Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (PS3)

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Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a lively mascot kart racer featuring eye-catching visuals and some of the best track design seen in this genre. Far from being a one-dimensional racer starring the cast of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog series, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed features characters and tracks based on over a dozen of Sega’s past games along with varied, consistently entertaining gameplay that complements the wide selection of wonderfully dynamic levels on offer.

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The signature feature of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is being able to take to land, air and water during races in transforming vehicles that vary depending on which character you select. Certain tracks also terraform between laps meaning that you always need to keep on your toes and adapt to the changing conditions in order to stay near the front of the pack.

Besides from racing, flying and boating your way through Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, you’ll also need to use weapon pickups and boost to your advantage if you want to beat your rivals. Pink boost pads or gates give you a temporary speed boost, while drifting around corners for long enough will make your engine glow red and give you a speed boost when you release the drift button. You can also perform simple tricks with the right analog stick after a jump to gain boost. Weapon pickups are placed at regular intervals throughout each track and their nature is hidden until you drive over them. There’s an excellent assortment of pickups on offer and these can be fired in front or behind you depending on your position in the race. You can’t collect multiple pickups except in split-screen races, although this makes gameplay more exciting as you’re constantly on the lookout for new weapons. Some pickups such as Firework and Ice require careful positioning to hit your target, while others such as Blowfish are more forgiving.

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Each track has multiple routes through it and you may find yourself taking to the water or skies if you opt for one path, and racing on the land if you opt for another. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed’s wide selection of brilliantly designed, expansive tracks invite players to explore their every nook and cranny to find the quickest or simplest route to the finish line, and you can quickly tell which players have the best ‘track knowledge’ when you partake in online multiplayer races.

A large part of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed’s appeal is its lengthy line-up of characters and tracks based on Sega games, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard. While the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise gets more characters and tracks than Sega’s other series, some of the other titles that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed references include Shinobi, Golden Axe, Skies of Arcadia, Nights into Dreams and Jet Set Radio Future. Many of these franchises have been dormant for a while so it’s fantastic to see tracks based on the likes of Panzer Dragoon, After Burner and Samba de Amigo featuring familiar elements recreated with dazzling, current generation visuals.

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While Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed features split-screen multiplayer for up to four players and online multiplayer for up to ten players, the game’s lengthy and varied career mode lies at the heart of the experience. It’s here that you’ll be able to unlock new characters, tracks and vehicle mods in World Tour mode, hone your skills in Grand Prix mode, or climb the leaderboards in Time Attack mode.

World Tour is the game’s main mode and spans five tours that each feature a variety of event types and characters to unlock. There are multiple paths you can take through each tour and you’ll need a certain number of stars to open up locks or to earn bonus content such as characters and new mods for your vehicle. Winning an event on a harder difficulty level will earn you more stars so be prepared to face some stiff competition if you want to progress beyond the first few tours of this mode.

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There’s a wide selection of event types in World Tour and this helps to keep the mode enjoyable and engaging. Pursuit events see you trying to destroy a tank using missile pickups while Battle Race is all about taking your rivals out of the race before you lose three lives. Other events include Traffic Attack when you have to dodge traffic and pass a number of checkpoints before the timer runs out, and Sprint which sees you trying to beat your rival’s lap time within three laps. Performing well in events will earn your character XP which unlocks new mods when you level up. Unfortunately these mods aren’t individual components that you can fit on your vehicle – rather they are simply different configurations of statistics such as handling, acceleration and speed.

Many of the event types from World Tour mode can be played in local or online multiplayer, although I found that online lobbies were generally devoid of other players to compete with. If you’ve got a few friends to play the game with either locally or online then this won’t be a problem but be prepared to wait around in empty lobbies if you don’t.

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Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a treat for the senses thanks to its colourful tracks brimming with detail and its upbeat soundtrack that includes remixed music from featured Sega titles such as Jet Set Radio. The frame rate slows down slightly at times but there’s no denying that this is an amazing looking game with superb art direction. There’s so much going on in each environment that sometimes you’re tempted to slam on your brakes and simply spend some time admiring all the moving parts that breathe life into every section of the track.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is an excellent mascot racer in its own right and doesn’t rely too heavily on the popular franchises that its character and tracks are based on to find favour with its audience. Rather, it’s the game’s incredible variety, slick presentation, and absorbing gameplay that ultimately shine through. Sega devotees and racing fans alike will find plenty to like about Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and it’s one of those games that handsomely rewards players who take the time to learn the best routes through each track and to hone their weapon usage and vehicle handling skills. Nintendo’s Mario Kart series hasn’t had much competition for the mascot kart racer crown in recent years, but the introduction of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed could very well threaten its pole position.