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Where Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Fell Short - And Transformed Can Improve

1st May 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Yesterday, SEGA confirmed what many had long suspected -- that the 2010 kart racer, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, would be getting a sequel. A few hours later, I was pleased to find a number of people playing online in the original -- likely in response to the news of the sequel. Participating in several rounds and then heading into some offline sections for a bit of a refresher course, I was reminded of why I had such high praise for it when it came out. While this was happening, I internally replayed mini-images of moments that took place where I wasn't as pleased about certain things. With the sequel having just been announced and more news to come with E3 on the horizon, I wanted to go on record early and identify key areas in the original that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed should improve upon. Hopefully the development team will take these points into consideration with the continued development of the awkwardly-named sequel.

More track diversity.
You may be quick to defend the original on this point because of stages like Rocky-Coaster (Samba de Amigo) and Sewer Scrapes (Curien Mansion). However, their approach to a single property in particular illustrates a point that the team should be cautious of in the 2012 follow-up.

Putting aside the fact that Sonic dominated the stage selection (naturally), every single one of the tracks featured from this franchise were based solely on levels from Sonic Heroes. With each of these parent worlds spawning three different tracks, players ended up with nine stages that didn't represent Sonic as well (or fully) as they could have. Sadly, this seeped into the music selection as well, as some of the songs taken from Sonic Rush didn't mesh all that well with the dynamic of the tense races.

I used the words "a single property" just now, but you could make a similar case towards their handling of Billy Hatcher. Two of the three tracks were based on Blizzard Castle while there was potential for something much more exciting. I recall wondering to myself if SEGA just hadn't allowed Sumo Digital that much creative control over the library of games they could choose from. If that was the case, hopefully they'll be given more freedom to pull from other games and franchises; early impressions seem to indicate this is the case with Skies of Arcadia having a presence in the sequel.

Refined game engine.
To be truthful, some of the game's technical aspects brought down the game's ability to stand on its own two feet with the passage of time. Examples include a delay in trick executions after going off certain ramps, as well as homing attacks that would be disrupted by what essentially were invisible walls. Multiplayer matches also saw the removal of environmental elements and the downsizing of graphics in certain areas. A prime example of this is the Whale Lagoon level where the large orca whale that would normally do a flip across two pools of water disappears completely. And then, in other tracks like Monkey Target, you could tell the game was having some issues just trying to keep up with everything. Most of these point back to the Wii-specific version of the game, although some of these points (and others) were said to have been seen in other versions of the game. Hopefully now that they've had a few years to mull over how they could expand upon the original, they can focus on delivering a smoother experience in Transformed.

Stronger battle modes.
While I did appreciate the variety the developers tried it instill through the implementation of additional battle modes, they ultimately did not hold my attention for very long -- or the attention of anyone else who played with me, for that matter. The battle component does need some sprucing up, so hopefully the promised multi-level racing mechanics in the sequel will allow them the opportunity to do just that. How, though, can they specifically make adjustments?

Well, for starters, including a sizeable amount of battle stages would help -- preferably nothing similar to the lousy Curien Mansion arena in the original. In terms of the modes that were on offer, I found Grab to be one of the better ones, while King of the Hill was pretty flat. Part of the reason why they some didn't take off, I felt, was because they were offline-only. In that scenario, the Knockout style would've worked really well for online sessions, so hopefully they can include some type of variant in the sequel's sure-to-be-present online mode. Additionally, if there is indeed a Wii U version being developed, this could allow for some more unique battle modes that could push the device's capabilities early on its life. But for the time being, it's too early to say how this could possibly be integrated with what little information we actually have on the system.

Better online integration.
Next to the technical flaws, the execution of online play was one of the biggest issues I had with Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing. When I wasn't inwardly ticked off over the amount of mid-race disconnections I experienced, I was coming close to rage quitting over having to wait what felt like ages just to get a match going. The lobby system was set up in such a way that the host could start the game at any time they wanted, and with no timer to keep things moving, I encountered multiple instances where the host had seemingly gone AWOL or was refusing to start a race even when eight players were present. Not to be forgotten, too, is the surprising omission of a ranking system which would have extended past the default SEGA Miles currency once all the Shop items were purchased. These are all concerns I hope are rectified in the sequel.

Sumo Digital got a lot right with the original, but they also paved the way for a future installment. To see that they intend on taking things in a direction I wasn't expecting makes this project that much more exciting. Despite early comparisons to Mario Kart 7 already finding their way into preview articles, I don't expect the team will have a really tough time surpassing Nintendo's latest iteration of their established franchise, but that's just based on my own experiences with the game and the issues I had. For more loyal karting fans, that fight may be more of an uphill battle. Given the quality seen in the original, it's fair to say the playing field has come closer to being level with Nintendo's successful series than before. And if SEGA is as smart as I think they are to develop Transformed for the Wii U, longtime fans of the company will have even more to look forward to. If only I was as confident about them revising the name.

Feature by KnucklesSonic8