Gotta go fast!
I’m still not entirely certain that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a real game. I mean, I definitely have vivid memories of Sonic the Hedgehog and Danica Patrick shooting blowfish at each other as they drove around on an aircraft carrier, but that sounds more like a fever dream brought on by a three-day peyote binge than something that might, you know, actually exist.
Still, hallucination or not, Racing Transformed is handily the most fun I’ve with a kart racer since I was a kid. It’s a real testament to the core racing mechanics that even someone like me—someone with next to no nostalgia for the classic Sega titles that inspired the character roster and tracks—could get so completely and utterly sucked into this game.
In truth, the gameplay basics probably won’t shock anyone who’s played a karting game in the last decade. There are weapon pickups scattered around the tracks, you can drift around corners and perform aerial flips to earn speed boosts, and your vehicle can transform into aerial and aquatic variants at predetermined points throughout the race. The specific arrangement may be unique, but you’ve seen the component parts a dozen times before in other racing games.
Whatever Racing Transformed lacks in originality, though, it more than makes up for with some fantastic execution. The weapon pickups have a ton of strategic variety, the levels are bursting with shortcuts and alternate routes, and each one of the three vehicles modes handles different enough to make the gimmick worthwhile.
Most importantly, the gameplay fundamentals come together with a surprising amount of depth. Once you learn to seamlessly link together drifts, aerial stunts, and power-ups, Racing Transformed starts to feel like an entirely different game. There’s a wonderful fluidity to it all, and if you can master all of the abilities at your disposal, you can effectively boost your way through huge sections of a lap at breakneck speed.
And if you want to compete on the two highest difficulty levels, you’ll need to. It’s downright refreshing to play a kart racer that’s this challenging, especially one that never resorts to cheap tactics like piling on attacks from your AI opponents just to keep things difficult. There’s still a bit of the clusterf*** that inevitably invades the genre, but there’s rarely a moment where it feels like you can’t overcome a bit of misfortune with smart, skillful play.
Better yet, there’s an absurd amount of content here. There are hundreds upon hundreds of events to tackle, split between the fairly basic Time Trial and Grand Prix modes and a more involved World Tour. The latter features a staggering amount of variety, mixing standard races with challenges designed to test your boosting, drifting, and combat skills. If you’re a completionist, get ready to pour dozens (if not hundreds) of hours into nabbing every last character, unlock, and achievement.
Unfortunately, Racing Transformed is also one of the buggiest games I’ve played in a long while. At this point, it’s less a question of if the game will crash my 360 and more a question of when. It’s happened about once every two hours, and while I’ve never lost any progress as a result, it’s still fairly unforgivable that it’s happening in the first place.
And that’s far from the only problem I’ve encountered. Around 10% of the time I try to restart a race from the pause screen, the game decides, for no discernable reason, to take me to the options menu instead. Sometimes I’ll go off a jump and jam on the right stick violently, but my onscreen racer will stubbornly refuse to perform any flips or spins in response. I’m also fairly certain that on a few occasions, I dropped a blowfish mine behind me only to have it go off immediately and slow me down as though I’d attacked myself.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Racing Transformed, though, is its painfully unpredictable collision physics. Sometimes nudging another racer or wall will do little other than shift your trajectory slightly; others it’ll throw you to a jarring (and oftentimes race-ending) dead stop. It’s made all the more infuriating by how often it feels unavoidable or counterintuitive—say, when you hit an awkwardly placed invisible wall or smash into the top of a tunnel because you were going too fast.
And yet, despite this long list of annoyances, I had a hard time putting the game down long enough to actually write this review—and as soon as I’m done here, I’ll be diving back in for a few more races. That’s not exactly a frequent occurrence for me, so take it as the high praise that it is. If you’re a fan of arcade racers, Sonic, or Sega in general, then Racing Transformed is definitely worth a closer look.
SUMMARY: Is Racing Transformed perfect? Not by a long shot. But it’s every bit as engrossing and addictive as many of the Sega classics it mines for inspiration, and that’s a phenomenal accomplishment in itself.
- THE GOOD: Surprisingly solid kart racing with a near-perfect difficulty curve.
- THE BAD: Bugs, bugs, and more bugs.
- THE UGLY: Polygonal Danica Patrick. Ugh.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Vita, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.