Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed: A Racing Game For The Easily Bored

By Kris . December 1, 2012 . 4:30pm

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a racing game that feels like it’s designed around entertaining the easily-bored. The game is basically three different racing games packed into one, often changing styles in the middle of the lap.


You might start a race in a car, which feels just like your average kart racer. You drift around corners, pick up items, and shoot them at the people in front of or behind you. Simple enough, right?


As you’re driving, perhaps the road might crumble beneath you dropping you into a pit of lava. No worries though, your car simply turns into a (fortunately lava-proof) boat and your main play style might change a bit from drifting around corners (although you can still drift your boat) to watching the lava for swells big enough to front-flip off of. Alternately, another path might have you flying through the air, dodging stalactites and going through boost rings. When you think you’ve figured out a method for the first two laps, something will happen in the background that completely changes the way the third lap will play.


For example, the NiGHTS into Dreams stage will divide its first two laps into flying and boating racetracks, but the third will have you teleport to an area with a boss who shoots obstacles at you. However, in the Panzer Dragoon stage, a dragon will destroy the racetrack in front of your eyes (assuming you’re in first). Between multiple paths through a track, all of the bizarre background elements that force you to play differently, and the three racing styles, each track has a ton going on.


Fortunately, all of this is unified by one primary objective: gotta go fast.


There are at least five different ways to get a boost in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. You can hit boost pads, drift for extended periods of time (longer drifts will result in more powerful boosts), pick up a boost item from an item box, do tricks in the air (as a car or a boat), or even time your acceleration with the countdown at the start of the race (each properly timed tap of R2 will increase your starting boost to another level). If you aren’t already going fast, the game’s balanced in such a way that you should be working towards the opportunity to go fast.


While drifting boosts are basically what you’d expect, the trick system in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is much more involved than you’d think.


If your car or boat finds its way into the air, the right analog stick will allow you to backflip, front-flip, or roll to the left or right. The more tricks you do the bigger your boost will be when you land. This is… good and bad. Because I like getting a bigger boost, I attempt tricks whenever I think I have enough air to do so… which often involves me crashing face-first into the ground and losing a ton of momentum. On the plus side, my constant failure starts teaching me how many tricks I can do off of each jump in a stage, which ultimately teaches me how to go fast more efficiently.


However, there’s more to tricks than just the speed boost. On occasion, you might hit a jump at an awkward angle, which would typically send you off the side of the course… but using the tricks properly can save your life. More than once, I’ve recovered from certain death by side-rolling, which also gave me a handy boost. Tricks are a simple addition, and like many things in the game, it’s yet another thing to keep your interest when you’d normally get complacent.


Bored of standard racing? Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed wants you to race in every way possible. As you play through the game’s “World Tour” mode, in addition to your standard races, the game throws nearly every sort of permutation of its mechanics you could think of at you.


Battle races have you chasing down opponents and damaging them three times either by shooting them with an item or knocking them off the track. Other levels will have you racing after and shooting tanks that try to shoot at you and block your path. Or you might be racing through traffic and trying to hit checkpoints that extend your remaining time. Or you’ll race through rings in the air! Or you’ll be tasked with drifting through an entire stage to complete it in time! Or you’ll be doing time trials against ghosts!


Add in an optional slot machine that’ll impact your performance in the next race, and World Tour mode hardly gives you a chance to get used to one kind of race. It’s just as over-caffeinated as the tracks themselves are.


Unfortunately, things are a bit less varied in terms of character selection. Because of the transforming vehicles and the fact that you can unlock various “character mods,” there’s an unfortunate feeling of samey-ness. Knuckles and Beat (from Jet Set Radio), for instance, can basically become each other if you use the right mods (which are simply unlocked by using the same character repeatedly). Add to that the fact that most characters have the same “All-Star ability” (basically an item that transforms your car into a flying one that has an AOE attack), and it’s kind of hard to shake the feeling that you’re using skins.


However, even with the characters feeling pretty samey, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed does a lot to keep your attention. While there’s a ludicrous amount of stuff going on in each stage mechanically, they’re also charmingly devoted to Sega history. As a Sega enthusiast, I couldn’t help but smile when I first saw the NiGHTS and After Burner stages, as Sumo Digital nailed the aesthetics. There are also a few unlockable characters (that I won’t spoil) that were pretty fun to see… even if they’re unlocked AFTER cameos like Wreck-it-Ralph and Danica Patrick (I’ve got to admit, I’m still a bit grumpy that the game added her and lost Shenmue’s Ryo Hazuki from the previous game).

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