Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed: The Kotaku Review

In a year in which I reviewed demanding motorsports simulations like F1 2012, and NASCAR The Game: Inside Line, with Forza Horizon thrown in for good measure, I can guarantee the toughest racing game I'll play is Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed.

That is no joke. It's simply one of the least-accessible cart racers I have ever played which, for a cart racer, is saying a ton. Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed pours on the fan service in the callbacks made by its character roster and the courses it offers, but it forgot that a video game, especially a racing game, is actually fun when it offers a challenge that accommodates a user's creativity and skill.

Plainly meant for existing fans, either of this racing series, or the games to which it pays tribute, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed acts like it can't be bothered to include any newcomers. I dead-ended well short of the stars necessary to unlock the final race of the career mode, which I'll assume involves Eggman. The game is simply undone by a breathtaking difficulty spike from babying C-class racing to a brutal B-class.I have no idea what it takes to make the podium in A-class.

Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed

Off-putting difficulty spikes and rigid performance demands overwhelm what should be an engrossing career mode and what is a richly illustrated tribute to Sega's greatest hits.

Developer: Sega/Sumo Digital Platforms: PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360 (reviewed). Versions with platform-specific features available on Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita (releasing December 7) and Wii U. Released: November 16 (Europe), November 18 (North America). Type of game: Cart racer What I played: Roughly 4.5 hours of the game's main campaign, dead ending for a lack of stars to progress further. Another hour of online multiplayer, time attack and grand prix modes.

My Two Favourite Things

  • With stronger gameplay, ranking-up characters and career mode would mean hours of enjoyment.
  • As much fan service as a video game could possibly provide.

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • Aerial and waterborne courses, the purpose of this game, are a chore.
  • A severe punishment awaits every mistake you make in B or A class racing.

Made-to-Order-Back-of-Box-Quotes

  • "Consistently delivers the most beautiful sixth-place finish you've ever had." — Owen Good, Kotaku
  • "Made for existing fans, Transformed does little to create new ones." — Owen Good, Kotaku

My guess is it involves hitting every boost pad and sliding through every drift with perfect precision and turning perfectly in every corner, and sticking every jump with a flip or a barrel roll to pick up the boosts they deliver. This may be the law of the jungle in cart racing. But Transformed dictating perfection at intermediate difficulty makes it less of a racing game and more of a note-highway puzzle. It also incites controller-throwing frustration in all the events where you engaged your drift a microsecond too late and understeered into the wall.

The Sonic cart racing series has battled nonstop against the impression it copies Mario Kart After a year in which the much better Mario Kart 7 offered airborne and underwater portions of its course, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed gives you... a car that turns into a plane and a boat. And at no point did I ever think to myself "alright, I'm in the plane now." As for the boat, I actively dreaded turning into that thing.

Cart racers are driven at top speed all the time, requiring minute adjustments to steering. The drift mechanism on the left trigger helps somewhat with this but I am no fan of manually engaging something that should be innate to racing physics. Drift is there in the water and air portions of Transformed but it is of no help, and the handling on these parts of the track is ultimately what makes this game so tough. There's a Nights Into Dreams track that is mostly flying; I think ninth was my best finish there in multiplayer.

For power-ups, you get the usual randomised selection of speed boosts and offensive blackjacks that demand use upon acquisition. There's a perceptible imbalance in the number of times All-Star, the invulnerable, super-speed mode, is awarded to AI racers (more often) than to you (rarely). You'll go two laps without any power-up interference from the bot racers. Then on the third, trying to salt away a podium finish, they will hunt your arse down and destroy it.

What surrounds the events in Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is actually quite good and well considered. There's a levelling system for each of the 27 characters on the roster that, if the actual racing was more enjoyable, strongly supports replay value overall. levelling up unlocks additional vehicle setups, though you'll get the slower ones first. More characters are acquired with stars in the career mode (and in completing all of the grand prix events offered.) Characters will acquire experience in any mode in which you race them, which allows you to grind in single races or grands prix at tougher difficulties to make yourself more competitive in the career modes.

Visually, the game is very well done, and Sega fans will enjoy all of the tributes these tracks and characters make to their favourite games. (Though I'm still wondering what the hell Danica Patrick is doing in this game. And I have to call this out: in certain events the game's voice mispronounces her name.) I didn't pick up on the game's claim that the vehicles actually handle differently — that is, a balanced racing setup for Metal Sonic behaves differently from the same setup for Wreck-It Ralph. But they are well conceived creations.

Despite so much information on the screen, thanks to dynamic terrain and multiple drivers, the framerate remains is rock solid throughout (this was reviewed on the Xbox 360). Online multiplayer likewise saw no lag or skips. The racing environment itself is very strongly illustrated, and how the course races on lap one is different from two and three. These changes are themed well, too. A Panzer Dragoon track featured dragons drifting across the course, destroying portions of it or setting obstacles for you to swerve around. Afterburner's course saw you zooming off a carrier deck and dodging smouldering wreckage in the water.

I still come back to the basic gameplay, though, in why I have to pan this game, and for all the variety of the courses they come up short in an important area: Shortcuts. The course layouts do not give you any meaningful shortcuts to get back in contention when you make a mistake. They function largely as alternate views of the course.

Furthermore, the shortcuts will also change just as the main course changes lap-to-lap. This is necessary for consistency's sake but it, combined with the shortcuts' lack of advantage, removes a key feature of arcade racing: winning with course knowledge. I felt forced to play Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed according to the way it wanted me to play, and it wasn't going to give me much help in figuring that out, either.

Ultimately, that makes the entire experience so exclusive that I just no longer want to play the game. It's a sweet love letter to those nostalgic for Sega's greatest hits from its Dreamcast days and before. For those who figured out how to race with the drift control in 2010's Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, fine, get a second opinion, play it. But for newcomers, especially to the gameplay of Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, I don't see any reward, nor any compelling reason for its existence.


Comments

    I only played the demo on C class and loved it. Maybe I need to up the difficulty and see for myself.

    ADORED the first one though. Better than almost every Mario Kart game.

      Ditto. Getting the Wii U and Vita versions. The first was so much fun playing split screen.

    My son is a veteran and a big fan of the first game so this is already in the Christmas pile. Split screen is always fun.

    Seems the reviewer didn't enjoy the game purely because they were no good at it, complaining of "brutal" difficulty at B-Class?? That's only the second tier of four difficulty levels. You said you couldn't unlock the "final race" but what you actually couldn't unlock is the final warp gate to the next set of races, which also unlocks the S-Class difficulty for every event in the game. S-Class is closer to what I would consider "brutal" although it hasn't stopped me from obtaining every star, and I suck at these types of games.

      I completed what I though were all the events on hard and then bam S-Class! Started going through them all again and I tell you those Traffic challenges are RAGE inducing!!!

      He makes a point about the difficulty spike between C and B. Sure you can nail it alright once you get the skills down but it's a huge problem between the two. In C, you're miles ahead and in B, the game hates you. That sort of difficulty is not suitable for indeterminate level and I think they dropped the ball with the way they designed the whole thing, especially when combined with horribly designed tracks (For this kind of game anyway) such as Chilly Castle and Burning Depths.

      Not to mention very bad glitches every once in a while such as not teleporting to the next area or not transforming back into a car from a boat making you stuck or INVISIBLE WALLS ON A RAMP! The latter was in Burning Depths and is a consistent problem.

      I don't usually agree with Kotaku but Owen is right. And for fans or not, this game is flawed and needs serious patching if Sumo is to support it long-term.

        I didn't try C, but B was a breeze, especially considering that you only need a 3rd place finish in the race events.
        I haven't had any glitches as bad as you describe, maybe just the odd collision detection issue, but when you consider that this is a budget game, $50 RRP here in Aus, which is less than half the RRP of most games, it's amazing what the team at Sumo have achieved.

    It's a fantastics sequel. Sumo have improved every component of the game and have actually provided a challenge, that for most of the time can be conquered with skill ratjer than luck.

    However I feel it's put itself in no-mans land as the difficulty doesn't align with it's visual presentation. It looks like a fun kart racer for all, but it is seriously a tight little racer that requires a little practice to perfect the handling of the aircraft and marine vehicles. Reminds me of Diddy Kong Racing.

      Good point about the disparity between the presentation and the difficulty of the game. I think the only major issue is that young children will want to play on the lower difficulties, and as such won't unlock some of the cooler characters, although in saying that the majority of the unlockable racers won't matter to them because they hail from games that were probably released before they were born.

    you guys why is sonic in a car instead of running hes the fastest thing alive

      Your girlfriend begs to differ... (I kid!)

    i stopped reading this review once the reviewer stated that b class is "brutal". let's hear it for reviewers of video games that can't actually play video games.

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