I remember when Diddy Kong Racing first came out. A masochist's wet dream, the playful chimp's one and only racing game still holds a place in my heart right next to Dark Souls. Featuring 3 unique vehicle types, it was one of those titles that was ahead of its time. Now, in 2012 we see a Sega title with a similar idea with a modern day twist.Meet Sonic, his friends, and a plethora of symbolic Sega characters from the last 20 years as they duke it out in the gentleman's sport of competitive racing, with a twist. Throughout races, players will transform into one of three different vehicles, each complete with their own unique mechanics. A car for the track, a boat for slip'n slide fun, and a plane for the air sections. As a whole, it's an unique spin on the cart racing genre. The question is whether these new features are game sellers, or cheap gimmicks?
GOTTA GO FASTER
A Nostalgic Soundtrack - Within every race of the game is a song that will bring back memories for any player. The wide variety of these tracks makes a player wish the game came with a soundtrack. Some areas bring back the arcade feel of the childhood with games like Samba De Amigo and Jet Set Radio leading the pack. Then, action epics like Panzer Dragoon mix into the play and allow players to remember what it was like to ride a massive dragon on the arcade shooter. A rebirth of various masterpieces paint a grand musical picture.
They're All Coming Together - It's one thing to make a racing game with a couple of characters, but in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, there's quite possibly a character for everyone. Players who like the original Sonic cast will have a character from most games to play, while hard to please gamers can go Golden Axe and drive around as Gilius Thunderhead. The cast is diverse enough to allow any Sega fan to enjoy themselves.
Easy to Pick-Up - With essentially 3 primary buttons, racing in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is about a simple as it gets. Drift, accelerate, and throw the recent item you picked up are enough to keep most casual gamers happy. There are a few other buttons, as well as trick configurations for when your vehicle goes air-born, but it's not something you'll have to dedicate your life to figuring out.
The Gimmick Works!- Let's be honest. How many games have we bought because it had a good gimmick that it pitched? Personally, I've done it enough times to prove stupid gimmicks work (unrelated note: anybody want to buy Steel Battalion for the Xbox from me? I have the controller and it mostly works). Occasionally, they aren't just a bad sales pitch and instead help to make the game more fun. Such is the case with vehicle transformation. It's honestly fun to play a level for the first time and see how it interacts with your vehicles. The best part about it is watching your buddy try to keep up with you on the ground while you fly past him cackling in your plane.
You Don't Have to be Him - The worst thing about some arcade racing games is being forced to play a character you don't like. Sonic and his pals feel for you, they really do. No one should have to play Danica Patrick because she has stats you may like. To fix that, they've added in different options for each racer. Do you like Tails, but feel he could use a higher top speed? No problem. Play him enough and more options will be unlocked to boost stats. This is the kind of genius that makes games fun rather than trying to bring celebrities into a game that has nothing to do with them.
Diverse Level Design - Initially, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed worried me. The levels were way too simple for them to offer any challenge and I was quickly debating switching to Sonic just so I could have a fast character that could dominate other players. As time went on, the levels got more complex, making the game more challenging. Adding to it the natural beauty of some of the levels, it's one of those games that you actually enjoy looking at. It's a bit bothersome that most of the time you can't appreciate the beauty because you're taking a turn at a break-neck speed. But that doesn't make the game any less beautiful.A Big Package - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has about 20 hours of single player gameplay. Even then, almost anything you can do alone, you can also do with up to three friends, making it an enjoyable ride from start to finish. Not to mention it's hilarious to hit your spouse with a snowball right before they cross the finish line and win you the race. The 10 player online racing is also pretty exciting, if you can ever find a match.
POPPED A FLAT
Not the Bees! - I can count on both my hands how many items there are at the player's disposal, and it's a bit depressing. With most of the items repeating the other effects with mild differences, it becomes boring. The massive arsenal from Mario Kart is missed as you shake your head in sorrow.
The AI Hates - You know how we're all afraid of AIs becoming sentient and going ape-crap on humanity? I'm pretty sure a group of sympathizers got in during development and put their prototype into the AI's design. The computer controlled racers will do everything in their power to crush your hopes and dreams as they completely ignore each other in favor of ruining your day. At the very least, the comeback AI is insane and will perpetually ride the player's rump, waiting for that one slip-up to put them in 10th place. Characters with terrible top-speeds will often be found miles ahead of the player for no reason other than the game wanting to give us one more thing to cry ourselves to sleep about.
Who Invited Her? - Adding Wreck-It-Ralph as a playable character was a cute idea. Deciding to add Danica Patrick was a joke. Perhaps adding her in the next Need-For-Speed title would be alright, but not in an otherwise awesome racing game. She's a Go Daddy girl and a mediocre racer, at best. I just want to know which Sega code monkey was fantasizing about her under his desk while getting ready for bed and decided she'd make a good addition to the game. Even Slenderman would be a more interesting addition than her, and probably bring in more fans.Sonic Has No Friends Online - Racing ten players online sounds freaking awesome. That is until you realize that there's hardly anyone online. The game has a pretty scarce player base right now, making it a couch title and little else. Hypothetically, you can string three PS3s together and play it that way, but being a Sega fan myself, I don't know too many of us who have 3 friends, let alone 9.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, despite having a title that's one verb short of being a complete sentence, is an amazing game. The simple, arcade controls and vehicle transformation feature make it a great party title. It's a bit unfortunate that it lacks a larger selection of items, but it's alright. The skill curve and variety of things to do make up for most flaws, and it's a great family game. A definite buy for a child's Christmas gift, the kart racting lover, or for that Sega fan in your life.
*This review was based on the PS3 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*