Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing was a decent little racer from Outrun developer Sumo Digital. When it released back in 2010 it took the tried and tested go-karting genre and gave it a unique SEGA spin and while comparisons were immediately drawn with Mario and his racing series, believe it or not I ended up preferring Sonic’s attempt more. This was thanks to a great, varied cast of old and present SEGA mascots and more importantly a better focus on the driver’s skill rather than getting lucky with weaponry. It was a really fun game that had plenty to offer and judging by what I played of its sequel at E3, it seems Sumo Digital are gearing up to take the series in a brilliant direction.
Where the original title was a straight up kart racer, in Transformed you’ll find yourself also taking to the skies as well as the wet stuff via plane and boat. Many will recall Mario Kart 7 did this sort of thing last year by adding gliders and propellers to the mix, but before you go dismissing this as a mere copy-cat, take note of this, Mario Kart 7 never featured real flying, but rather sections that felt more like ‘falling with style’ with a glider. The underwater sections too felt just like driving on land, just slightly floatier. In Transformed these added methods of transport are fully-expanded allowing you to properly soar through the skies in a plane and skim over huge waves in water on boat or hovercraft. Whereas Mario Kart 7 had you gliding or driving underwater for a few seconds, Transformed has you flying and boating sometimes for a whole two minute lap. As you can see the games couldn’t be more different in how they handle these ideas.
Rather than selecting from the three types of travel, your vehicle will instead change on-the-fly during races in a cool little animation. The Panzer Dragoon track for example begins its first lap as expected on the ground in a car. On the second lap however, the road below you crumbles making way for a new route along a river complete with crashing waves and convincing water physics. The final lap once more changes as you take to the skies weaving around cliff faces and angling between boost rings. Every lap felt truly unique and required me to take a different approach to my driving/piloting. This kind of layout is evident in all three tracks on offer at the show, some utilizing planes more, others ignoring a vehicle type altogether but each offering a different experience every time you go round the track.
Something that was perhaps a little lacking in the original game was the weapons which felt like poorer clones of Mario Kart’s items and sadly lacked any oomph when you managed to hit an opponent. The demo seemed to offer an improved weapon system featuring more unique items this time including a baseball glove that catches weapons fired at you and a snowman’s head that sends shots of ice that’ll freeze the racers. The impact they have also appears to have been increased finding just the right balance between useful but never overpowering. All-Star moves are also handled differently this time with coins scattered about the track rewarding racers with a special move should they collect enough. These can be activated no matter what position you are so no more will it only be handed to those struggling at the back of the pack. Now I know many of you will worry these changes might make Transformed feel more luck based, but a SEGA rep at the booth reassured me of how the game will retain the original’s emphasis on driving ability with skilled racers beating newcomers nine times out of ten. Good to hear.
Only a handful of characters were available to use in the demo with returning members Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Dr. Eggman appearing along with some fresh faces including Skies of Arcadia’s Vyse, Joe Musashi from Shinobi and Golden Axe’s Gilius Thunderhead. Every racer has their own transforming vehicle with each version not only looking fantastic but also unique to that particular character. Sonic for example sports a slicker version of his original blue sports car which forms into an equally slick speed boat and jet. The aforementioned Gilius Thunderhead however gets to ride a bronze creature that then morphs into a turtle and an eagle.
It was also announced during E3 that NASCAR driver Danica Patrick will make the roster too… not sure why… seems like a very odd choice considering this is a cartoony kart-racer. The potential for remaining unclaimed spots however is very exciting with any of the Streets of Rage fighters, Vectorman and Ristar immediately springing to mind as potential candidates. I’m sure SEGA will reveal more nearer the game’s release.
The tracks too are also full of SEGA history with the three being shown off taking place in the Panzer Dragoon, Super Monkey Ball and Golden Axe universe. Sumo Digital promised me that all sixteen new tracks would feature unique IPs this time as opposed to the original’s approach of including three tracks per franchise. Maybe this time we’ll see an Outrun track… One can hope.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed may have a ridiculously bad title, but the racing itself plays brilliantly. While the Mario Kart series as of late seems like it’s merely offering more of the same, Transformed feels like a genuine step up for the karting genre and I for one can’t wait to see what other SEGA treasures Sumo have in store for us come the game’s release.