If there is one Mario Kart clone that has ever come remotely close to dethroning the world’s favorite plumber from the karting scene, it was Diddy Kong Racing on Nintendo 64. Released just nine months after Mario Kart 64, DKR became the ultimate pastime amongst my friends, though we’d occasionally find ourselves returning to Toad’s Turnpike for some more Mario Kart fun. Yet, DKR offered something new to the genre: the ability to drive a hovercraft over the water or pilot a plane in the air. For me, the most fun was flying the plane, and developer Rare knew this when they developed an airplane only sequel for the GameBoy Advance – except the sequel never saw the light of day. Originally titled Diddy Kong Pilot, the unreleased sequel was retooled as Banjo-Pilot, using characters exclusively from the Banjo-Kazooie series.
What struck me as odd is that the genius of including land, sea and air racing all in one game sort of faded away, that is until now. Sega and developer Sumo Digital must have been sitting down playing Diddy Kong Racing when they thought up the idea to have Sonic’s racing vehicle transform from a car to a boat to a plane all in the same race, something that hasn’t been done since 2001’s Hot Wheels Extreme Racing. Mario Kart 7 has a similar feature which adds gliding and underwater driving, but the similarities stop there.
Looking back at Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, it was a fantastic karting game that allowed me to forgive Sega for their previous racing efforts with the horrid Sonic R. They also have the hover board racing series Sonic Riders, which is pretty decent, but I always considered that series to be more of a futuristic racer along the lines of F-Zero and Wipeout. In terms of karting, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing allowed Sumo Digital to prove that the blue hedgehog could rival Mario in more than one genre, and I mean outside of the actual games where he literally competes against Mario (Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games).
This time around, Sumo has really stepped it up a notch. Just released in November at a generous MSRP of $39.99, we have Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which is a better game than its predecessor in more ways than one. Now can it finally dethrone Mario Kart? Not quite. Just as how Nintendo set the standards for platformers, they also set the standards for karting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love and appreciate other similar games in the genre.
Sonic is back and he has once again brought his Sega friends for some more racing fun. With 21 tracks, or 42 if you count the unlockable mirrored tracks, along with future DLC in the pipeline, there is plenty to do in this game. A whopping 29 racers are available, give or take a couple depending on which platform you purchased the game for and whether you received the Bonus Edition that includes a playable Metal Sonic. Sega was kind enough to provide us with a review copy.
Transformed offers a career mode in addition to online multiplayer, featuring a world tour set full of races and various missions including boss battles, drifting and boost challenges, along with a few others. For pure arcade style racing there is a Grand Prix mode, time attack and single race options, but the meat of the game’s hours of fun and replayability is definitely in the world tour.
You collect stars in each race or event challenge depending on the difficulty you choose, whether you play on easy, medium or hard. The stars allow you to unlock additional levels and characters in the game, also enabling their use in multiplayer. With the addition of sailing and flying, the races are more intense as control and handling changes along with your vehicle, making races a lot more challenging if you’re not quite used to the controls yet.
Racers can level up from experience points gained in races or challenges, giving them access to mods that enhance specific abilities such as speed, acceleration, boost and handling. For example, a level one racer might have a hard time in the final stages of the world tour mode versus a level five version of the same character. The great thing about the game is that it’s very rewarding when you complete the challenges, but it can also be quite frustrating when you’re in first place, a split-second from crossing the finish line, and a projectile from an opponent hits you causing you to lose the race. This is an issue that’s not limited to this game; it’s a frequent problem in Mario Kart as well. It’s not exactly an issue that can be fixed, so I just chalk it up as an inevitable part of the game, however it still frustrates me to no end.
The great thing about Transformed, if you’re a Sega fan, is the fan service. The remixed music from Sega’s library of past console games is wonderful to hear and I love blasting the soundtrack as I grind for first place. A few maps from its older sibling Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing also return, working quite well with the new gameplay changes. The visuals of all the maps are quite colorful and a pleasure to look at it. Sumo crammed a lot of Sega nostalgia into the visuals and the game feels very polished.
The only gameplay issues I had were on a couple of the levels where flying is involved. If you’re not careful, you can end up getting stuck on obstacles with no hope of ever catching up to first place, leading to a restart of the race.
The game can be very fun once you have mastered the controls, or think you have until you hop online and get schooled by other players who have the drifting and boost techniques down to a T. It is certainly fun flying the airplane, but it seems like there isn’t as much flying as I’d like there to be. I would have enjoyed seeing some levels that were flight only or even boat only. The boats remind me of playing Hydro Thunder on the Dreamcast, with the water moving around and high waves slowing you down.
One thing that bugs me about this game and its predecessor is that it doesn’t really utilize the Sega universe for the items that you can attack with. Items are generic things like ice attacks, missiles, and a baseball glove that acts as a shield and turns into whatever you were attacked with so you can turn around and use the attack back. I’d like to see more elements from Sega games, like having flickies to fire at other racers, shuriken attacks from Shinobi, spray paint from Jet Set Radio, badniks from Sonic, etc.
And I just have to throw this out there: Thank you Sega for not putting Kinect control in this game. That was the biggest problem with Sonic Free Riders, which had no option to use an actual controller. Racing games are much easier with a real controller. If Sega just added controller support to Sonic Free Riders, I bet more people would being willing to buy it. Remember when Factor 5 released an update that made motion control optional almost a year later for their PS3 exclusive, Lair? It made the game awesome. It’s not too late to fix Free Riders, Sega. Okay, now back to the review.
We all know Mario Kart is the real king of karting, but only on Nintendo systems. If you want a game that’s even faster and brings innovation to a genre that doesn’t evolve much, Sonic couldn’t be a better choice. Whether it’s on PS3 or Xbox 360, even on Wii-U where a Mario Kart game doesn’t exist yet, you need to pick up Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed. Sega played it smart and released it at an affordable MSRP of $39.99, and that doesn’t make it any less of a game for costing less. The characters are relevant to the Sega name, the graphics and music presentation are bright, detailed and memorable, and there is plenty of content to keep you playing again and again to unlock all of its features.
8 out of 10.
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