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If you had told me that Sega’s sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was going to be one of the best arcade racers I’ve played this year I’d probably just roll my eyes and write you off as some Sega-loving fool; blinded by the roster and environments, and thus totally overlooking the gimmicky transforming vehicles. Of coure, I’d be totally wrong for thinking that as, after spending quality time snuggled up to the Wii U version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Sumo Digital has created one hell of a racing title.
I’m not going to lie, there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to reviewing an arcade-styled, weapon-based racer with a colourful and characteristic roster: Mario Kart. Yes, Nintendo’s behemoth racing series has managed to sully the efforts of both Codemaster’s F1 Race Stars and Sony’s LittleBigPlanet Karting already this year. But, thanks to the efforts of Sumo Digital, All-Stars Racing Transformed has managed to avoid falling into the black hole of Mario by offering up genuinely engaging, enjoyable and refreshingly different vehicular combat.
It does this by not lumping you in with a set of Grands Prix to work your way through, before hoping you lap up the online and split-screen multiplayer to satisfy your gameplay urges. Instead it offers up a wonderful ‘World Tour’ mode to serve as the meat of the game. However you’ll still need to work though each Grand Prix to fully unlock everything All-Stars Racing Transformed has to offer – and it certainly has a lot to offer.
Embarking on World Tour sees you competing in a mix of straight up 10-person weapon-based races and head-to-head ghost races, along with time-based drift, boost, and flying ring challenges. Along your journey through the pleasingly varied set of races there are characters and car modifications – which tweak things such as handling and boost – available to unlock with stars accumulated on your travels. You earn stars by playing on different difficulty levels and, somewhat surprisingly, All-Stars Racing Transformed is bloody hard. To me, a race on ‘B Class’ means medium difficulty, however it’s anything but – with many races being close-calls to the 3rd place award position. The thing is, races don’t ever feel impossible, you never feel outclassed, and so you jump right back in wanting more of that punishment.
And you’ll get it alright, as the weapon selection on offer is vast and varied. Inevitably some items do draw parallels with a certain kart racer; Fireworks work like Green Shells, while Drones work like Red, and a Swarm works in a somewhat similar way to a Blue Shell. However that’s around where the similarities end as Sumo Digital has created a creative arsenal of control-confusing Tornadoes, a powerful ‘All-Star’ invincibility pick-up, a game changing shield-meets-weapon-stealer Glove and mines in the form of Blowfish. Gameplay isn’t just altered through combat though, there’s some transforming malarky happening in races too.
Who’d have thought that a somewhat gimmicky sounding transforming mechanic could alter things so much? This isn’t a poor attempt at integrating in Diddy Kong Racing-style crafts into gameplay or transforming karts a la Mario Kart 7. In Sega’s racer your car changes at fixed points when you pass through gates. However, due to the multiple routes and fiendish shortcuts you can take, switching crafts and hitting gates becomes a separate tactical endeavour as each craft handles differently. Driving may be rather self explanatory, but flying is an entirely different beast as you navigate floaty controls and worryingly sharp breaking. Hitting the water turns you into a boat and once again everything changes and suddenly everything feels slower with heavier turning in the water. It takes a little getting used to, but changing between all three adds a layer of depth to races that really livens things up.
If gameplay wasn’t enough to satisfy you, Sumo Digital has gone back though Sega history to find some of the finest titles on offer and cram them into All-Stars Racing Transformed. Not only does this mean that the likes of Beat from Jet Set Radio, Nights from Nights Into Dreams or Joe Mushashi of Shinobi fame, all star as playable characters – among many others, including Wreck it Ralph star, Ralph – but the courses on offer hark back to the heydays of Sega. Paths weave and wind around Sega history, with many stages blaring out iconic themes as you explore these richly crafted courses.
As far as Wii U functionality goes, All-Stars Racing Transformed brings some interesting features to the GamePad, although it’s nothing overly game changing. While you can play the entire game, including multiplayer, on your GamePad screen with just a flick on the touchscreen, the GamePad does have its uses when playing on a TV. During menus it shows exactly the same as the TV, yet in races everything you need to know is placed on its screen. A lavish course map, opponent’s positions and even a weapon camera is shown here leaving the main screen completely uncluttered – which is very nice to play on.
If you decide to pick up Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and it’s something I very much think you should do, you’ll find a fun, addictive and incredibly enjoyable arcade racer. A racer that comes across as a tasteful fanfare for gaming at its greatest. A racer that defies all expectations. A racer that, ultimately, ticks all the boxes – even the ones you didn’t know you wanted ticking.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: Looks beautiful and has a soundtrack to match
Gameplay – 5/5: Superb vehicle handling and wonderful course design, and a slew of enjoyable modes to boot.
Innovation – 4/5: Doesn’t reinvent the genre in a radical way, but takes an established formula and breaths fresh air into it.
Value – 4/5: Tonnes of single-player content to keep you busy, and if you can connect online, even more fun can be had.
Final Score: 4.5/5