If you’re looking for a fun arcade racing game in the vein of Mario Kart for your fresh Wii U then look no further; Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed might have an unwieldy name but the game is silky smooth in your hands and a feast of fun and challenge.
The feature promoted in the title is transforming and it’s a common theme within the game. The most obvious transformation is when your vehicle changes from a kart to a boat to a plane depending on the terrain of the course you’re racing on. This is not just cosmetic – on land you have traction but on water your boat skims along and you have to turn much earlier. In the air things get crazy because of the extra degree of vertical freedom you have to account for. The track itself will also transform over the length of the three lap race so that you always have to keep on your toes as everything changes around you. On some tracks the actual track falls apart and the last lap takes place in the air instead of on the ground. The reason this is touted so much is because it really does add a lot to the game – within one race you will pilot three different vehicles, each with their own control style and nuances, and you won’t get time to become tired of the course itself because its very nature might change during the race.
These features wouldn’t mean too much if there were only a few courses or they were unimaginative and boring to race on. Thankfully that is not the case. SEGA have mined their rich history of game worlds to inspire a variety of courses that outclasses the variety found in Mario Kart games. There are 20 tracks which evoke their respective source material well – from Jet Set Radio and Sonic to Skies of Arcadia and Panzer Dragoon to Nights to Samba de Amigo to Super Monkey Ball and After Burner. It doesn’t feel quite as coherent as a game like Mario Kart which only draws on one gaming world as its inspiration, but it works as a mash-up and makes for fun party play. There are less courses than in the previous game but because the courses transform as you play they offer a lot of variety and stand up to multiple plays, so the course roster feels more than full enough.
The character roster is also all over the place, including some I am ashamed to say I don’t even know the origins of. There are arguably too many Sonic characters that all seem the same to me, but Sega do have a decent roster of other characters in their illustrious (and at times not quite so illustrious) past, so there was always one I was keen to play as. My favourite is B.D. Joe from Taxi Driver – driving that giant orange pointy-lighted taxi through the mayhem just feels right. Most of the roster appeared before in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, but there are few new ones, namely Vyse from Skies of Arcadia, Joe Musashi from Shinobi and Wreck-It Ralph from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph.
The singleplayer game has been very well constructed with an emphasis on variety. There is the simple Grand Prix structure where you compete in a set four races and earn points with a goal of being at the top of the leaderboard, but far more interesting is the World Tour mode. Here there are five tours, each with a bunch of events ranging from races to drift challenges to boost challenges, elimination races, versus races and time attacks. Each event you complete earns you 1, 2 or 3 stars if you successfully complete it, depending on the difficulty you chose to compete at. Events are connected to other events, so completing one might unlock two others, or might even unlock a character. At some points you have to unlock a “gate” which requires a certain number of stars to open and continue on the tour. It’s a great structure which works to keep the singleplayer game interesting. As you race with a character they earn experience points and level up – each time they level they unlock a new mod for their vehicle which adjusts the stats of the vehicle slightly. Each character has the same mods, which means if you play enough you will be able to play with the character and vehicle stats you like.
On the Wii U the game supports up to five players in local multiplayer or up to 10 online. One player can use the Wii U GamePad, which works really well (although the difference in resolution from the TV screen is noticeable). The other four players use the TV screen in split-screen mode and can drive with one of the legion Wii control mechanisms. I would suggest the GamePad, a Classic Controller, a nunchuk or a Wii U Pro Controller – the Wii Remote alone works similarly to Mario Kart but I found myself driving from barrier to barrier with it, unlike on the analogue sticks of the GamePad.
I’m very impressed with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed. The air racing adds a welcome new dimension to the kart formula; the character and track variety works very well to keep things fresh; the controls are responsive and the racing is silky smooth while looking great; the whole package is brimming with quality content. It’s a top quality arcade racing game that can be enjoyed by all ages and offers more than enough challenge in the top difficulty level even for seasoned gamers. With Nintendo seemingly quite a long way off from releasing Mario Kart for the Wii U this is a very good buy for the Wii U owner – one of the must-haves on the system if you don’t have it already on another.