Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed review for Xbox 360, PS3

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PS3, Wii U
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Sumo Digital
Medium: DVD-ROM
Players: Multi
Online: Yes
ESRB: E10+

Most modern day Kart racers, when they actually come out, tend to be hit or miss affairs. Most of the hits fall into Nintendo?s camp with their Mario Kart franchise, the literal grand-daddy of video game kart racers, while most tend to come up a little short. But one racer, Sonic and All Stars Racing, managed to catch quite a few players by surprise when it released for current consoles back in 2010. And the sequel, dubbed Transformed and releasing this week, continues the same level of quality and excellent fan service found in the original.

Like the previous game, Transformed features a number of iconic SEGA characters and race tracks built around various games from SEGA?s storied history. Of course, being a sequel, you?ll get more of both, with some excellent track design that?s varied and stays dynamic throughout, with altering tracks, destruction, and various paths that give players a lot of variety every time they step behind the wheel. I can?t overstate how great I found most of the tracks to be, and I love the call backs to not only your standard Sonic the Hedgehog games, but also stuff like Golden Axe, After Burner, Jet Set Radio AND Future, along with many more.

The character roster also greatly benefits from the excellent history that SEGA has had in the industry, featuring a number of well known, and a little less iconic but still awesome characters. From the onset you?ll get access to most of the significant Sonic crew, but also Samba de Amigo, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, and a couple of the Super Monkey Ball characters. The first run of the game also comes with a code to unlock Metal Sonic, and the start up roster features Wreck-it Ralph, from the new DreamWorks animated feature film. There are some odd ball entries here that I don?t necessarily see the point of, like NASCAR racer Danica Patrick, but for the most part, the roster featured is excellent.

Also like the original All Star Racing, players expecting difficulty on the level of the Mario Kart series are going to be surprised. All Stars Racing Transformed is downright brutal at times, featuring three difficulty levels where Medium feels about on par with Hard for most other racers. You?ll really need to learn and execute the all important drift system found in All Star Racing Transformed, which in turn allows you to generate some much needed boost to win races. I do wish there was a difficulty level between Easy and Medium, because you?ll find ratcheting down the difficult to Easy marks a pretty severe drop in challenge, so things aren?t quite as balanced between the two modes in my opinion.

One big addition featured in Transformed is that at certain sections of the track your kart will transform into either a boat or aircraft of some sort. This harkens back a bit to the excellent Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64, and adds some definite variety to the racing this time. I?m not a huge fan of both transformations though, I feel like the boat sections slow down the action quite a bit, and feel sort of sluggish compared the rest. I definitely enjoy the flight sections more, which tend to keep the same sense of speed from the ground to the air, and are just a whole lot of fun to fly through the well-themed environments.

All Stars Racing Transformed still retains other elements present in the original release, including the focus on weapon pick-ups. There are not a lot of changes there, they still work in typical Mario Kart fashion, with the ability to shoot forwards and backwards for most items. In comparison to other kart racers, I appreciate the fact that All Stars Racing Transformed does deviate a bit from the old red shell, green shell, blue shell recycled power-ups. They?ve actually introduced a handful of new attacks here, including a neat risk/reward boost power-up dubbed hot rod, which burns your kart out if used for too long, but can also double as an area attack if used properly.

The campaign portion of Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed is broken up into a series of areas, which in turn are broken up by standard races and events, like battles and drift attacks. The variety here is appreciated, and for the most part the modes used are a lot of fun. There seems to be some focus to the events, particularly the drift battles, in teaching new players the right way to approach racing, and considering the campaign is the primary way of unlocking characters and tracks, its well worth advancing through.

The multiplayer portion of the game features up to 10 players online, allowing you to race through any track whether it?s unlocked or not, but still limiting your roster to the characters available through your single player game. However, the experience system for the characters allows you to earn experience through multiplayer or single player, which in turn will unlock new mods for your racers, giving them stat specific loadouts that emphasis speed, handling and so on. Online mode features a decent variety of game types, including battle focused races, and for the most part I had little to no issue finding games and maintaining a solid connection throughout. Lag never seemed to be an issue, and overall my experience online was very smooth. There are also offline options, allowing up to four players split-screen, which can be a lot of fun if you get a group together.

If you enjoyed the original, I think you?ll find that Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed builds upon the base of that release nicely. And if you?ve not experienced this kart racer yet, Transformed is definitely the one to jump into. It?s a great call back to classic SEGA characters and franchises, and provides a heavy emphasis on fan service while maintaining a level of quality not often seen in kart racers outside of the Nintendo developed ones. It seriously feels like a love letter to long-time SEGA fans, and is certainly worth picking up.

Grade: A-