Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was something of a surprise to many, two years ago. It borrowed heavily from the formula set out so perfectly by successive Mario Karts, and combined this with Sega’s big cast of characters in order to bring a nice and solid kart racer to the table. But a few years down the line and Sumo Digital are taking this solid core and branching out in order to keep things fresh for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
The key clue to what’s new comes in the title, with transformations coming at you from all angles. Most notably, every vehicle now has three forms: land, water and air. There are some very nice animations from one to another and these let you tackle various combinations of environments which Sumo Digital have built into all of the tracks.[videoyoutube]
One of the biggest challenges they’ve had to face is trying to get the handling right for all three forms. On land it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a kart racer, with drifting easy to pull off and sweeping corners for you to snake through a feature in a fair few, but pass through a big blue transformation ring and you’ll switch to water or air.
On water things are a bit bouncier, as your vehicle realistically sinks into the liquid and crests waves, it quite nicely gives you the feeling of being on water and the sort of floaty imprecision you would expect from that.
Up in the skies is where things get really change as here you essentially have controls not too dissimilar to a rail shooter. You now have two axis of direction to use as you follow the track, trying to pass through floating boost rings and item boxes, but it’s quite a foreign concept to switch to suddenly from land and sea.
Both air and water initially caught me by surprise whilst racing, and certainly took a bit of getting used to before I was comfortable, but there was enough in common across all three forms that I got the hang of things pretty quickly. Things like still being able to drift around corners even in the air meant that across the handful of multiplayer races I played, I was either a close second or the winner. (Not that I’m bragging… too much!)
With some rather pleasing handling a solid foundation to Sumo’s work, the next layer comes in the form of weapons, and here they have also tried to branch away from the more common karting clichés. Gone are the missiles and mines and in their place come more inventive weaponry. Things like a blowfish mine which expands to create a pretty large obstacle wherever you drop it, a little transforming RC vehicle which will hunt down the opponent ahead of you, the baseball glove which will catch an incoming weapon and let you re-use it yourself or the revamped twister that spins your kart around and has you driving in reverse for a while.[drop]
But the key point here is that once again Sumo are trying to avoid some of the inherent unfairness of some weapons systems in certain other kart racers.
There’s no unstoppable first place bomb or missile to be found and everything can be blocked by that baseball glove, which will surely help you hang onto a well deserved win if you’re good enough to battle to the front.
A much bigger challenge to your skills is in the tracks, and these are once again wonderfully realised around themes taken from various classic and lesser known Sega games.
There will of course be some Sonic levels with big loop-the-loops and other landmarks from that series, but you’ll also visit places like the lava filled Adder’s Lair from Golden Axe, Dragon Canyon from Panzer Dragoon and Rogues Landing from Skies of Arcadia. With a set of 20 tracks to pick from, 16 new and 4 overhauled from the original game, there’s plenty to be getting on with.
These just aren’t simple circuits though, and as you race through them each one transforms from one lap to the next. It won’t be as easy to learn a course when it completely changes during the third lap, with missiles raining down and blowing up the track ahead of you. Your kart transforms and you quickly have to deal with the different handling and a new layout to the track.
As an example, Adder’s Lair is filled with lava, and you actually start the race on the hot stuff in your “sea” form mixed together with land sections but by the second lap parts of the land are burning up and you have to be more careful to navigate it, and finally the third lap sees you forced to take to the air in order to get around because there’s not enough track left for you to race on!
Tracks are probably trickiest for the leading racer through, as Sumo have added lots of destructible blocks or some dreaded wasps which start to appear on the second lap. Hit them and they’ll break apart whilst you’ll spin out and suffer for a few moments afterwards, letting those chasing you catch up a little. It’s a clever way of avoiding the need for a first place bomb in the arsenal of weapons and having the difficulty a bit higher for the front runners to stay ahead, but I’m absolutely certain people will be cursing those damned wasps. I know I was!
Beyond the core components, the game is stacked high with extra content and variation to keep you coming back, with mini games and different modes being integrated into the single player World Tour to keep the action varied and interesting. There are also lots of characters to choose from, going from Sonic and Tails to AiAi or NiGHTS, with several new to the series and some nice cameos which you might not expect.
Naturally you will also be able to head online for 10 person multiplayer, and here you can take a four player splitscreen party along with you for fun and frolics in both race and battle modes. I always think this is a great addition to games, so that you’re able to tussle with players both in punching distance and hundreds of miles away!
All told, this sequel is really looking like a great package. For those that want a big karting title, and one with variation that should stand up to many a multiplayer session, SART looks like it will deliver. This is especially good news for those buying a brand new Nintendo Wii U who want a karting fix that can last a while.
Here the second screen on the GamePad is used to display a map of your surroundings, much like you might be familiar with from the DS or 3DS Mario Kart titles. It does have some other tricks up its sleeve though, and can show a little “weapon cam” so you can see that twister you sent out hit your opponent, or lift the gamepad up to TV level and get a little Picture-in-Picture rearview mirror to look through. PSP owning GT5 fans will be green with envy.
That’s before you get to the bonus mini-games and challenges and the 5 player local play, which have been added to make the Wii U version a small but notable step beyond what you’ll be able to get on other systems.
Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed hits the shelves on the 16th of November for the EU and 20th of November in the US for PS3, 360, 3DS and Vita. The Wii U version launches alongside the console on the 18th of November in the US and 30th of November in the EU.