Every once in a while, it’s nice to kick back with a game that is designed purely for the sake of putting a smile on one’s face. And we all grin at various things when playing, but Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed elicits that whimsical, innocent, happy-go-lucky smile, which isn’t appropriate for some of the more adult-oriented productions these days. It has its flaws and some may find it too shallow to warrant a purchase, but I say it’s loads of good old-fashioned fun that has great mechanics and overall appeal for just about everyone.
You know, I’d forgotten just how dark and drab so many big-budget games have gotten; it caused me to forget that at one time, video games were really colorful. It was actually a shock to see such vibrant, lustrous shades and hues when I took to the track and to be honest, it was almost a relief. It wasn’t so much nostalgia; it was more that I felt like I was looking at a game that prides itself on lighthearted entertainment and isn’t afraid to show it. The detailing isn’t impressive, but the effects are diverse and a pleasure to behold and the environments are undeniably attractive.
The audio complements the zany, fast-paced fun with a bouncy soundtrack and a series of crisp sound effects. They don’t do the best job blending the music with the on-track racing and sometimes those effects are a tad underwhelming, but it certainly fits the overall presentation. The music selections make perfect sense and while I would’ve wanted more variety, I never really got tired of the upbeat tracks that continue to enhance one’s general enjoyment. Technically, this is a solid, well put-together title with surprisingly high production values and an abundance of fantastic charm.
So many of your favorite Sega characters are here; in addition to the iconic Sonic, there are all his buddies (like Knuckles), along with a few surprises, such as Vyse ( Skies of Arcadia ), the real-life racer Danica Patrick, and Wreck-It Ralph. Each racer has a unique vehicle and each vehicle has a singular assortment of physics and wacky abilities. Obviously, when it comes to racing games, control is the primary concern and thankfully, winging your way around the racetrack is simple and responsive. The controls are tight and there aren’t too many irritations or eccentricities.
And because this is all sorts of arcade-y (you didn’t really expect a simulator, did you?), drifting becomes a big part of the experience. Drifting earns you the all-important boost, which can help turn a tight race into an easy victory. You’ll snag various items and weapons as you drive around and the available arsenal is all sorts of fun. Half the time you’re hoping to stumble across a wicked cool weapon just ‘cuz it’s a blast to use. Sure, it might give you the advantage but the simple act of using that awesome weapon greatly adds to the core fun factor. The balance is just about right, too, as nothing feels supremely over- or underpowered.
Obviously, the game goes well beyond your standard old-school kart racing theme. Each vehicle is capable of transforming into something super special, like a car, boat, or aircraft of some kind. The track you’re on will dictate the vehicle into which you transform and when you’re in that alternate form, this racer adopts whole new dimensions…literally, if we’re talking about air racing. Not only do air, water, and land vehicles all control significantly differently, they will also force you to alter your strategy. That might be the most overlooked aspect of this title— There’s probably a lot more racing strategy than one might anticipate.
There’s plenty of longevity, too. The World Tour will keep you playing for a while, and it’s especially entertaining due to the various events in which you’ll participate. Sometimes there’s a drift challenge, for instance, and more events will be unlocked as you progress. There’s a star system associated with that progression (ala Joe Danger ), in that you need a certain number of stars to unlock future races and new characters. You can alter the difficulty setting if you so choose but it’s recommended that you stick with Normal, because you can’t get everything done if you’re a pansy and only play on Easy. I mean, come on.
Then there’s the track design, which is fantastic. So much innovation, so much creativity, and the result is a set of circuits that are endlessly entertaining. There are a few problems, though. For example, not all of the vehicles control perfectly and I’m still not sure if flying fits any kind of racer, even if it isn’t ever the focal point. Then there’s the necessity of using boost and finding snazzy weapons because if you don’t, the game admittedly becomes a little bland. In other words, just driving around isn’t especially fun unless you mix in the crowd-pleasing elements. That, and not all of the weapons are as helpful as you’d hope; some are just silly.
You also get the feeling that after playing for several hours, you’ve pretty much seen everything there is to see. While it’s true that there are more tracks, characters, and even the occasional new mode to unlock, a lot of it feels similar throughout so there’s an odd sense of repetition. It is indeed odd, because the tracks are excellently designed and the racing action doesn’t really get tiring; it’s just that after a while you sorta go, “Okay, I get it.” That’s part of the reason I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a full-price purchase unless you’ve got a bunch of friends who are willing to play. Or maybe you’ll just get all teary-eyed at the tracks built around timeless Sega franchises. Definitely a lot of nostalgia there .
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is fun on top of fun with only the slightest tarnish of repetition and extra simplicity. The available characters, vehicles, modes, and tracks make this a robust package and playing with others is always a blast and a half. The production values are solid and at $39.99, this might be the perfect holiday gift for a young’un, or for the hardcore Sega fan seeking a lighthearted respite from the grittier, more serious productions currently on store shelves. You won’t be overwhelmed by its quality but you’re almost guaranteed a good time.
The Good: Colorful, attractive visual palette. Great racetrack design. Tight, responsive controls. Multiplayer is loads of fun. Transforming vehicles add depth and even strategy. Quite creative throughout, from top to bottom.
The Bad: Can feel a little repetitive. Flying mechanic feels a little off (and out of place). Not as much fun when playing solo.
The Ugly: “Waaaay too cute for anything to be ‘ugly.’”