Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Wii U | SEGA / Sumo Digital | 1-5 Players (local multiplayer) / 1-10 Players (online versus) | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii U GamePad; Wii Remote (sideways); Wii Remote and Nunchuk; Wii U Pro Controller; Classic Controller
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29th January 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Comparisons to other acclaimed racers are sure to crop up, but overshadowing any tendency to pick apart and evaluate its elements against the elite iterations of the genre are the magical moments that abound in this first-class creation.
Digging deep into SEGA's portfolio has worked for Sumo Digital before, so it's only natural this continues to be the driving force behind Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed's appeal of covering as many bases as possible -- except it distinguishes itself immediately from its predecessor in how far this range reaches. While the insistence on bringing Pudding back from SEGA Superstars Tennis is odd to say the least (to which I can only answer with an elongated, "Whyyyyy?"), it's wonderful to see the likes of Joe Musashi (Shinobi) and Vyse (Skies of Arcadia) rounding out the frankly bothersome guests (Ralph and Danicka Patrick) as well as such regulars as Ulala, Beat, Aiai, and Sonic's usual merry band of friends, foes and antiheroes. Billy Hatcher and Opa Opa are just some of the characters who haven't made the transition over to the sequel's roster, but on the bright side, NiGHTS has now become a playable character, with Ristar now in its stead.
Each racer mans a vehicle that can, as per the game title, shape-shift into two other states besides its standard form to engage in aerial flight or cross bodies of water. Vehicular designs are quite enticing -- some bearing references to the games they are associated with, while others are purely creative by design. As examples of the latter, Gilius will sits atop a falcon while in flight mode, and NiGHTS regularly takes the position of the physical transport with a Nightopian at the wheel. Characters are leveled-up through use in a slight adaptation of the SEGA Miles system present in the original, with each new level marker reached unlocking a stat modification. In this way, players are never permanently stuck with may be perceived as defects. Console mods in particular serve to emphasize the eras the developers pulled from to make up the character selection. But from the standpoint of boosting attributes, they only ones of note are those that maximize a stat above the five-point scale.
In a loose capacity, SEGA Superstars Tennis began what is now a tradition of presenting each of the represented SEGA universes as planets, and this has since been adopted in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing and, now, the sequel. Like the roster, the representation is eclectic and varied. It's much more varied, in fact, than the first game, where stages were organized in divisions of three and only encompassed the worlds of Sonic, Billy Hatcher, House of the Dead, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio, Samba de Amigo. Before it seemed as though Sonic was given favouritism, as his representation spread to three sets of three stages, making for nine stages in total -- all of which centered on a single game, no less. The split is far more even now that they've done away with the triad route. Now each property (with Sonic again being the exception to the rule) has only a single track, making far better use of the library of games by means of both recognizable and possibly unfamiliar picks.
Exceptions are found in the Classic Cup, wherein players will discover four returning tracks from the previous iteration, much like Retro inclusions in recent Mario Kart titles. Unfortunately, they have not been remastered to assume the revised vision, and as such, squarely involve driving. These are Shibuya Downtown, Roulette Road, Sunshine Tour, and Egg Hangar. I have to say, why they chose Sunshine Tour instead of the much more thrilling Rocky-Coaster seems like bad sense to me. But Egg Hangar acts as redemption for anyone who played the Wii version of the game (this stage was only available as DLC for the HD versions).
As for the brand-new tracks, anyone expecting stages similar to Mario Kart's own brand of recurring, beginner-focused maps (Luigi Circuit) will be in for a rude awakening -- not in the sense that the game isn't user-friendly, but that the rapid nature of many tracks and the breakneck pace the game assumes is not one to scoff at. It is a common feature that tracks feature crazy slopes, occasional loops, thrilling climbs, dizzy corkscrews, turns that demand abrupt cornering, and narrow passages. There is some openness to be observed when players transition to the flight phase, but even these have great direction and don't offer too much spatially. Even while serving as major odes to the games being leveraged, the tracks throughout are highly imaginative and are at times even stunning. They're also rendered super well, with lush visuals, glossy surfaces and impressive textures. Some are very captivating in the manner they bring out key stylistic details from the games these tracks are associated with. It's a mix so robust I personally can't fault any for being too wishy-washy in this regard. Without giving too much away, I'd like to point out a few.
Starlight Carnival and Sanctuary Falls are perhaps the classiest race tracks Sumo Digital has designed yet to represent the Sonic universe. As much as I love Heroes, I was pleased they ventured away from that (Ocean View notwithstanding) and instead focused on Sonic Colors and Sonic & Knuckles for their root inspirations this time around. (What could they have done with Planet Wisp, I wonder!) Dream Valley, while underwhelming to start, has some insane sections, and it actually reminded me of the Digital Dimension track from the unrelated Sonic Riders, in the way that players bounce between atmospheric phases that evoke entirely different feelings.
The Super Monkey Ball tracks are always such a treat with their ever-twisty courses, and Temple Trouble is no exception. On top of the superb design, the aesthetics are inspired by, of all games, Super Monkey Ball Adventure, in that it's more in touch with tribal roots than anything else the series has built a reputation on. Other wonders come from all over the place, really, but in particular there's one track I won't spoil that surprised me a great deal -- that they could even have access to the property, let alone devise an entire track on it is quite something. However, it's a shame that, while fun when you get the hang of it, the design is messy. Truthfully, it's hard for me to isolate a track that is the "worst" of the bunch because they're all designed so well. But I will say that Graveyard Gig, while a bit interesting on the third lap, is a bit disappointing as it too closely mirrors the style seen in two of last year's Curien Mansion tracks -- Sewer Scrapes and Deadly Route.
These are exciting tracks that change as you play, as seen when environments crumble or stage attachments are inserted to make room for new paths or phase-changing gates. To be sure, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has a strong vision that just so happens to also be very cohesive. I should address, however, that some of the level designs have a few cracks that prevent the game from performing perfectly. These include occasions when you get stuck on the bottom edge of a partially submerged ramp instead of gliding straight off it (seen in Samba Studios and one or two other tracks), post-trick landing boosts not being counted, even when returning to a neutral position (Egg Hangar being regularly guilty of this), and a few other minor disputes that can be grouped in the same category. They may not last long or appear often, but when you brush shoulders with them, they do irritate.
Just as the game made a strong case the first time around, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed's mechanics are splendid. Besides just the obligatory point I could make on well-tailored drifting and boosting mechanics (largely through the use of a release-and-switch principle), the system incorporates a much-improved trick system where, in the case of the Wii U GamePad, the R-Stick can pull off flips and rolls, the latter of which prove useful for readjusting yourself or when you need to compensate as you make a deep descent, as in the boating section of Adder's Lair. And speaking of the boat phase, while the handling isn't quite resolute in its execution (even taking into account offsets by certain vehicles), piloting airborne vehicles is where the phase-changing fun truly lies, and tracks that feature or revolve around this somewhat free-spirited phase are a blast. It is to be admitted that the item system isn't the greatest, with the Hot Rod item being the coolest power-up in the selection (which isn't saying much, I realize). But in case you're fretting over sent items crippling you as you make your way to the front of the pack, the biggest threat comes in the form of oversized hornets that can be dodged to preserve your position.
Without ever losing its sense of discipline, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is, as I pointed out earlier, an intense fight to the finish, often getting your heart racing as the laps dwindle and the proximity between you and your rivals becomes shortened with every misstep. This is especially true in Boost Race mode, where it's all skill in a down-to-the-wire battle. The pace makes the game super addictive, frenetic, and best of all, when the dynamics change suddenly, it's not because of an imbalance with the items that stifle your skill.
Local friends are not required to have loads of fun on your own. The AI, for one, is such that it builds tension reasonably while not being too easy on skilled veterans seeking a thrill, demonstrating that a proper level of care has gone into ensuring they don't put solo players off the idea of mastering all the game's modes. These include your usual supply of race offerings, but the primary Career option is World Tour, wherein you'll progressively unlock characters by earning stars for completing events on four difficulty settings. Some of these missions are a bit out of the ordinary. Traffic Attack involves weaving through scores of coloured vehicles to reach checkpoints, and Pursuit has you chasing down and destroying a tank that constructs hazards as it moves forward. But the combined presence of enticing unlockables and the accessibility of the arrangement make the idea of task completion quite alluring. Plus, much like the 3DS version of Sonic Generations, you can buff up your license with Stickers chosen from a list of locked entries that become available once certain conditions have been met. And these minor achievements are a fair touch.
Online play offers the best kind of fun that can be had with the game, either on your lonesome or with friends. The sequel features a much-improved lobby system. Players are given three random stages to vote on before the start of each round, while the time limit ensures that, unlike was the case in the original, manual control isn't abused or not even exercised. The organization is also much better, offering both races and battle-style offerings to participate in.
Tn this area, there's been considerable growth since the last game, with much more fun being had through this varied approach. Specifically, Battle Races are quite exciting, especially with the resurrection possibilities. As well, Capture the Chao is madness in a group, although I believe a critical mistake was made in only having one and not multiple Chaos for large groups -- it becomes too haphazard and chaotic in places, especially on the confined layout of Monkey Ball Park. Generally, though, the battle maps are pretty decent, though nothing quite as glorious as some of Mario Kart's finest battle stadiums. One other thing worth noting is a slot machine that appears during loading screens, offering you the chance to exchange tokens swiped off the track or other players to receive an item or vehicle boost for the upcoming battle. It defeats the purpose of Boost Race when you're still able to earn a power-up with your winnings, but aside from that, I don't have much else to say on how this detracts from or benefits the experience.
Added surprises can be found in the game's bold soundtrack, often consisting of energetic, sped-up remixes of songs past. As nice as the original's repository of songs was, it never went the extra mile and created revised renditions (which was fine for the time being, but I'm glad they moved forward since then). And with Richard Jacques (among others) being brought in for such a move, there's plenty of reason to be thankful. Longtime SEGA fans will feel right at home looking into SEGA's past in this manner as they enjoy all sorts of head-boppers alongside the diverse sightings in the track design. These include new renditions of Back in Time from Sonic R, the beautifully-composed Paternal Horn from NiGHTS into Dreams, the warm theme for Monkey Target from the original Super Monkey Ball, as well as some other pleasant surprises. A number of these have a detectable infusion of dubstep, but so long as you don't mind that, there's still a lot that players will immediately respond to when they hear these for the first place.
While I've already touched on individual aspects pertaining to the track designs and, just now, the soundtrack, there are some hiccups to be noted when it comes to the entire presentation. While the framerate is almost always seen running at a steady clip, there are occasions where it dips, such as in Chilly Castle, where one of the rotating structures stutters. There are glitches in some stages that cause you to break through barriers and descend into a part of the track that will prompt a reset, or invisible partitions that don't count on players riding along at a certain height when in flight mode. As well, the background music for some stages, and even what's heard while navigating some menus, can transition a bit abruptly. While online, the rating system has a tendency to wipe out cumulative data, often brought on by quickly scrolling across the three mode selections instead of doing so in slower steps. And while there's little lag to speak of, there are times when the system is a tad jerky and results in you getting suddenly rammed by a nearby opponent. I wouldn't say any of these are lingering or even major concerns, but they do nag at values that would otherwise impress with regularity.
I can't overstate that Sumo Digital has done SEGA fans proud. Even without the tremendous fan service and the added flair and spunk these faithful references bring, it isn't at all a stretch to call Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed one of the finest, most pulsating racers to be found in the genre. It's an intrepid accomplishment that addresses some complaints with the original without making similar mistakes, but more than that, Sumo Digital has outdone themselves with level design that will surely satisfy and surprise. With frenzied gameplay and well-tuned pacing, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is amazing in its own right.
27/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 9/10 - Mechanics are smooth and well-tailored, stunning design, much-improved trick system, items could've used work, some design jitters
Presentation 8/10 - An overload of fan service, soundtrack has lots of highlights, tracks wonderfully reference worlds through visuals, technical issues
Enjoyment 5/5 - Vision executed well, no shortage of fun to be had, much more pleasing variety, pace makes for exciting times, performs brilliantly
Extra Content 5/5 - Online is more varied and setup in a much better fashion, tons of content and unlockables, Bonus Edition extras aren't too grand
Equivalent to a score of 90% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System