He’s been at it just as long as Mario but Sonic’s history of racing games doesn’t hold the same pedigree, which is odd given that speed is his whole bag. It began on the Game Gear with the Sonic Drift games which pitted the blue blur and pals in karts. They hopped out of the vehicles for Sonic R which stunk up the Saturn and more recently there have been the underachieving multi-format Sonic Riders games and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Can this newest effort, a follow-up to that last, finally hit the spot?
Transformation is the name of this game. The gameplay takes a leaf out of Mario Kart 7’s book and has your vehicle transforming from a car to a boat or plane when you drive through strategically-placed blue rings on the course. The difference between this game and Mario Kart 7 is that Sonic does it better. The air and water sections feel better-integrated into the course design and the different vehicles control with subtlety and precision without sacrificing the sense of speed. But it’s not just your vehicle that shape-shifts; the very course around you undergo dramatic alterations as you drive through them. Entire areas will be blocked off forcing you down new avenues that often force you to transform. The courses themselves are spectacular, dynamic and detailed, not to mention expansive; a single circuit of a typical track will take well in excess of a minute. There’s so much going on and it all looks so good that it’s a blast to just play.
There are a host of recognisable faces to choose from besides the obvious Sonic characters, such as Space Channel 5’s Ulala, Shinobi’s Joe Musashi and best of all Vyse from fantastic Dreamcast RPG Skies of Arcadia. Even Disney’s fictional arcade villain Wreck-It Ralph of the upcoming film makes an appearance and fits in well. The courses are all inspired by classic Sega games including various from Sonic titles; the Emerald Coast, the Sky Sanctuary Zone etc. Besides these there’s an aircraft-carrier themed course based on After Burner, a House of the Dead-style haunted mansion and courses based on Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, Burning Rangers, Samba de Amigo and plenty more. The courses are full of variety and alternate routes to explore and there is a vibrancy about their design that makes you want to keep racing in them, which is handy.
The game controls very well, the vehicles are weighty and the sense of speed is often intense. This is a much faster game than Mario Kart and is more exhilarating to play as a result. Like that series you can gain power-ups to give you an edge, including straight-shots of ice, control-inverting twisters, simple boosts of speed and the power-boosting hot-rod which will blow you up unless you hit the button at the right time to send shockwaves at your opponents. You can perform mid-air stunts with a flick of the right stick to give you a speed boost upon landing or dodge enemy attacks. Good players will, of course, exploit these features to gain an advantage but this is much more of a driver’s game than Mario Kart. Power-ups don’t provide the same sort of slingshot difficulty and the best players will invariably succeed which is great but it does mean the multiplayer isn’t quite as exciting as that of Mario Kart.
However as a single-player experience there’s no contest. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed boasts a robust career mode that greatly lengthens the game’s lifespan. This mode features the usual grand prix and time trial options but the main crux of it is in the world tour which gives you a succession of challenges to tackle. These include simple races, timed challenges that task you with boosting as much as possible or that test the accuracy of your drifting. You might have to face off against a series of rivals in one-on-one races, have to take down a mine-laying tank or weave in and out of traffic to reach a goal before time elapses. The variety on offer is superb and there are several difficulty levels to tackle with each. This is the mode that will keep you playing and completionists will have their work cut out to earn every possible star.
The bottom line is that this is an extremely fun game presented with a real polish and an eye for detail. Sega fans will get a nostalgic buzz from the classic characters and courses but gamers generally will appreciate the tight, rewarding gameplay and the depth of content on offer. Mario has dominated the kart racing subgenre since he invented it but now his oldest rival has come up with a title that offers a serious challenge to that supremacy. Fans should not miss it.
Design – 8
Gameplay – 8
Graphics – 8
Sound – 7
Content – 7
An excellent racing game and a fine exercise in nostalgia.