Posted on December 4, 2012 AT 04:46pm
You already know Sonic is fast, his name alone tells as much. But what’s faster than Sonic? Sonic in a race car, of course! What’s even faster than Sonic in a race car? Sonic in a race car that can transform into a jet or a boat! In the newest kart racing title from Sega: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, you get to control Sonic and a large cast of Sega Classics in the race of their lives! Burn rubber on the track, hit the waves in speed boats, or even take to the skies as your vehicles transform depending on the environment. Does Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed corner like it’s on rails or does it crash and burn?
One thing that many of you may not realize is that I love arcade racers and combat racers. This, naturally, tends to mean I also love kart racers, but kart racers can be a fickle genre. Most kart racers are focused on a specific platform or characters from a specific game, which can automatically turn some gamers off depending on the characters used in the game or even set unfairly high expectations due to the nostalgia and fan base of the characters. Outside of the characters themselves, there are also the game mechanics. Once a gamer has decided they are interested in the theme or cast of characters for a particular kart racing title, they then have to actually play the game and this is an area where many kart racers end up shooting themselves in the foot. Regardless of how much a gamer loves the characters or setting of a kart racing title, if the gameplay is not up to par and the developers put more effort into licensing characters than into tightening up the control scheme, the game will be doomed to fail. So a good kart racer has to meet expectations on a number of levels.
Does Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed live up to these expectations? With a large cast of 24 characters spanning many of Sega’s hit franchises over the years, the nostalgia and fan favorite factors are fairly well covered, but will still depend highly on your personal taste as to whether this game interests you or not. On the other hand, with one title already under their belt with Sega & Sonic All-Stars Racing, and the introduction of the new transformation mechanic that gives the game its title, will the gameplay live up to gamers expectations?
Overview – Variety is the Spice of Life:
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed takes everything you love about kart racers and adds some new twists. As the name indicates a big mechanic of this game, that sets it apart from others, is the transformation aspect. During a race you have three modes that your vehicle can transform into: the first is your standard race car, the second is a boat, and the third is an aircraft. Depending on the track and the route you take through it, you may end up using any or all of these transformations. Boats tend to be the slowest, at least that is how they feel, while aircraft are the fastest and cars fall somewhere in between. This is important to know because most tracks have multiple routes and shortcuts. Some of the tracks allow you to have some control over which mode your vehicle will transform into, for example, one shortcut may let you turn into an aircraft sooner, while another may allow you to turn into a boat instead. The choice of route you take can affect your chances of winning in this way. If I know a shortcut will allow me to turn into a jet sooner, then I want to take that shortcut as it will mean I will have a few seconds advantage when transforming into the fastest mode of my vehicle.
The game has a lot of variety in terms of tracks and playable characters. Over 20 characters (usually around 24 depending on the platform and edition of the game), including Wreck It Ralph and Danica Patrick, give an impressive number of options. Each character has their own unique vehicle, and unlockable mods for each means that you can change the way the vehicles handle as well. There are around six mods available for each car. Basically, you have 24 or so characters each with six different styles of handling for their vehicle, which means a ton of options for finding the character you like and the style of play you like for them. On the Xbox 360 version which I am using for this review, you also have your Avatar as an unlockable character after you beat all five Grand Prix circuits. Other platforms may have different characters for them. Also, included with the limited or bonus edition of the game are codes to download Metal Sonic as an additional Character as well as the Outrun Bay track. Most of the characters in the game have to be unlocked and usually that means playing the World Tour mode which can be a bit tedious, to say the least, but more on that later. At the start of the game out of the box, you have access to 10 Characters which are: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, AiAi, Beat, Amy, B.D. Joe, MeeMee, Ulala, and Wreck It Ralph. As you play you will level up the character with experience points from your races and at each level up they will gain a new mod for their car.
The levels in the game are varied and you will see a few return from the previous game Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing as well. There are over 20 tracks in the game and also mirror mode tracks that sort of double that amount if you count them separately. You will find that similar to the characters in the game, the tracks come from many of Sega’s past hit franchises such as After Burner, Golden Axe, Outrun, Monkey Ball, etc. There is plenty to love here. Besides just the sheer number of tracks, there is also the fact that the tracks change as the races progress. Most races tend to start you off in car mode, but many of them have events that occur during later laps like an explosion or road collapse that changes the track and forces you to switch to aircraft or boat mode. So even within the same race you will find different experiences on each lap based on how the track changes throughout the race. Not every track has boat and aircraft sections, but the majority of them do, which means you need to get comfortable playing in these modes. There are four tracks that are taken straight from Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and these are pretty much direct ports without boat or aircraft sections. Though many of the tracks are new, you will find many similarities between them and some of the tracks from the last game. Overall by my count there are 17 new tracks (including the OutRun Bay DLC track in the bonus edition) and four returning tracks for a total of 21 tracks as well as a mirrored version of each track that can be unlocked through playing.
Career Mode – Me, Myself and Maybe You:
There is a something for everyone in this game. One thing to note up front is that pretty much every mode and event in this game supports multiplayer split screen! So no matter which mode you play in, you can just about always bring a friend along. For the offline options, you have Career mode which has multiple game types to choose from. This includes World Tour which allows you to progress through multiple events and earn stars to unlock additional characters and mods.
World Tour mode is not just a straight up Grand Prix style race (that is a different mode all together), but more of a pick your own path type mode which allows you to choose at certain points which event you want to move to next. As you beat different events you get stars based on the difficulty in which you beat it. One star for easy mode, two stars for medium and three stars for hard. Beating an event again in the same difficulty does not give you more stars. The stars are important as they are used to unlock different events as well as to unlock new characters and mods. The further you progress the more stars it takes to unlock new areas and characters. This also means that just breezing through the game on easy mode will not allow you to get all the unlocks. You will be forced to do events on medium or hard in order to get enough stars to unlock everything.
While some people may not like the fact that you have to play on harder difficulties in order to unlock all the playable characters, it does give you a sense of accomplishment when you get them all. However, it also means that the World Tour mode can feel very long and tedious at times. You may find yourself doing the same events over and over in an attempt to beat it on a harder difficulty to get the stars required for your next unlock. It really depends on how badly you want all the characters. Some will appreciate the challenge while others will give up long before they have all the characters and most likely stick to Grand Prix mode. Also, note that the golden coins you find in the races are not the same as the stars used to unlock new characters. These coins, though they have a golden star on them, are actually used between events to play the slot machine to try and get extra advantage when you start your next race. For example, you may win an extra boost at the start of a race or protection from some type of attack.
You can sometimes choose which events to compete in during the World Tour so you do not have to do them all, but at the same time, if you skip them you are also missing out on the stars they may provide. Also, of note is that this mode gives you more than just straight up races, there are events like Drift Challenge, Boost Challenge, Battle Race, Ring Race, etc. Some of these require you to eliminate other players (Battle Race) or have you in one specific type of vehicle the whole time like an aircraft (Ring Race). It does give you a bit more variety, but doesn’t quite get over the feeling that you are grinding out the races to unlock characters later on. The image below will give you an idea of what World Tour mode looks like, this is the first tour called the Sunshine Coast Tour. The locks are areas that require a certain amount of stars to pass. Also note that in the first tour, Amigo from Samba De Amigo is available as an unlockable character if you have enough stars. Once you have enough stars and have progressed to the end of the tour, you can warp to the next tour. Where there is a branch in the path, you can choose which direction to go; if there is no branch, then you must complete that event to move further in the tour.
For those who just want to get in and race in a series of races, you have Grand Prix. This is a more traditional series of races. There are five different Grand Prix Cups to compete in, but you must unlock them in order. Only the first one is available at the start. Beat it in any difficulty to unlock the next. Each cup consists of four races on different tracks. Beating all five cups will unlock a playable character. On the Xbox 360, that character is your Avatar with a special Xbox themed car. The car itself looks very similar to the old Burnout Revenge Xbox 360 car but in black. Grand Prix mode is where I figure most single player or even couch co-op players will spend a good deal of time.
Also in Career mode, you will find Time Attack. This mode will allow you to compete in a race for the fastest lap time against ghost racers. The ghosts themselves are based on the developers of the game and you will see on the track ghosts representing easy, hard, expert, etc… as well as a ghost representing your own best lap time. The ghost are simply there for you to have a goal and they do not collide or interact with you in any way. During Time Attack, you will be granted a boost as you complete each round. Knowing where to use that boost is a huge advantage so watch your ghost as you progress along your lap and look for areas where you are slowing down. Other great tools for Time Attack mode are shortcuts and tricks. Anything you can do to gain additional boost without going out of your way or lengthening your lap will help you. Time Attack is a great mode for getting very familiar with the tracks and finding the quickest routes without dealing with the distractions of other players.
The last option in Career mode is Single Race. This option is just what the name implies, you get to pick a track and race on it. Nothing crazy here, but it can be a good practice mode for a track that is giving you issues and a good step up once you have mastered it in time attack mode as you can get used to having other racers in the race as well.
Match Making – Because Pain is Better When it’s Someone Else’s:
Matchmaking is where all your online multiplayer fun happens and you can still bring your split-screen buddies with you, of course! Matchmaking has a few different modes that offer up some varied gameplay including Race, Arena, and Lucky Dip.
Race is a straight up race against online opponents. Get around the track as quick as possible while using any weapons you can pickup to slow down your competition and avoid getting hit in return. This is where I see most people spending their online multiplayer time in this game. You use the same tracks as in the Grand Prix and World Tour modes. Select your character at the beginning of each race, though you cannot choose the same character as another player and you only get 35 seconds to choose your character plus any vehicle mods. Note multiple people can play as the Avatar character (Xbox 360) as each persons avatar is unique. There is not really much of a lobby when you choose race as your mode as it will automatically throw you into a bare bones lobby with other players. Between matches, vote on which track you will race on next from three randomly selected tracks. You will get to play on tracks even if you have not unlocked them in your own World Tour or Grand Prix modes yet, and this will unlock the tracks for you when you return to your own local Grand Prix mode.
In my multiplayer matches, I did not notice any significant lag or network issues, but you will get the random times where you cross the finish line next to someone else. Even though you are sure you were in the lead, they get the win instead. Normally, I would chalk this up to network lag, but it also happens occasionally in the Single Player and Local matches which just cannot be explained. Currently, there do not seem to be many people playing online. This is most likely due to the fact that this game is targeted at a younger audience which leads me to believe that those who have purchased it so far probably have it wrapped up under the Christmas tree. I was able to get some multiplayer races going, but usually ran into the same 10-20 folks online playing. My assumption is that it will pick up after Christmas with more people online for some real competition.
Arena randomly chooses a game type from the following: Battle Arena, Battle Race, Capture the Chao, or Boost Race. The difference between the Battle Arena and the Battle Race is the type of track. The Battle Race uses the regular tracks while the arena uses a more boxed-in environment. They are basically custom arenas based on the other tracks in the game. The Capture the Chao game type is similar to capture the flag., A Chao spawns at a random spot in the arena, you have to get it, and take it to a randomly chosen scoring point on the map. This uses the same arenas that the Battle Arena game type uses. The arenas are fairly small, and usually square in shape, littered with ramps and powerups to make the gameplay more interesting. While these arena based modes serve as nice party games, I don’t see them being the main draw for those looking for competition. Battle Race is a bit more fun as the goal is to trying not only win the race, but eliminate as many opponents as possible during the race. Each racer gets three lives and any time you are hit by an enemy weapon or fall off the track, you lose a life. Lose all three lives and you are out. In this mode, the smarter players tend to hang back at the beginning until they can pick up some weapons and have easy shots at those ahead of them. Boost race is just pure racing; no powerups or weapons. The tracks have more boost pads to compensate and the goal is really to get as much boost as possible via tricks, drifting, and boost pads to beat the other players. Those looking for a more pure racing experience, without the frustration that can come from being hit with a weapon and losing 5 or 6 places right at the finish line, will love this mode.
Lucky Dip is simply a mix of Race and Arena allowing the randomly selected tracks to fall into any of the previsouly mentioned categories. For those who want a more varied grab bag of gaming modes, this may be your cup of tea.
Gameplay – It’s Sweet Like Fresh Cookies:
The gameplay in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is great. The vehicles control well and once you get used to the feel of a particular character’s vehicle and how it handles, you should have no problem drifting and flipping with the best of them. Unlike other kart racers I have played, and will not mention by name, the controls do not feel sluggish. In fact, they have done work, even since the last game, to increase the amount of control you have. While drifting you can start holding the stick in the opposite direction then release and re-press the drift button to switch your drift over to the other side without breaking your momentum or losing any of the boost you have built up. This allows you to hit S curves while maintaining your drift and continuing to build your boost up. If you like a particular character but don’t quite like how their vehicle handles, you can always level them up and choose a different mod. The mods adjust the overall performance of the vehicle, for example, a handling mod might lower your acceleration and boost while increasing your handling and speed. Since each character has six mods, you should have plenty of options to find the right balance for your liking.
You get experience for your racer no matter what mode you are playing. The areas of vehicle performance are Speed (top speed), Acceleration (how quickly you can hit your top speed from a stop), Handling (how your vehicle handles on corners), Boost (how fast and how long your boost lasts) and All-Star (how long the all-star move lasts and how much damage it does). All of these are constantly at work with the exception of All-Star, which only comes into play when you actually have the All-Star Power-Up. This Power-Up works different for each vehicle so you may want to play around and see which one works best for you. In All-Star mode, your car handles differently, drives much faster, and also gets additional weapons which can be fired for the duration of the Power-Up.
The aircraft and boat modes are both pretty well done, though the boat can feel a bit clunky at times. Also, in each mode you can do different things in order to earn boost. In car mode, just as in the previous game, you can drift to build up boost. Drift long enough without running into anything or getting shot and you can build up to level 2 and level 3 boosts, which last longer and go faster. You can also do tricks when in the air after going off a ramp. One thing that has changed from the previous game is that instead of hitting the drift button while in the air to do tricks, you now use the right analog stick to do tricks. This makes sense because you can drift while in aircraft mode and you need to have a separate button for doing tricks that is consistent between all vehicle modes. While in the air hitting left or right on the analog stick will cause you to do rolls in that direction and using up or down will cause you to do flips (front and back accordingly). Doing more tricks while in the air will get you more boost when you land, but you have to watch your timing as if you hit the ground in the middle of a trick you lose the boost and most likely you lose speed as well. When in the boat you should also pay attention as you can sometimes catch air off of waves and they may give you enough time to do tricks. Also, watch for drops, waterfalls etc. that may give you some good hang time for pulling multiple tricks.
When in aircraft mode things work a bit differently, you are already airborne so in order to gain boost, you can drift (usually looks like a steeply banked turn) or you can go for risk boosts. Risk boosts are when you do a roll or flip right before hitting an object allowing you to avoid it. Cut it close enough and you will be rewarded with boost. This can be risky as the name would imply so do this at your own risk. If you hit an object and get turned around or stuck momentarily, the game will not automatically reset you back to the track which can lead to a huge loss of time and position while you try to correct yourself.
Boosting is what sets the great players apart from the good players. Earning boost at any and every opportunity is what will get you the win most of the time. Also, finding shortcuts on each track is a huge time saver as well. As in the previous game, you will find that as you become more comfortable with how the game handles you will start looking for places where there is enough room to drift on the straight sections of the track as well grabbing yourself some extra boost between turns. Play the single player on hard mode and get really comfortable with it in order to get better at finding opportunities to drift and pull tricks. Definitely gain experience on hard mode before going online. The computer controlled players are good, but they are nothing compared to what you will face online. Knowing the tracks inside and out is good, but kn0wing where you can hit longer drifts and do multiple air tricks will get you in front. If you are losing, even though you are not crashing very often, it is because you are not finding enough boost opportunities.
Sometimes the Cookie Crumbles:
Sega has done an outstanding job of making the vehicles in this game feel like they are reacting to your control the way you would expect. While there is much to like about the game, there are also some things that will definitely detract from the overall experience. One of the drawbacks of combat and kart racing titles is that there is a level of frustration involved during races due to the fact that no matter how good of a driver you are, there is always the chance you will get hit by a weapon or power-up that will knock you off the track or make you lose position. There are very few things in a game that are as frustrating as being in first place and getting hit by five different players’ weapons just as you are about to win. Then having them all pass you as your vehicle spins out of control. This is a very common scenario in these types of games. The player in front tends to be the main target. There are even certain weapons like the Swarm which specifically target the leading player. While this is great if you are already in the rear and trying to catch up, it can be a controller throwing moment when you are the player in front who gets hit by it. This is not something specific to this game. This is a part of what makes a kart racer a kart racer, even the guy in last place may be able to get in a lucky shot that changes everyone’s fortune.
Another annoyance in the gameplay, as mentioned before, is that if you end up hitting a wall, getting jammed against a building, or encounter some other obstacle, this game does not just reset you back onto the center of the track. There have been many times especially in boat or aircraft mode where I have gotten jammed in a corner and had to take a large amount of time to work my way out of it. This usually means you are going to lose as you will get passed by most of the other racers while you try to get out. While not a deal breaker, it can lead to a lot of frustration and it would have been nice if there was some type of detection algorithm used to reset players when they are stuck in a spot where their vehicle cannot move well. If you go the wrong way long enough, you will be reset, but if you are pointed in the right direction and having trouble getting your boat off the rocks that it is stuck on, prepare for some frustration. On some of the flight levels, you will run into this scenario as well when you fly into something like an asteroid field. You can hit an asteroid and instead of your vehicle sliding off it and getting back to the race, you may run dead on into it and have to take precious time to either reverse away from it or do a full 360 turn in the wrong direction just to get yourself back in the race.
While we are on the subject of annoying behaviors, another one has gotten me a few times. I feel that it is worth mentioning again that even in single player Grand Prix and World Tour modes, you will have times where you cross the finish line just ahead of another racer and though it tells you what place you finished in, when it gets to summary screen showing everyone’s finishing position, you will find that it counts them as finishing ahead of you. I have had no less than five times where I finished a race in first place only to have the summary screen award me second place. While in an online mode this can be accounted for with network latency (lag), there is no good explanation for it to occur in single player or even in split-screen local play.
Last, but definitely not least, on my list of gripes is that between races during the loading screen, your Xbox will sometimes get black screened. At first, I thought this was just due to using an older Xbox, but I have also played on my limited edition Gears of War 3 console and had the same behavior occur. It only seems to happen between races and when it does the only fix is to turn off the Xbox, using the power button on the front, and then turn it back on. This is by far the worst of the issues and one that needs to be addressed quickly. Sega has made a fantastic kart racing title in my opinion, but players will not stick to a game that crashes their Xbox on a regular basis. I can say that this has happened to me 5 out of the last 7 days. Though it only happens about once a day, that is still way to much and something that should have been caught before the game was shipped. There is always the chance that it is something with my specific disk, but I will have to wait to hear from others to see if it is a more widespread issue.
Summary – Every Rose and All that Stuff…:
Overall, I love this game. Despite its flaws, it is the best kart racing title I have played on the Xbox 360 hands down. The only competitor I could see besides the first Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing game would be if Rare had made a true kart racer out of Viva Pinata Party Animals. And no, I don’t count BLUR as a kart racer, but I digress. This is a great game and even better when you have friends along for the ride. Even with the issues I have had over the past two weeks with the game, I keep coming back to it. My five year old has officially declared it as “The funnest game ever.”
I have spent a good deal of time working through the various game modes and a good deal of time with the multiplayer both local and online. It is still just as fun as ever. If you are a completionist or just want to unlock all the characters, you do have quite a challenge ahead of you that will definitely feel like a grind at times. Even so, without unlocking all the characters, there are still plenty to choose from and it isn’t very often these days that you get this many tracks included in a racer. The varying environments within the tracks and the mix of land, sea, and air racing keeps it fresh. The online and split-screen multiplayer modes are what keep me coming back for more. I am pretty sure that once players get tired of redoing the same tracks to try to get more stars that most will find those multiplayer modes keep their attention as well. Also once Christmas hits, we should have more people online playing which is a good thing. It also works well as a party game and really brings back memories of large groups of family and friends sitting on the couch battling it out in Mario Kart back in the day. If Sega can fix the issues with the black screen and teach the game how to accurately tell who won during close races, it would be just about everything I look for in a kart racer. I would definitely recommend this game for anyone who is a kart racer fan!
- THE GOOD: Classic Kart Racing with a Transformers Twist, Tight Controls, 20+ Tracks, 20+ racers with unique vehicles, 6 Mods for each vehicle, Great Split Screen and Online modes
- THE BAD: World Tour mode will feel like a grind… because it IS! You must complete World Tour mode to unlock all available racers, the game sometimes reports the wrong finish order when it’s a close call
- THE UGLY: Periodic Black Screen issue freezes the Xbox between races
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