Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
While Sega has continually struggled to create a new identity for itself post-hardware, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed serves as an impressive refresher of the company’s legacy. Sega has long had an illustrious history in the racing genre, with classics such as Outrun, Hang-On and Daytona USA, and Transformed effortlessly carries this mantel. It’s respectful of the series’ and characters that once made Sega what it was, and hopefully, what it could be once again.
Like its arcade racing siblings, Transformed is big, bold and colorful. The bass-heavy title track establishes an infectious tone for Sumo Digital’s latest helping of fan service. Having worked on several of Sega’s franchises, it’s clear the developer understands the vibe of the arcade racer, as Transformed boasts an appropriately lavish sense of spectacle. From one lap to the next the tracks are reshaped or rerouted, supporting the game’s signature namesake.
The tracks are themed after several of Sega’s notable franchises, along with a few obscure ones, including Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg and Sonic Team’s long forgotten Saturn swan song, Burning Rangers. Some franchises adapt more readily to the game’s by land, by sea or by air mantra, with titles like Skies of Arcadia and After Burner providing logical opportunities for flying. Both tracks use flight in unique ways to recreate the drama of their source material, as the former weaves you in and out of a chaotic airship war and the latter slings you from one from aircraft carrier to the next at dizzying Mach speeds.
Of the three modes of traversal, sea racing is certainly the weakest. On water your vehicle lacks the friction of pavement, although curiously you can still drift, and it’s rarely as exciting as many of the flying sections. Turning is slow and waves generally don’t have much of an effect on your watercraft, which leaves sea racing little more than an uninteresting interlude between sky or road sections. It’s clear if there were more sea-based Sega properties (an Ecco the Dolphin stage is conspicuously missing) the on-water sections could have greatly benefit from the same drama and nostalgia as some of the flying sequences, providing a more natural extension to Transformed‘s three-tier racing.
For players looking to make the most of the game on their own, the World Tour provides a long, involving tour of pretty much everything on offer. Depending on the race class you elect, each event yields a certain number of stars which can be used to unlock subsequent events, characters and vehicle mods. The class system provides a great opportunity to tailor the game’s difficulty to your liking on the fly without locking yourself into one specific class for the long haul.
Along with all of the traditional races, Transformed‘s World Tour has a number of alternate events to break up the experience. Having honed their mini game skills on previous All-Stars titles and the Virtua Tennis franchise, Sumo Digital delivers a slew of engaging, and more importantly relevant, distractions. Ring Races teaches the tricky art of air-drifting; Traffic Attack hones your navigation of congested tracks on the clock; Pursuit brushes you up on your manual weapon aiming. Each mini game truly feels like it belongs, providing a useful break from the expected kart racing action while never feeling tacked-on or superfluous.
Outside of the World Tour, Transformed boasts many of the familiar bells and whistles of the genre. Online opponents are never more than a few key strokes away, and for the truly adventurous PC player, the full local multiplayer suite has made the transition in tact from console. So whether you’re a Big Picture convert or you’ve curiously got a plethora of USB controllers handy, Transformed is ready.
When regarded as a whole, Transformed is a huge, satisfying kart racing experience. Though it’s easy to be distracted by the normal complaints that are lobbed at games of this type, like ‘why isn’t character X, or series Y represented?’ Sumo Digital’s selection represents a wide cross-section of Sega’s history, touching base with each console generation of the company’s hardware past. And while there may be characters and locations I would have loved to see, it doesn’t make or break the experience – though I could certainly have lived without Danica Patrick.
Sumo Digital lays on the fan service thick, but they never allow the past to overshadow the work they’ve done in the present, crafting one of the finer kart racers in years – and probably the finest kart racer widely available on PC. What’s more impressive is Transformed‘s ability to replicate the spirit of Sega’s arcade racing lineage. Whether navigating the labyrinthine hallways of Curien’s Mansion or dodging the reptilian occupants of Death Adder’s Lair, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is the right kind of trip down memory lane.