
The Wii U version of the game has two unique aspects to it, and they both involve the Gamepad, of course. If you're playing the game while viewing the action on the TV screen, the Gamepad will display a mini-map of the course with all of the racers' positions marked by their face. In addition, if you hold the Gamepad so that it's mostly parallel with the TV, you'll pull up a rearview mirror of sorts so that you can see who's immediately behind you.
Otherwise, the second usage of the pad is off-screen play (as mentioned earlier); all you have to do is swipe down on the screen to move the main action to the Gamepad, and presto - you're playing away from the TV. While not everyone is excited by off-screen play, this is a huge reason to buy the Wii U version over the others if you do appreciate being able to play games entirely on the Gamepad.
Overall, there's a lot to like about Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed; the amount of content it offers, both in single-player and multiplayer, is truly staggering. Add to that the fact that the game plays great and the courses are genuinely fun to play and well-designed, with most of them built to the strengths of each particular franchise they're based on. The diverse challenges and scalable difficulty also ensure that you'll have a lot to play through, as well as leveling up each individual character (as well as unlocking additional ones). Due to all of this, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed may just have taken the throne for best kart racer out there at the moment, and it could be a while before it's topped by something else. SEGA fan or not, this is one game you should definitely check out if you're in the market for a great kart racer with a unique twist.
+ Tons of depth and content
+ Great kart-racing action
+ Courses are well-designed and franchises are well represented
+ Controls are spot-on and feel great
- A bit of a learning curve at first when it comes to drifting
- Some characters are unevenly balanced
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed outdoes its predecessor and most other kart games due to the breadth of its content and how well its mechanic plays into the game. Don't miss it if you're looking for the next great kart racer.