Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed – Xbox 360
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sumo Digital
Release Date: Nov 18, 2012
Genre: Racing
Reviewed by Mark Smith

Review Score: 4.5 of 5

If you enjoy racing games then you have to be loving the flood of titles coming out right now; everything from NASCAR, Forza Horizon, and NFS Most Wanted for the older gamers and charming kart titles like LittleBigPlanet Karting, F1 Race Stars, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed for the kids (or the kids at heart).

Imagine your favorite Sega characters and many of your favorite Sega games all coming together in a celebration of racing that not only serves as an epic trip down memory lane for veteran gamers, but a totally delightful racing title for anyone else who dares to pick up a controller. And when you toss in that “more than meets the eye” hook that will have your chosen ride morphing between a boat, car, and plane…well, expect the unexpected.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed delivers all the usual content including World Tour, Grand Prix, Time Attack, and Single Race modes that can be played with up to four players locally or up to ten players in any of the exciting online racing modes. As expected, the quest for unlockables is massive and you’ll need to tackle various race events to earn gold stars to unlock more races, new chapters, and new drivers. Each event can be played in one of three difficulties, so finishing on the easiest gets you a single star while finishing on hard gets you three.

Stars all get added to your total that will unlock new paths on your World Tour flowchart with branches that often end up unlocking a new driver or a new race mod. While it is possibly to unlock everything by playing only on Normal difficlulty, playing on Hard will speed up the unlock process if you are up to the challenge. I was surprised and delighted that the game doesn’t force you to place in first to win. Normally a podium finish in the top three is all that is required to advance.

Events can range from standard races to drift challenges, opponent challenges, traffic attack, and boost races, but even more varied than the type of race are the locations in which you will find yourself racing. With tracks set in environments like Sonic, Panzer Dragoon, Jet Set Radio Future, Afterburner, Super Monkey Ball, Samba de Amigo, Skies of Arcadia, Golden Axe, Outrun, Nights, Shinobi, and many others, I can’t recall any other racing game to ever offer this much variety, nostalgia, and originality in track design.

Each course offers multiple routes and shortcuts, and these will often change on each of the laps, so don’t be surprised when you fly off the road and land in the water just as your car turns into a boat or a bridge crumbles away and you morph into a plane. While most of the racing takes place on roads, there is just the right amount of “transformed” racing taking place and even a few cool fly-through-hoops levels to mix things up. The only thing this game is missing is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Your selection of racers is limited at first, but the roster can triple in size as you earn stars and unlock new drivers from Sega history. Even Wreck-it Ralph and Danica Patrick joins the crew in their own custom vehicles. Each driver comes with their own car and preset options for speed, acceleration, handling, boost, and All-Star mode. As you earn XP and rank your driver up through the five levels to reach All-Star status you will unlock new presets or mods that can be chosen prior to an event that will shift these variables around, so by installing the Handling mod you will gain better handling but lose top speed. This XP and mod system is a nice way to reward your driver loyalty, but at the same time inadvertently discourages experimenting with other characters and cars, as you really don’t want to use a rookie driver in the later events.

As is typical with kart racers, there is a bit of combat and strategy involved with the various power-ups but not nearly as much as in other games mostly due to the fact that pick-ups are much fewer in this game. You’ll often spend more time trying to line-up your path with the purple boost pads (or hoops in air and water) to shoot your car forward than worrying about picking up a random power-up like a blowfish to pop tires, a tornado to spin the target car around or a self-guided drone car that seeks out and fires an EMP at the car ahead. My favorite attack has to be launching a swarm of giant wasps at the lead car, which then forces everyone else to weave through them trying not to get stung. There are a few other types of pick-ups, but none are particularly memorable, especially when compared to the charming attacks found in games like Mario Kart or even the bubble-centric attacks of F1 Race Stars.

Despite a rather unimpressive first level Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed looks better and better with each new unlocked track, and this serves as a highly motivating factor to keep on playing just to see what new Sega franchise will get added and what kind of track and race it will be. The characters are cute, the menus and setup screens charming, and the animations (especially the morphing) are very cool. The framerate holds up admirable in split-screen racing. I thought there might have been a draw distance issue with the “rainbow road” track, as it seemed the track was drawing in only a few yards ahead of the car, but it does that in single player too, so it must be an intended effect. Sound effects and adrenalized music, often mixing in the theme of the game that inspired the track, along with all the various taunts and one-liners from the characters all complement the action perfectly.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed with all its nods and wink-wink moments to past franchises is definitely a game targeting diehard Sega fans, but even if this is your very first Sega game ever, and you have no idea who these characters are or where all these track inspirations are coming from, you can’t help but have a fantastic time ever second of every lap, playing alone or with friends in split-screen or online. And even though combat and power-ups might not play as strong a part as other competing kart games, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is easily one of the best arcade racers of 2012 and a game not to be missed.