“Sonic and friends are back!” is usually a saying that would make me pull out a gun, but Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed welcomes every franchise Sega can pull out of their arse and organises them into unique vehicles and tracks. Easily mistaken for a kart racer, this game stands on its own and can’t really be compared to anything. If you have to pigeon-hole it, just imagine Mario Kart meets F-Zero at a furry convention and they have a baby with a missing leg. What it really is; an extremely fun arcade racer that uses SEGA’s franchises to create some amazing tracks and a solid experience on Wii U.
The first thing that hit me when I played it is the framerate; it’s really bad (and playing so much Nano Assault Neo and Nintendo Land before didn’t help). It’s not unplayable and I’ve “gotten used to it”, but it effects the gameplay. This is the worst kind of game to have a bad framerate; extremely fast with lots of detail in the environments, and sometimes it’s hard to see what’s coming. The draw-distance is fine but the stuttering and general sloppiness of the graphics give a bad impression, and more importantly it makes it hard to see shortcuts and small turns before it’s too late to start a drift. It’s even worse in the water parts but thankfully they’ve designed all those sections to be really wide, and it does feel pretty amazing when a wave smacks you in the air and you’re a passenger to all the shit going on.
Miraculously the game still retains an amazing sense of speed. Drifting through long corners and hitting boost after boost is an amazing feeling, a huge adrenaline rush when you string boosts together. I really like the rumble in the GamePad, it seems to have different levels of intensity and always hits the right spot in this game. In Sonic Transformed holding the GamePad feels like I’m riding something with a stuttering engine and the motion steering helps it feel like a vehicle. The GamePad is a fantastic steering wheel, with the motion steering feeling very responsive like Mario Kart Wii and Trackmania Wii despite the size of the GamePad, and it gets even crazier in the air. Air driving is hilariously difficult at first but once you get the basics it’s intensely satisfying. The important thing when you go airborne is to position the pad so the screen is facing you, standing vertically parallel to the TV. If you don’t “assume the position” before a flying part then you’ll dive straight down or up, and it’s very hard to re-calibrate if you make a mistake in the air. There’s no button to “refresh” yourself and put yourself back on the map which can be extremely frustrating when learning new tracks.
The transition across ground, water and air is beautiful. It spices up each race and while the controls remain consistent, the approach is not. Water moves about and feels unstable, it throws chunky waves at you that often throw you up in the air. It feels amazing when you hit a high spot in the water, rotate in the air, and land in the perfect position for the next corner. The water areas are always where I gain the most ground in online races and I don’t really know why, I just love it. The waves aren’t exactly tsunami’s but their presence is noticeable. The complexity of the water is the closest thing i’ve felt to Wave Race (but Wave Race: Blue Storm still has better graphics). Suddenly you’re FLYING and turning becomes very sensitive, but your speed almost doubles. Drifting and dodging in the air is extremely risky, but if you can pull it off you get a nice boost to get your speed at the highest point it can go and that’s bloody fast.
Progression is another frustrating part of this game. It has a shitload of content but most of it is locked until you’ve played over 20 hours. You start off with only 4 tracks and 11 of 24 characters. Every character must be leveled up 6 times to gain all their “mods”, which gives you more balance options for each kart. It’s a nice idea because if your favourite character lacks top speed, you can equip the top-speed mod and still use them. However, it just makes me question why EXP even exists in a racing game. EXP is a reward for doing nothing to make it seem like something, it gives RPGs a sense of progression because you’re not learning any skills. Racing games have a pretty big learning curve and already have this sense of progression by learning corners, shortcuts and positioning. Adding EXP on top of that is just insulting to me and downgrades the purpose of the experience. I don’t need a million popups and bars to have a good time. This is one of the many things Forza has done in an attempt to ruin the racing genre, but that’s for another topic.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has it’s share of problems (including the name), some of them extremely distracting and noticeable, but the core gameplay experience is absolutely amazing. It’s a weird balance of high-risk stuttering with tight controls. The driving is very satisfying and drifting is wild while still providing a huge degree of control as you tilt left and right to balance the vehicle. The insanity of the tracks and gimmick of SEGA’s franchises add to the whole bizarre parade in a positive way. The result is a good variety of tracks with some amazing classic SEGA music and the game stays fresh for a long time. The online mode is GREAT and the framerate is exactly the same as single player, I’ve noticed no lag whatsoever and never been disconnected. If there’s one problem with races I’d say it’s the item balance, it’s very easy when you’re in first place and absolute hell in the midfield. The bee item that attacks first place is easily avoided, while everyone down the field falls over each other in an explosive heap of homing items, traps and the devastating twister that reverses your controls and can ruin your entire race. This is why the blue shell is so important in Mario Kart. There’s also no drafting the car in front which I find odd considering Danica Patrick is in the game, drafting is what she does for a living. Wreck-It Ralph is another odd character who doesn’t really contribute much.
The only reason I bought the game was to see how the GamePad holds up as a steering wheel (very well, I can’t wait for more racing games), and now I’m addicted to it. The map screen is pretty useless though, it takes too long to look at it and change your focus, I only ever use it to see what weapons everyone has. It can be played entirely on the GamePad screen too (by flicking down on the screen), but I haven’t used that much because I have my own TV and I’m not married. If you can look past the bad framerate (I don’t blame you if you can’t) then there’s an extremely addictive arcade racing game here, with tons of content, a smooth learning curve, amazing music and ridiculous sense of speed. It’s so fast that the game can’t even keep up.