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Title: Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformedimage
Developer: SUMO Digital
Release date: Out now, February 8th 2013 for 3DS, TBA 2013 for Windows PC and iOS.
Available platforms: PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation Vita, 3DS (unreleased), iOS (unreleased), Windows PC (unreleased).
Following on from 2010's moderately successful Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a fresh attempt by Sega (and SUMO Digital! to capture the karting genre for itself and appeal to fans both new and old. Does Trasnformed have what it takes to gain poll position? Or will it crash and burn? Read on to find out!
As a huge Sonic fan this game naturally caught my attention and I had to play it, I'd found it's predecessor to be a thoroughly enjoyable racer, even though it was not without it's flaws. The game is principally a kart racer through and through, featuring a large variety of modes, options and race courses to be played, from fresher ideas in the Career mode, through to genre staples like Grand Prix and of course, Battle mode. Almost every mode and event can be played in split-screen with up to four players, with race and battle modes being playable in online matchmaking, making for an excellent party game.
The characters roster is sizable and quite varied, with 24 characters from a variety of Sega's most popular and loved franchises, including Sonic, Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik, NiGHTS and even Gilius Thunderhead of Golden Axe fame. Each character has their own statistics (and a unique All-Star weapon pickup) and can gain up to 6 modifications to choose from before entering a race, these modifications affect attributes such as handling, top speed and acceleration. Learning which modification to use for which type of track and which character is best suited to certain kinds of event, as well as your own play style, is key to success in this racer as the stage designs are vast and varied and the action is intense and competitive.
There are a total of 20 tracks plus the pre-order bonus Outrun Bay track, these are broken in to 5 seperate Grand Prix events and can all be played in Mirror mode once unlocked. These tracks draw inspiration from a variety of Sega franchises and the variety is much wider this time around, the inspirations include but are not limited to Sonic, Samba de Amigo, NiGHTS, Monkey Ball, and even the outstanding Skies of Arcadia. Tracks are reasonably long and well designed, with branching pathways and shortcutSonic blazes through Dragon Canyon!s demanding skilled driving and some learning of courses in order to be very successful. With each lap the majority of tracks will transform to present new challenges, for example the Dragon Canyon (Panzer Dragoon) track features a collapse of the track into a boating section in the second lap, and near the beginning of the third lap a dragon destroys a large section of the track, transforming it into an aerial race course through the canyons and waterfalls.
These transformations are smooth and well integrated, they never distract one from racing yet they remain interesting and exciting. Every track is beautifully designed and features stunning graphics. Every course is well designed, bright, colourful and different from every other. The presentation of the game is top notch, featuring fantastic textures, character models and astonishingly beautiful water effects and environments. The animation is also impressive and subtle, it helps to bring the game to life and enhances the character of everything. Karts are also well designed, from Sonic's sport's car to Vyse's hot rod, from Amigo's steam train to Gilius transforming tortoise-lizard-eagle thing, I'm particularly fond of NiGHTS vehicle, which is NiGHTS herself transformed and piloted by a Nightopian.
The presentation really is top-notch and is bolstered by a fantastic soundtrack comprising of both original scored music and remixes of classic tunes. Every song is catchy and energetic, fitting the flow of the game-play well and suiting the level themes and designs appropriately. My favourite songs are the remixed After Burner theme and the remixes of old Sonic the Hedgehog classics, but there isn't a single song in the game that falls flat, every one is decent at worst and brilliant at best. Nostalgia runs deep with the music as well as the visual presentation, while this may be lost on younger gamers the presentation and soundtrack are of such quality that enjoyment is almost guaranteed even without nostalgia.
Transformation is done automatically requiring no player input by passing a checkpoint called a transformation gate and is animated smoothly, though branching paths may feature different vehicle options and a shortcut may transform the player into an aircraft before another path, offering a speed increaseShadow flies through Carrier Zone at top speed. and the chance to gain ground on competitors. Transformation gates also provide an opportunity to perform a quick trick or two in order to gain a sneaky boost and overtake your friends. Each mode handles differently enough to feel unique, with cars handling tightly and drifting round tight corners at high speeds with little trouble, boats responding to waves and ripples in the water, sometimes even getting enough air to perform tricks and boost away and planes allowing full movement through space, including barrel rolls and flips to avoid the environment or incoming projectiles.
The world tour mode takes the place of a story or campaign mode, and features 6 tours for players to race through, however this is not your work a day grand prix onslaught. The world tour consists or a whole variety of different events, ranging from straight up racing, to battle races, drift challenges, boost only races, piloting ring race challenges and even a pseudo-boss mode where you pursue a giant tank around the track in a bid to destroy it and claim victory! Every event can be played in splitscreen with up to 4 players and on any of the games 4 difficulties, to add even more replay value and challenge to the game. The difficulty curve is reasonable and realistic, with normal being an adaquete challenge for those experienced with kart racing, hard being challenging indeed, and expert being furious, fast paced and extremely demanding!
By completing events in world tour you gain experience for the character you use and in time unlock modifications for the character to tweak aspects of their performance, finding what you're comfortable with and what works best for the challenge is often a decisive factor. Completing events also ears you stars and coins, coins are used in slot machines for a chance to gain a bonus in the next race ranging from a free weapon at the start to enhanced boosting for the duration, these coins can be spent on any events but time trials, even online multiplayer!
Stars are used as a benchmark for unlocking content, however, such as new characters, new pathways on the world tour map and each new tour as you progress. Up to 4 stars are earned per event as you complete them on progressively higher difficulties, though Expert difficulty must be unlocked along with the final Tour. In order to full unlock anything you'll have to complete most events on at least Normal difficulty and a good few on Hard even then. Unlocking the final character will literally take you ages, as it requires 165 out of the total 232 stars to be unlocked, this both challening and brings a lot of replay value to the game as you endeavour to unlock everything you can.
I fear that I may have digressed too long on unlockables and the sheer volume of content to dig your teeth into in this game, so without further procrastination let's move on to the most important aspect of the game: gameplay!
For me, nothing is so critical to a games success as gameplay and the gameplay of Transformed does not disappoint in the slightest. As I've covered above, characters and tracks are all extremely well tuned, designed and feel balanced, there are no characters without their own special niche to fill, so I've no real need to dwell on these.
Weapons play a big part as they do in any kart racer and can make the difference between first and last place. Genre staples exist, there are free fired rockets, land mines (in the form of gigantic blowfish, which has fast become a household favourite!) along with more creative things like the ice shot which slows your opponents down and the hot rod, which provides an explosive boost that must be detonated before it blows up in your face. None of these weapons feel overpowered and homing attacks can be avoided with well timed boosts, transforms, or mid-air stunts and rolls. Nothing here is going to be causing anything like the blue-shell grief of Mario Kart.
Each character also has their own All-Star technique, which can be obtained from any position in the race besides first, these all grant maximum speed and invulnerability for a period aswell as providing a limited use of a unique attack, such as Gilius's rebounding axes or Shadow's Chaos blasts, these attacks are useful in the extreme and powerful but far from guarentee victory and feel well thought out, high speed characters such as Vyse tend towards having small area of effect All-Star attacks whereas slower characters tend to have homing attacks or more rapid fire techniques.
The gameplay is also fast and furious, requiring concentration and reflexive driving. The speed of gameplay is increased along with the difficulty, as is enemy AI performance and the accuracy of the AI's weaponry. The game moves at a belting pace and can become fiercely busy at times, with weapons flying fast and thick while you drive at fulls peed to cling onto your position. The game also flows well at a very steady 30 frames per second, while many fans would love a higher frame it's becoming uncommon at this point in the current consoles lifespan, as developers push the hardware for performance and approach the boundaries of what can be pushed through the systems, at least the frame rate remains dead on 30fps in single player and online multiplayer, no matter how busy the game gets.
I should note, however, that on busier maps the frame rate can suffer if playing in 4 player split-screen as the screen becomes hectic and the level's animation itself devours system resources, a particular culprit was the Sanctuary Falls track. These slow downs are short lived and don't really affect the gameplay too much, though they are noticeable and do detract somewhat from the experience. It will be interesting to see if these issues carry over to the upcoming PC release when running on higher end hardware. Another minor complaint is that some jumps in the game can be tricky, and landing on the very edge of a track barrier can sometimes cause a minor glitch where your character will become stuck in the track itself for a few seconds before being reset to the course. This happens rarely though, but it can cost you a race, just try not to mess up the jumps too bad and it should be fine.
Online multiplayer has been much improved over the previous game, which could suffer from nasty lag and difficulties with connecting to games and maintaining them. These issues are seemingly absent from Transformed, in my time racing online I experienced flawless performance and no connection issues, in spite of my somewhat unreliable wireless connection. The only small issue is that sometimes matches don't fill up and you may end up racing only 2 or 3 other people, though this is arguably preferable to waiting for a brief eternity for a lobby to fill up and a race to begin. Almost every mode is compatible with online multiplayer as well, including all the battle modes.
To conclude this game is a fantastic piece of entertainment and brilliant fun with friends or family alike, it offers easy to pick up game play with a good difficulty curve and plenty of challenge and replay value for those who seek it out. It's been said elsewhere but this isn't just a game trying to emulate the past glories of Sega, this game stands up their with their greatest achievements and celebrates them, this is truly a gem and one of the most enjoyable titles of the year.
With great presentation, a brilliant soundtrack and a vast and varied roster of tracks, tonnes of replay value and hints of further expansion via DLC over the coming months I don't hesitate to recommend this to any racing fan or Sega fan alike.
+ Beautiful presentation and excellent design
+ Fast, fluid and highly compelling
+ Easy to pick up, hard to master
+ Vast quantities of content and replayability
+ Absolutely nostalgiarific without relying on nostalgia
- Frame rate can suffer in split-screen when the game is at it's busiest
- Some minor glitches can occur as mentioned above
- Danica Patrick, but no Toe Jam & Earl? Really Sega?
Comes highly recommended to anyone interested in racing or Sega.
9.1 of 10
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