Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is a kart racer released in 2012, and is the sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. While the former entry was content being a simple Mario Kart clone (albeit with much better track designs), the latter is not. Playing this game and writing this article were strange and eye-opening experiences, partially because the game makes me feel like I’m betraying my Nintendo roots, playing a Sega game with a PS3 controller on a game I got on Steam…and having more fun than I’ve had in any Mario Kart game.
There is a wide array of selectable characters, many of which need to be unlocked. Several current and older Sega series are represented, like the Sonic franchise, Golden Axe, Shinobi, Nights, Alex Kidd, Skies of Arcadia, Super Monkey Ball, Samba de Amigo, Jet Set Radio, and Space Channel 5. There are also a few third-party characters (more if you’re playing the PC version), which is why they dropped “Sega” from the title of this game. These include (but are not limited to) Wreck-It Ralph, a Shogun and Willemus (representing two different games in the Total War series), and strangest of all – Danica Patrick. I normally would resent a choice like this, but the South Park episode where Cartman wanted to be a Nascar driver makes racing against her a lot of fun. Each character has five different stats: speed, acceleration, handling, boost, and all-star. These are each represented by a power level of 1-5 for each stat. You can also level your character up, although the only benefit to this is that it gives you different mods for your racer, changing your stats (the Speed mod raises your speed, as an obvious example).
The track designs are amazing, and really evoke the feeling of the games they’re based on. Like with the characters, a large variety of Sega games are represented, including After Burner, Panzer Dragoon, The House of the Dead, Burning Rangers, and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, as well as the ones mentioned in the characters segment. There are 21 tracks in total, 4 of them returning from the previous game. This is where the game really shines.
QUICK MARIO KART RANT: Mario Kart tracks are somewhat based on the Mario franchise. Yoshi Circuit is neat, it’s a Yoshi-shaped track, but aside from that it’s not really “Mario-esque”. They’ve been getting somewhat better about making more than just the Ghost House track and Bowser Castle track feel like Mario levels, but then I think about one of my favorite tracks, Waluigi’s Pinball, and despite how as awesome of a level it is, there’s nothing about it at all that screams “this is based on the Super Mario series”.
The first All-Star racing game got the track design right the first time, and this time they knocked it out of the park. The deciding factor is the “Transformed” mechanic. If you like Diddy Kong Racing because of the multiple types of selectable vehicles, you’ll probably get a kick out of this, as you turn into different forms throughout the race. For example, the After Burner track has you racing along an aircraft carrier, then flying across an ocean battle zone, with ships firing at each other and aircraft flying overhead. You make your way to another aircraft carrier, turning back into a car, and keep racing like that along the carrier. After leaving that one, you transform into a boat as you race back to the first aircraft carrier, then back into a plane halfway along the ocean…and that happens in each lap. In a lot of the races, they’re designed so that crazy things happen in the second or third lap, completely re-shaping where you can go. This is also an added incentive to be in first place, to be able to see how the tracks are being changed. In the track based on Skies of Arcadia, you’ll be driving along a bridge in the first and second lap, only to see it destroyed in the third lap, transforming you into a plane and making you go in a different direction. And for those of you who weren’t a fan of Mario Kart 7’s underwater and hang gliding segments, know that the car is the slowest vehicle of the three in Sonic Transformed, and finding hidden opportunities to change into a plane or boat can really change the outcome of a race.
The last thing I’d like to mention is about the different modes, or really one mode in particular. They give you the standard Grand Prix, Single Race, Battle games, and Time Attack modes, but there’s also a World Tour mode. World Tour is set up similar to Diddy Kong Racing in that you have to win races to get stars to unlock more races/characters/mods, but the visual set up is akin to Super Mario Galaxy 2. You go along the map and select whichever races are available, and there are also a large assortment of race types in this mode. There are normal races, but also Sprint (essentially a Time Attack race against a ghost), Boost Challenges and Drift Challenges (getting boosts/doing drifts momentarily stops the countdown timer), Ring Races (flying through a series of rings), Versus (racing one on one against a series of opponents), Boost Races (no powerups, but there are a lot more boost pads on the track), Battle Races (defeating all opponents and/or getting first place without getting killed), Traffic Attack (weaving through waves of traffic), and Pursuit (chasing after a tank to blow it up with missiles). These help to make the World Tour mode a lot more fun, and some of them change the location of the track itself. I was a little surprised doing the Ring Race on the After Burner track, as it has you flying through one of the aircraft carriers at one point, something that isn’t possible during a normal race.
Overall, this game is fantastic. Boasting a wide variety of selectable characters with modifiable vehicles, excellent track designs, and a huge amount of game types, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is recommended to all kart racing gamers, and may make you reconsider your excitement for Mario Kart 8.
DISCLAIMER: Racing games are a genre that keep getting noticeably better as technology improves. Mario Kart 8 could in fact be really awesome, and I’m not attempting to tell you not to get it. However, as someone who has been a loyal Nintendo fan since 1986 and has played every Mario Kart game in the series (as well as tons of others, like Diddy Kong Racing, Crash Team Racing, LittleBigPlanetKarting, Pac-Man Rally, Konami Krazy Racers, and Lego Racers), I’m simply asking you not to dismiss Sonic Transformed as I feel it has set the bar higher than any Mario Kart game has for a long time. Double Dash was great, but I’d argue that the series hasn’t brought much to the table since then that didn’t just feel like the same game with a cheap new gimmick attached.
DOUBLE DISCLAIMER: I’m apparently the only person in the world who thought (and still thinks) that Mario Kart 64 was an awful game.