Porecomesis Reviews: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

All of us have triggers in us that erase all sense of hesitation, doubt and rationality when it comes to purchasing a product. When you see that a certain something is in a movie or whatever, like a character you really like that's coming back from ages ago in a movie sequel or perhaps a premise that involves jetpacks and transforming robots and hovercars and robot dragons and every other cool sci-fi thing ever, you stop caring about everything else and nothing will stop you from getting that movie or whatever. I experienced the former with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed as it included Vyse from Skies of Arcadia: Legends, a JRPG that I can rarely if ever shut up about. This is exactly the effect that Sega was aiming for. I imagine so, anyway.

For those who are unaware, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is the sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing in which Sonic, his friends, a variety of Sega characters and a variety of non-Sega character like the PC-exclusive Spy, Heavy and Pyro from Team Fortress 2 (WHAT?!) and Wreck-It Ralph race each other in a Mario Kart "inspired" racing game, much like the first one. Strangely enough, like the word Sega in the title, some characters are conspicuously absent from the original. While I completely understand the removal of Big the Cat, what happened to Billy Hatcher and Ryo Hazuki? I can understand Hatcher's removal a bit but isn't Hazuki a bit of an old gem that would rake in buyers easily? Did they really need to make that kind of room for Pudding of all people? Who the hell is Pudding, anyway? This game is aimed at nostalgia seekers as well as children but does anyone really care about her? Well, someone probably does in the same way I care about Vyse so I'll drop it.


Unfortunately, you are unable to use Pudding or Vyse until you unlock them, much like most of the other hidden characters and several racetracks including the mirror versions. This is the part that really burns my toast; this is a primarily multiplayer game in which players can race against each other as their favourite Sega (or non-Sega) characters but half the stupid game has to be unlocked first. You do this in World Tour mode where you play through various challenges to get either one, two or three stars (and it is always stars) on either easy, medium or hard difficulty respectively so that you may unlock the next challenges to get more stars so that you may unlock characters and you rinse and repeat. It's an incredible slog, especially since there are many players like me that just want to get on to racing with Gilius or Shadow already without wasting a few hours.

Fortunately, you won't have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to play because the gameplay is refreshingly simple to the point where I could very boringly describe it right here. Right trigger to accelerate, left trigger to brake, reverse or drift, X to use items that you randomly pick up from item containers and holding Square triggers the rear view. Drifting can grant you three levels of boost depending on the drift duration but be careful not to smash your car into a wall, otherwise your carefully build boost will become just more hot air than it originally was. If you're in the air, you can perform stunts by tapping the right stick in any direction get a certain amount of boost upon landing depending on how many stunts you did in the air. If you land badly, you lose speed. The best way to win, then, is to boost as often and hard as possible through a combination of carefully well-timed stunts and drifts. Potentially, you'll be screwed over by weapons such as the homing Drones and Tornadoes, the latter of which will reverse your controls for a certain amount of time or until you hit a wall or something, but suck it up, princess.


The main gimmick that Transformed introduces that justifies it not being a DLC expansion is the ability for your vehicle to transform into a car, plane or boat when you pass it through large blue rings that are present around the track and the game does a hell of a job of making the car-boat-plane thing look and sound like a completely revolutionary idea even though Diddy Kong Racing did it first fifteen years ago. The transformation between the three modes allows for each track to have a variety of terrains to keep things interesting but that doesn't change the fact that the boat is very annoying to handle. Physics seems to be here for the party and the way turbulence actually influences how your boat works is a great pain to work around. Also, it's entirely possible to fly over the rings as a plane, maybe because the other racers seem to love playing bumper cars, and not transform when you need to so the game assumes you've gone out of the map, makes you respawn centremetres after the ring with all that hard-earned momentum lost and all of your opponents overtaking you like they were attached to a bungee cord the entire time.

Come to think of it, the levels could use a bit more touching up because it at times feels like the game punishes me for going too fast. During a Samba de Amigo stage, I transformed into a boat and did two flips into a yellow lake. I planned on going up a ramp with a boost on it that was essentially right in front of the transformation ring but, instead of going up the ramp normally, I came to a stop like I landed in a massive pothole as four racers overtook me. Another time, in a Golden Axe stage, I went right at a two-way split and went through several boost pads and sailed through the air into a snake's mouth. The stunts I pulled to get a twofold boost were wasted when I impacted the roof of the snake's mouth and came to a screeching halt. These aren't the only problems and these aren't the only problematic levels; other levels have virtually no difference between a wall and an edge that you can fall off, bottomless falls that are too easy to fall into and corners that are nearly impossible to navigate while boosting like you will be doing, given the level design.


More about World Tour mode because that needs mentioning. Admittedly, there are a surprisingly big number of challenges to be had in a game made for going along a straight line. In addition to regular races and Boost Races which eliminate pick-ups but give way more boost pads, challenges include flying a plane through rings, drifting to gain time, boosting to stall the countdown timer, beating the lap record, races where the racers have three lives and winning is determined by elimination or getting first place after three laps, manoeuvring around heavy traffic, taking down tanks with missile pickups and probably one or two other challenges that I forgot. As you can see, there's a hell of a lot of variety here and you'll easily find one mode you really like and another that you would push into the gates of Hell if it were a person. The one I'd condemn to the sixteenth circle of Hell for sheer annoyance is Traffic Attack because those other cars never stop getting in my way and making me waste precious seconds and drift boosts.

Again, the difficulty on which you do them determines how many stars you get upon succeeding. The problem here is that higher difficulties are indeed very difficult and that's even before you unlock the Superstar Showdown map screen which retroactively unlocks a FOURTH difficulty setting as well as another star to collect for each challenge which made the grinding even more tedious. Some Drift Challenge and Traffic Attack stages are virtually hopeless unless you use the best handling cars you have that won't go flying off in the distance when you go over a ramp, enemies seem to love their rubber bands and it's quite clear that even Amigo will manage to keep pace with you regardless of how fast you're going and enemies have such good accuracy with their weapons that they could probably scare Carlos Hathcock into insomnia. If you intend to do these- and you will because World Tour mode is the only way to unlock over half the characters- keep in mind that the Trial-and-Error twins will be expecting you.


However, grinding through the World Tour mode and unlocking old favourites like Vyse and unlocking completely unexpected people like Danica Patrick, I realised something weird: I was having fun. It was really weird since I knew I was playing through the Mario Kart formula given a paint-over but I was enjoying myself. Yeah, the physics are a bit screwy and the mechanics take some getting used to but, once I did get used to them, I was drifting around corners like I was kicked by Beckham and pulling off enough boosts in succession to cook three-minute noodles from the back of my car. Enemies do have uncanny accuracy with their weapons but staying out of their line of fire proved to be a very effective tactic. Homing weapons are as annoying as ever but they can be dodged with skilful movement or blocked by firing a weapon backwards. Best of all, however, is that the equivalent to Mario Kart's blue shell is not a homing You Lose button. Instead, it's a colony of giant wasps very awesomely named "Sky Tigers" that go in front of whoever's first and can be a massive pain to navigate around. However, it's not impossible to do so. The same can be said for the challenges on Expert difficulty.

I'm happy to say that Transformed is the good kind of hard (that is, when you choose it to be hard). It is possible to do the races on your first try if you're really good at this sort of thing and most of the challenges can be overcome with dedication and practice. That said, some challenges are still unfairly hard and the physics are still a wee bit wonky and these can't exactly be excused away by the game being intentionally hard. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a fun and functional game but I don't know if it's a game that we really needed. It doesn't really add anything new and it doesn't really do anything different. It's by no means a bad game but we already have a lot of party racers and, while I don't really play party racers, there isn't a lot of incentive to play this one over another. It's like choosing between two well-made red t-shirts but one has a white square on it and the other has a white circle on it. Most likely, you chose the one with the square because you'd been playing Minecraft for days on end and round objects make your eyeballs bleed which is terrible because your eyeballs are also round and so your eyeballs bleed until you're bathing in your own blood.

Here are the rest of my reviews.

Well, this was a pleasant surprise. Good thing to keep around for friends that come over. That is, if I actually had friends that came over.


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