Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Super Sonic Racing - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

If there's one subgenre of racing that has a bit of a rocky history, it's kart or mascot racing. A subgenre made most popular, if not outright started by Nintendo's own Mario Kart series and said series in fact has handily dominated the genre. several companies have tried over the years to make a racing game like Mario Kart, but there's not much in the way of major success stories, at least that I'm aware of. Which makes this game kind of a surprise.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a racing game about games made by Sega. It's worth noting that almost everything about the game comes from or is some nod to Sega's past as a game developer and publisher. The music, racers and tracks are all based on various games made by Sega, and there's actually a good amount of Sega's history covered here, everything from the old master system and arcade days, up to the Dreamcast and beyond. This game is very much a love letter to all things Sega, and if you're one of those people who like myself grew up playing Sega Games instead of Nintendo, there's a lot of recognizable stuff here.
This is a game about racing as Sega characters on tracks based on Sega games
All-Stars Racing is an arcade style racing game and the driving feels solid, cars can readily power slide through turns, catch big air on jumps or charge over boost pads for an additional burst of speed. Races feel nice and fast and it's honestly fun to speed through the games various tracks. What really impresses me is the game's big gimmick. Throughout the race cars will transform between three modes: a car, a plane, and a boat, to handle specific sections of each track and it's honestly impressive that the game can take three completely different vehicles and get them all to work as well as they do, although the planes can feel a bit weak. Drifting with them is difficult and the controls make throwing items backwards while flying somewhat problematic. Even with those problems however, everything holds up well enough and I don't find myself dreading having to drive in any of those three modes.

The game has a large number of characters to race as, again from several Sega games. There's over 20 of them, which gives a lot of gameplay options, but what makes this even better is mods. Each character has access to about eight different mods, unlocked through a leveling system that gives characters xp as you race as them. These mods alter how a character plays and some of them have a drastic impact on how they perform, giving players a lot more options that it initially appears. The characters cover a good amount of Sega's history. Alongside fairly obvious picks like sonic and Tails, AiAi from Super Monkey Ball or B. D. Joe from crazy Taxi, there's a lot of picks you might not have initially expected. like Vyes from Skies of Arcadia, or Gilius Thunderhead from golden Ax. There's even a good number of guest characters, like Ralph from Wreck-it Ralph or even several characters from Valve's Team Fortress 2 on the PC version. Overall there's a good selection here.
Races see you switching between car, boat, and plane mode on the fly.
The tracks, like the playable characters also cover a good bit of Sega's history. Alongside obvious picks like Samba De Amigo  or House of the Dead, there's tracks for titles like Panzer Dragoon, Afterburner, and even a track based on the Saturn game Burning Rangers. The tracks are fairly complicated and can change drastically over the course of the race, to the point that one lap can seem completely different from the previous one. how varied this gets varies a lot from track to track though, some like Temple Trouble, barely change between laps, while others like Rogues' landing greatly change things up each lap, so this ability for the track to change over time can feel pretty under-utilized in places. The tracks are fun to drive through however, and do a good job of representing the games they come from, and include little touches that fans of the respective games will recognize, such as Professor K DJ-ing over the music in Jet Set Radio's Graffiti City, or the various Nightmarens and Nightopians that populate NiGHTS' Dream Valley.

The game comes complete with several different modes to play in, outside of single race and the Grand Prix, which has several cups to race through, There's the world tour. The world tour consists of a map from which you can pick various events to play in, covering not only single races, but special challenges like dodging traffic or hitting chains of boost pads, all of these events have 3 levels of difficulty and earn you stars, which allows you to unlock things like mods and extra characters. There's a large number of events to go through although some of the special challenges, particularly battle races, can be something of a pain to deal with.
The world tour map is fairly large, and covers dozens of events.
Graphically, the game is very nice looking. Characters look like you'd expect, with properly updated models where needed on older characters, and the oldest characters from 2D games being given a proper 3D makeover. Track environments are nice and varied and again look like something out of the games they're based on. There is however, one major problem in that the game seems to suffer from some graphical issues, with things failing to load properly after I've played for a while. I'm not sure what the reason for this is, if I had to guess however, I'd say that the game might be a bit resource hungry as the solution seems to be lowering the graphics settings. It's a bit weird as my system is close and even beats several of the recommended system requirements, though I'd expect It wouldn't be a major problem for people on beefy newer PCs. For people on slightly older ones like myself, it might be best to crank down the graphics and try not to play for too long at once.

One of this games biggest strengths is it's soundtrack. not content to simply port songs over from their respective games, several of the songs have been updated and remixed, and the results are amazing. A few standout tracks include Carrier Zone's take on Afterburner's stage 1 theme as an 80's style rock song that sound like something out of Top Gun, or Burning Depths version of "We are Burning Rangers", There's a lot of good music here. Sound holds up just as well, tires squeal, weapons fire with a satisfying fwoosh, and vehicles make this nice mechanical sound whenever they transform, of particular note is the game's announcer, who's fittingly loud and energetic and who's voice actor clearly had way too much fun with this. This is a good sounding game.
Each racer has several mods you can unlock, which alters how they perform.
As much as I like the game, there are a few flaws worth pointing out, the first is that the items, while useful without being overly disruptive, are somewhat generic. In a game where almost everything ties back to a Sega IP, it's sad that we only get simple fireworks and speed boosts to use. It would of been nice if the items were also based on stuff from Sega games. For example: Summoning a swarm of hornets is nice, but why not make them full-on Buzz Bombers from Sonic the Hedgehog? Also, while it's nice that they included a few tracks ported from the original All-Stars Racing, they didn't update them to account for the games new mechanics, so the tracks use cars only and nothing changes between laps, meaning they tend to stick out a bit as a result.

Overall, this is a good kart style racer, which is impressive given how rare it is to see one outside of Mario Kart. If you're looking for a game like Mario kart to play on your PC, or other system for that matter as this was a multi-platform release, this will do nicely. That alone is enough to make the game worth looking at, however beyond that the game's biggest strength is how much of a love letter to all things Sega it is. If you like Sega and grew up with their games and systems back in the day? This thing is pure Sega fanservice and you'll find a lot to love here.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega. It is available on Steam.

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