by Jonathan Fortin
reviewed on PC
Rebirth of the Kart Racer
Many a gamer will fondly remember the glory days of kart racers when Mario Kart 64 reigned supreme at parties. It was perfect for when you had friends over; even PC-centric gamers could appreciate the addictive, well-balanced gameplay. The game was so popular that other franchises developed karting spin-offs as well. While games such as Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing did well, the genre all but disappeared from the public eye with the next generation of consoles. Arcade racers and realistic racers became more popular instead but they rarely - if ever - captured the pure silly fun of games like Mario Kart.
Who better to bring kart racing back than the fastest video game character ever? Sonic the Hedgehog - who has had a bumpy ride himself in recent years - ends up redeeming both his own franchise and kart racing as a whole with Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed. Against all odds, it is genuinely fantastic.
Hedgehogs in disguise
A sequel to Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing, Transformed was released last November for consoles, but now comes to PC as well. It features familiar elements from classic kart racers, such as power-ups and weapons, as well as All-Star Moves that supercharge your vehicle for a limited time. However, the game brings an exciting new feature to the table: transforming vehicles. This may not seem like much at first glance, but it has a big impact on gameplay.
Depending on the terrain, vehicles adjust automatically into one of three possible forms: cars, planes, and hovercrafts. Each handles differently, and the transformations happen quickly. When flying a plane, you will have to steer vertically as well as horizontally. When shifting o hovercraft, you will have to take note of how waves in the water impact your driving. You must be ready to adjust your driving at any moment, forcing players to pay close attention to the tracks and giving the game a thrilling sense of unpredictability. The idea of hovercrafts and planes isn’t new - Diddy Kong Racing had them as well - but shifting to a different vehicle type in the middle of each track is.
It is a good thing, then, that the controls are so smooth. You always feel like you have solid control over your vehicle, even when a sudden shift disorients you or throws you off-course. The one exception is the drifting which feels a bit stiff and can get a little frustrating with use.
Transformed has more fan service than a harem anime. It contains some 30 playable characters including all the usual Sonic characters like the blue blur himself, Tails, Knuckles, and Doctor Eggman. But it doesn't end there. Characters from Super Monkey Ball, Nights into Dreams, Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, Shenmue and many other franchises pass the revue. Weirdly, there's also Danica Patrick. The PC version adds exclusive characters from Team Fortress II, Shogun: Total War, Company of Heroes, and Football Manager.
The 20 visually stunning tracks are based on classic Sega franchises and classic gaming fans will geek out from all the visual references. The track design is outstanding and offers different routes through the various maps. Some routes are more challenging to navigate than others and experimenting can mean failing miserably, or finding shortcuts that will help you win. And whichever track you race on, you are met with vibrant graphics and epic scenes made up of huge vistas and slick production values. The soundtrack is just as strong and creates a pumping good time.
Transformed's main game mode is World Tour which puts you through a branching series of challenges. Some of which are typical races, others unique events that range from drifting to fighting large tank-like bosses. There are plenty of other game types to keep you busy, too: Grand Prix lets you play through a standard set of races, while the Boost Challenge mode has you hitting every boost ramp you can to beat the clock.
Winning races earns you stars and XP, which can unlock new vehicles, as well as vehicle mods to help boost your stats between races. The higher the track's difficulty setting, the more you earn. It should be noted that the “hard” difficulty setting most definitely lives up to its name: as cutesy and colorful as the game looks, hard mode is absolutely brutal. The game's constant sense of fun makes it extremely addictive, even when it's kicking you to the curb.
A pleasing throwback
It is kind of gratifying to see a game so focused on pure, unbridled fun. Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed has no artistic or political message, and it doesn't need to tell a story. It just wants to entertain the hell out of you. And boy does it succeed. It makes me want to bring over a bunch of friends and have a competition and I haven't felt that way about a racing game since Mario Kart. Everything said and done, Transformed manages to meet, and perhaps even exceed the quality of the games that inspired it.
Extremely fun, vibrant visuals and soundtrack, oodles of fan service.
Problematic drifting mechanic.