Published on February 22nd, 2013 |
by Mitch North
Review – Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed
The unavoidable comparison for any cart racing game tends to come by way of Nintendo’s perennial Mario Kart series. Despite the rivalry between Mario and Sonic having calmed down in the past few years, much like two embittered old men finally settling their differences due to age, Sumo Digital’s second offering in the cart-racer series (after 2010’s, Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing) sees them once again test their luck at breaking into a cart-racing market which Nintendo’s hands appear still firmly gripped around.
With Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed, Sumo Digital has opted to focus on a more traditional cart-racing game rather than opt for the party-racer approach. The game takes aim at perfecting its racing-core first and foremost and in many ways builds upon their previous established efforts within the genre. Though the game will be likened to Mario Kart simply by genre alone, the truth is that it has more in common with Rare’s relatively under-appreciated Diddy Kong Racing than any of Nintendo’s flagship offerings.
Some oddities aside, the roster selection this time around is even more impressive and a clear focus has been on going back all the way throughout Sega’s history. Though a lack of Ryu this time around will disappoint Shenmue fans, the game features a seasoned cast including the ever-green Sonic collection of Knuckles, Tails, Amy, Shadow, Egg-man as well as the blue-hedgehog himself as well as more nostalgic, but equally charming, characters such as Alex Kidd, B.D. Joe (Crazy Taxi), Ulala (Space Channel 5), Joe Musashi (Shinobu), Gilius Thunderhead (Golden Axe), Ai Ai (Super Monkey Ball) and Vyse (Skies of Arcadia) to name but a few.
The single-player portion of the game is split between World Tour, Grand Prix mode and Practice races. World Tour is the equivalent of a career-mode and features a wide variety of challenge types, including traditional three-lap races, checkpoint challenges, battle modes, traffic-attacks and time-attack modes. For each of these you have the option of choosing between bronze, silver and gold star challenges, each with increasingly difficult targets.
As you progress and earn stars, you unlock you new challenges, vehicle modifications and characters to use throughout the game. As well as this you’ll work on getting your licence from grade C all the way to grade S. In between you are able customise your licence with a host of stickers unlocked through various racing ventures. Upgrading your license fully will take hours but the sticker collection side of things remains a purely aesthetic addition.
Completionists will be able to spend time unlocking each character’s five vehicle modifications but this is not entirely necessary for success, and most will likely concentrate on upgrading only a few of their preferred characters; which, as time consuming as this is, can be done without the need for much, if any, replay.
Sumo Digital have seen fit not to try to ham-fist an actual story into the World Tour mode and though this seems to be a good-decision, it may have been an admirable approach had they tried to conjure up a story involving Sonic, Wreck-It Ralph and Danica Patrick even if it does invoke nightmarish visions of inventive Sonic fan-fiction.
Of course, the challenge of single player is sure to appeal to some but many will come to Racing Transformed for its multiplayer components. The game features typical local multiplayer, including single races, battle-mode and Grand-Prix mode, as well as online multiplayer, which follows in the same footsteps of the local multiplayer except omitting Grand Prix and instead pushing the limit up to eight human players per race.
The most obvious gameplay aspect which sets Racing Transformed apart is in its split between being able to use car, boat and plane equally, with the player having the ability to race on land via conventional auto-mobile means, soar through the azure skies (of Arcadia) or knuckle down to confront the unforgiving seas.
Though land vehicles tend to dominate the game, Racing Transformed uses its full creative advantage to allow the player to experience each vehicle type individually. For some tracks this means following the usual three lap loop with individual parts significantly designed for each type of vehicle, but for others this allows the track to transform, paving the way for dynamic and creative design built through the qualities which each type of vehicle allows for.
One standout example is the game’s Afterburner track, which shifts fluidly from aboard the top-decks of battle-engaged aircraft carriers, over the high-seas themselves and finally straight through the waters over and atop sunken vessels from the fleet. The on-going action in the background serves as a fantastic spectacle for the chaotic racing which takes place in and around it.
Both the tracks and the vehicles work well in tandem with one another in general and each lap feels frenetic in the constant shifts which occur both on track and off of it. Despite the length of each lap taking only around a minute or so, the constant transformations are enough to maintain that each track has enough interesting parts to last dozens of plays. Though Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed isn’t doing anything particularly new in this respect, the fluidity of the game stands out greatly and the creativity of each track always remains high.
Each of the game’s twenty-five plus tracks has been designed around a mix of Sega games both popular and long-lost, including Skies of Arcadia, The House of The Dead, Afterburner, Samba Di Amigo, Panzer Dragoon and, inevitably, a plethora of past Sonic titles. Though the sweet smell of nostalgia lingers, most tracks are well-crafted in their own right; rarely feeling content in relying on faint memories alone.
Whilst playing against the AI is enjoyable, to give Racing Transformed the chaotic justice is deserves demands playing with others rather than against the AI. The issue here is that unless you’re able to find a group of (up to four) local friends to play with, the online multiplayer is unable to sparkle completely. Irritatingly, the game has omitted the inclusion of AI players in addition to human ones for online multiplayer; unless you’re able to find a near-full lobby, which at the time of writing has been a hard task, it ends up being a bit of a jackpot.
When you are able to find others to play against, single online races are tremendous fun but the exclusion of a Grand Prix mode sorely sticks out. The tediousness of having to wait around in the lobby for new players to join after each race finishes is something which only grows more frustrating.
Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed has much to admire about its racing-core. When on the track, the game sits firmly atop the throne of the cart-racing genre, but elsewhere the game is slightly lacking in such splendour.
World Tour is certainly interesting and takes a good amount of hours to work through but once it’s done and dusted, and you’ve unlocked all of the characters, there’s no real reason to go through and replay it again. You can move to Grand Prix mode but after mastering the game’s tracks and unlocking all the mod availabilities for your prefered character, the challenge of the single player no longer remains.
Whereas its racing-cousin, Mario Kart, has a tendency to feel as much about luck as it does about skill, Racing Transformed firmly plants itself in the skill category demanding that a player pay close attention to mastering the ever-shifting tracks, rather than just relying on pick-ups. It has much to offer both as a racing game and as a traditional fun-filled weapon-based cart-racer and there is only admiration in the balance which Sumo Digital has managed to create. Perhaps cart-racing hasn’t been transformed entirely but Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is a step in the right direction for a genre that hasn’t threatened to offer anything new in years.
PC version tested.
Summary: Drawing on retro nostalgia, as well as recent admiration, for Sega’s own back-catalogue of all stars (and Wreck it Ralph), All-Stars finds itself as a cart-racer that is more than just a competent Mario Kart clone less concerned with humorous theatrics.