Now is the time to strap yourself tightly into a chair, preparing for adrenaline pumping action as we take on a wonderful new experience - recognising how this racing sequel has indeed... TRANSFORMED!
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a title that has evolved considerably from its pretty impressive beginnings. The original game managed to bring many of the SEGA characters, levels and music selections to an eager nostalgic audience, while also pleasing newcomers with its fun filled racing. The 'Transformed' element highlights perfectly the new nature of the beast that has been released onto the willing public and I am happy to report that for the most part, they have transformed a very good title into one which excels.
Where originally you were confined to vehicles that remained constantly on a road-like surface, this sequel offers another two variants that add greatly to the thrill of the race. Expect new sections that include traveling over wonderfully unpredictable water (or even lava), as well as flying through the air - providing vast possibilities and a whole new perspective. This alone has added immense variety and scope and will no doubt captivate racing fanatics.
As the race progresses, you will pass through certain gates that automatically transforms your vehicle into one that can take advantage of the upcoming environment. Each character has its own vehicle model and set of animations, some more wackier and humorous than others. All handle differently enough to encourage you to choose favourites, however by remaining loyal to individual characters you can raise their experience level. This unlocks additional ‘mods’, which is in fact a redistribution of vehicle traits be it acceleration, speed, handling and so on. With the Xbox 360 version, you can also race as your avatar.
The conditions be it on a road, water or in the air dramatically change the driving style of the vehicle. On the road, you can easily drift around corners and feel more of a connection to the surface. On water, your craft becomes extremely sensitive to any waves and steering becomes much slower and therefore much harder to direct your craft. In the air, you are required to exploit not just left and right, but also up and down motions, enjoying a slightly faster momentum with smoother fluid movements.
Each of these three environments feel great, even if they are challenging in different ways. It adds a whole new kind of versatility that is just a pleasure to experience and thus no race feels identical. It may result in quite a harsh learning curve for some as they experiment with three very unique styles of racing, but the rewards are certainly worth it for those willing to take on the challenge.
With a strong line-up of courses to take part in, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed encourages your nostalgic sentiment without losing any satisfaction in the ride. For example, a Golden Axe inspired course takes elements of the character selection screen, which includes the skeleton with outstretched arms centre stage within a course. It is just dazzling to see and newcomers will appreciate the artistic details regardless of the fact they may have never seen the titles to which they allude to. Others include references to other SEGA classics including Sonic the Hedgehog, Skies of Arcadia, Jet Set Radio, Samba de Amigo, Nights into Dreams, Shinobi and more.
A few of the more popular courses from the first game remain with a few graphical tweaks along the way and all of the courses can be played mirrored, or to say left becomes right and vice-versa - for a little extra twist.
Although the course is repeated during a race, each lap can change dramatically as the race unfolds. Roads can suddenly collapse or redirect you, forcing a path that requires a different kind of vehicle transformation. Areas where you may have driven along before, now become the view below as you now soar high above. It’s simply an amazing feeling and extends the interest in both the course and the game as a whole.
Weaponry collected along the race remains, although they are a little different to what we experienced in the first game. The effects are similar, but the weaponry items have changed. Whether you are firing freezing snowballs, sending swarms of wasps or exploding hot rod engines - all feel immensely satisfying, obviously until you yourself are on the receiving end of the punishment. All-Star moves return as well, giving each character a unique super powered method of deploying additional speed and attacking capabilities.
Races are incredibly fast paced once you master the twists, turns and now when flying - ups and downs of the courses. Speed is increased when you drift around corners, utilised by holding down the left trigger, accumulating boost abilities per manoeuvre and once you release the trigger, an immense surge forward is your reward.
You can further improve your chances by figuring out how to use stunts during a jump by carefully timing a touch on the right analogue stick in a direction of your choice. Pushing sideways will roll your vehicle in that direction and up and down will cause a pleasing vertical spin. When a stunt is successfully applied, a boost of speed triggers on your landing. This is not possible with the flying sections, except you can still drift and with the right analogue stick avoid obstacles in a very stylish manner.
During each race, coins can be collected by attacking the other participants. These are later used during certain loading screens where they can be cashed in for additional perks. You may be offered a free boost, a weapon maybe or possibly nothing at all - it’s all a gamble. This I feel actually adds a little unfairness to each race especially where leaderboards are featured and within online play.
There is a pretty extensive ‘Career’ system that requires the collection of stars, which in turn unlocks new paths and characters. Each challenge can be completed with a set difficulty level and the harder the setting you select, the more stars you can potentially earn. A challenge may include a standard race, but there are variations of this theme to enjoy. This may involve additional boost sections or a life meter that when depleted eliminates you from the action. There are also race times to beat, traffic challenges where you storm ahead while attempting to avoid ... yes you guessed it ... ‘traffic’ - even a few where you take on a pretty large tank.
‘Grand Prix’ mode scores you over a set number of races and also available is ‘Time Attack’, where you attempt to conquer preset course times and an option to simply select a course and race without all the fluff.
Online multiplayer has changed dramatically as now a ‘Matchmaking’ option sees you racing against random gamers to advance your score - which can increase, remain static or even decrease depending upon your performance. This provides additional incentive to play online compared to the previous title.
It is not just limited to racing; ‘Arena’ includes a selection of tag based selections that add extra value. Whether you are collecting an item then charging to the specified target area or simply playing a game that resembles cat & mouse, there is so much variety you will be hard pressed to feel any sense of boredom.
Unfortunately though, multiplayer has a few bugs that can cause the game to infrequently crash before returning to the lobby and has even been known to mix up the race results. This will hopefully be addressed in a future patch, but at time of writing this review it is certainly a concern.
Split screen multiplayer for up to four people is available throughout most of the game, including in both offline and online modes.
Graphically speaking it is quite a staggering step up from the previous title, adding far more detail and visible curiosities. The courses themselves are littered with character and fascinating animations, while still managing to maintain a consistent frame-rate throughout. It can become a little busy at times with so much going on within the actual race and the surroundings which feature all kinds of distractions, yet this only adds to the adrenaline rush.
The music features a superb selection of re-imagined tracks that are just perfection for a SEGA nut like myself. The typical grunts and character responses are really what you would come to expect, but the actual sounds of the action work well.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a remarkable title that takes three types of racing genres and somehow successfully combines them in such a way that your heart will vigorously pound with excitement, while your adrenaline enriched soul will never tire of the lush environments and epic races.
There are a few bugs in online play that I hope will be patched shortly, however until then you can expect to have your Xbox 360 crash on the odd occasion. For this reason and a few other minor issues, I have lowered the final score from 92% stars to 85%.
Mario Kart may be more accessible featuring a tried and tested method of success, however, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has revamped the racing category and is quite simply ... more fun!
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