Played on: Wii U
Genre: Arcade-style kart racing
For fans of: Other kart racing series, multiplayer party games or Sega in general.
Average price: $29 on Amazon
Over the years, kart racing has become a predictable genre. With every new Nintendo console comes a new iteration of Mario Kart, and this is something we’ve all just gotten used to. Not to discredit the Big N–as I love me some Mario Kart–but I haven’t really been sucked in since the N64 or Double Dash for the Gamecube.
I’m a big Sega fan, so in 2010 it was a no brainer that I’d pick up Sonic & All-Stars Racing for the Xbox 360, but that entry felt uninspired and lacked the overall polish of the Mario Kart series. Toward the end of 2012, Sega released the newest entry in the Sonic & All-Stars Racing series, Transformed, for the Wii U, Playstation 3 & Xbox 360.
Still feeling a bit disappointed in the previous release, I lost interest in Transformed until I had the opportunity to check out the demo at my local Target. This experience was enough to make it one of my first purchases alongside my Wii U this year in 2013.
Now I’m going to make a bold statement and say that Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is the best kart racing game to be released. Ever. (See what I did there?)
Where Mario Kart pioneered a genre, Transformed does exactly what the name implies; transforms the entire experience. It not only provides a slick kart racing experience, but also showcases ever-changing tracks that not only do the historical franchise justice, but evolve in to Hydro Thunder-esque boat racing and flight zones that continuously keep it interesting–hence the name Transformed.
In the Panzer Dragoon level, for instance, you start off kart racing and throwing fireworks at Tails. By lap 2, part of the track has been destroyed and the world starts to flood. Once you reach this part of the track, your kart morphs in to a boat and suddenly you’re presented with an all new experience in a completely different section of the track, drifting your seaworthy vessel to the next checkpoint. After rounding the final lap, the same bridge you’ve crossed twice is destroyed and your kart morphs in to a plane that provides a much more open world and a faster mode of transportation.
Planes are faster than karts, so there are shortcuts and opportunities worth discovering so you can morph much earlier than the rest of the crowd and take advantage of the speed boost.
Each track provides this kind of variety which prevents the game from feeling like the same race lap after lap. Shinobi, for instance, seems to focus more on kart and boat racing with heavy emphasis on maze-like shortcuts and boost ramps, while Skies of Arcadia has a nice blend of each that turns in to all-out chaos during lap 3 where it’s mainly a flight race and a fight for boost circles. Every single track is unique, has a lot of shortcuts and powerups to discover and tons of replay value, well after you’re finished with World Tour.
Aside from not sucking, an important part to staying competitive in Transformed is the use of power-ups. Every kart racer from Mario Kart to Crash Team Racing had those one or two power-ups that could change the race completely, but there is a zen-like balance to the ones offered in Transformed. They all have their ups and downs, but none of them have enough stopping power to go from first to last and vice versa.
There are a nice variety of power-ups, from the blowfish that you can drop on boost zones to be an asshole, to the glove that can be used in clutch positions to catch anything coming from behind. You can also use some of the power-ups to counter incoming attacks by firing at the projectile, or even shooting at blowfish to pop them and free up those much needed boost zones.
The World Tour mode of Transformed acts as the offline “story” mode, sans any form of story. After choosing a chapter, you navigate between various tracks based on iconic Sega franchises, and depending on the outcome you can earn stars to spend on additional characters and kart mods.
Transformed offers close to 30 different racers; most of which need to be unlocked in World Tour by meeting certain conditions and purchasing them with stars. The higher the difficulty you complete, the more stars you earn. You can also collect coins during races by finding shortcuts or by KO’ing opponents, then using the coins at a slot machine between races to give you a boost on your next track; starting with a power-up, for instance.
In addition to the races there are various mini-games to break up the monotony during World Tour. While most of World Tour focuses on the racing aspect, there are a few mini-game breaks in between, like hitting boost strips to add seconds to the time clock or adding waves of traffic to avoid. By completing races and these mini-games, you earn XP for whichever racer you’ve chosen.
Leveling up offers different kart mods that change how your racer performs. For instance, I mostly played as Beat from Jet Set Radio and he isn’t the fastest racer in the game, but you can unlock kart mods to sacrifice his superb handling for better accelleration, or dropping his boost speed for a higher top speed. While everyone starts off with different pros and cons, you can really play however you want proven you’ve invested enough time with them earning new mods.
World Tour is a fun mode to get your feet wet, and I still have a blast replaying my favorite tracks, but of course you can hop online to race against other players. Another neat feature that seems to be commonplace on the Wii U is the ability to play the entire game on the gamepad to free up the TV for someone else to use. This comes in handy if you want to get your kart racing fix while someone else watches Netflix or plays something on the PS3. There are also a few “clans” you can join on the Miiverse that race online every weekend, so there is still a nice sized community on the Wii U that you can check out if you’re interested in going head-to-head.
Graphically, Transformed provides some fantastic tracks that really do justice to the franchise they represent. Sure, some of the boulders or trees look a bit stale or blocky, but the action is fast enough that I didn’t even notice them aside from the intro. Whether it was dodging fire in Golden Axe to the hectic flying in the Nights track, I was constantly impressed with the graphical quality and vibrance of colors in Transformed.
I’m a little butt-hurt that there is nothing in this game from Shenmue, Streets of Rage, Virtua Fighter, Vectorman, Toejam & Earl or Phantasy Star, yet Sega felt the need to add in Danica Patrick and Wreck-it Ralph. They’ve confirmed future DLC, so here’s hoping for a little more variety.
The Verdict – A
Nostalgia may play a huge part in my love for Transformed, especially racing through the Jet Set Radio and Skies of Arcadia levels as I have much love for those games, but the game plays phenomenally and, in my opinion, outshines every Mario Kart released to date.
While I appreciate the lesser known entries like Alex Kidd and Pudding from Space Channel 5, I was surprised at the lack of racers from the more popular Sega franchises, especially Virtua Fighter. Still, that’s focusing on what is missing rather than actual flaws and there aren’t many flaws to this delicious kart racer.
If you own a Wii U, I know you’re itching for the next Mario Kart, but I highly recommend giving Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed a fair chance. You may be surprised.
The Bonus Edition for the Wii U includes Metal Sonic & Alex Kidd as additional racers and also includes exclusive stickers for your in-game license.