Thanks to its fantastic three-vehicle mechanic and an amazing assortment of tracks, Sonic Racing Transformed is a very good entry in the kart racing genre
In all of the gaming industry, there is no niche where there is a domination as huge as the one that exists on the kart racing genre. All games and teams that venture into the realm know exactly what needs to be done, which is to produce a game that draws positive comparisons to Mario Kart. After all, not only was it Nintendo that created the often-copied formula, but Mario and his crew have been executing it masterfully for over two decades.
During that period of time, only a very restricted number of titles – out of which Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing stand out – were able to break the monopoly, each for their own reasons and qualities. Sonic Racing Transformed manages to enter that select group, and it does so by fixing the flaws of its predecessor, and offering a fantastic mix of challenge, content and outstanding track design.
The first noticeable feature that makes Sonic Racing Transformed stay away from being just another kart game is exposed right on its title. The game does not focus solely on wacky automobile competitions. Instead, the races take place on the water, in the sky, and on the land. It would not have been such a refreshing concept (for one, Diddy Kong Racing has done it) but for one detail: tracks are not based on a single vehicle; each one of them presents segments that demand different racing approaches, forcing characters to magically go from one vehicle to the other on the fly.
With the exception of a few rare instances when the vehicles behave oddly in the milliseconds following a transformation, the transitions are mostly smoothly done and add a lot of excitement to the race. Aside from the fantastic visual value of, for instance, going up a ramp with a boat and watching as it turns into an airplane in the midst of a battle for a position, the transformations also have strategic value, because as flying is considerably faster than the other two options of movement, the racing tracks will occasionally offer opportunities for players to transform into a plane in an earlier point than they would if they were to follow the regular track, rewarding those who find ramps and taking off spots.
Speaking of the tracks, they are yet another point that heavily benefits from the blending of vehicles, and are the clear highlight of the game. Courses take advantage of that design option in two distinct ways: they are either built so that three vehicles are used during the same lap, or they present environmental elements that alter the path in between laps.
Therefore, even though the game contains sixteen original tracks, plus four extracted from its predecessor – all of which are kart-only and that come off as too bland when compared to the title’s original courses – it feels like more, because as they mutate from one lap to another, tracks often become different to the point of not being recognizable. As if all that work was not enough, the game’s tracks are also packed with alternative paths and shortcuts, which add a lot to both their already high replayability and to the element of surprise waiting within each race.
In a genre usually dominated by multiplayer-focused games, Sonic Racing Transformed brings forth a whole lot of single-player value. There are two main modes where the solo fun resides: Grand Prix and Career. The first one is nearly self-explanatory: players compete against nine other characters in four-race cups to see who ends up with the biggest amount of points. In total, there are ten cups, equally divided between regular and mirrored ones, and the difficulty of each can be chosen among four distinct options.
Meanwhile, Career mode, through which most of the characters are unlocked, presents individual challenges that include regular races where players must finish at a certain position, time trials, boost challenges, and racing duels against a series of characters. According to the difficulty chosen for each challenge, players will earn stars, which can then be used to unlock gates that are either protecting new characters or more challenges.
For a game as colorful and seemingly kid-friendly as this one, Sonic Racing Transformed packs an immensely surprising amount of challenge. While the high level of difficulty is extremely welcome, for it considerably boosts the time that can be spent playing solo, some of its implementation is questionable. For example, facing at least a portion of the game in the hard difficulty is key if players want to unlock certain characters, and open a few gates hiding some of the more advanced challenges.
It is all fine and good if the player in question is experienced; youngsters, however, will most likely be overwhelmed by the many hours of practice one must go through to clear, and access, a good part of the game.
The core problem here, though, is that practice is not the only thing required to go through the entirety of the game; patience is also extremely important. Like all games of its kind, Sonic Transformed presents an assortment of items that can be used during the race. Unlike Mario Kart, however, the items received are not heavily dependent on the position the racers finds themselves in. Due to that, while leaders are boosting their way through the tracks with powerful items, characters in the middle of the pack might be struggling with simple power-ups.
As a consequence, a big part of the game’s result, especially on the hardest levels, relies on luck. Though those occurrences are annoying on Career mode, they can be even more frustrating during a Grand Prix, where three straight good races can be destroyed by a bad race where players – which always start at the back of the grid – are unable to reach the leaders because they are too busy being hit by a barrage of items. Regardless of how good a player is at speeding through the tracks, finishing 1st will usually demand many tries, and an eventual victory is more likely to come due to the sheer luck of getting the right item at the right time than it is to be born out of pure skill.
In general, though, Sonic Racing Transformed is a very pleasant game to play. Not only is it bursting with the personality extracted directly from fantastic Sega properties – including a vast selection of characters, each with a uniquely designed trio of vehicles – and a full-fledged single-player mode, it is also a software that can be enjoyed with friends.
The multiplayer gameplay is not restricted to especially designed modes. It is, instead, available in any mode of choice – with the exception of Time Trials – and, by taking advantage of the Wii U’s Gamepad, the game allows for up to five players to battle each other on any of game’s many Grand Prix tournaments, Career Mode challenges, or online matches.
Whoever holds the Wii U Gamepad– which on the single-player mode works as a map display and a rear view mirror – will play on the controller’s screen, which despite its average size produces very nice visuals; while those who hold the Wiimotes will share the TV. Although the Gamepad is not used in any asymmetric and creative way, which is totally understandable given the nature of a racing title, it is nice to be able to avoid split-screen when playing in pairs, which means the device has a pretty valuable use in Sonic Racing Transformed.
While its predecessors suffered from constant frame rate problems, this is a game mostly free from that issue, and that is no small feat, for the tracks are full of activity. At any time, there are ten racers throwing items and shoving each other, scenario details being processed at the game’s relatively fast speed, and course mutations taking place in-between laps as a result of explosions, and other kinds of physical destruction. Throw into the bag the fact that the game looks really great, and holding it all together through the entirety of the race becomes quite a technical achievement.
Besides being exciting by their fast and frantic nature, races are boosted by a nice soundtrack which is highlighted by some tunes that have been selected from games represented within Sonic Racing Transformed to make up some sort of Sega-themed collection of the biggest and best musical hits the company has produced.
Often, when a good game of the kart racing genre hits a Nintendo platform early on, it tends to be labeled as a title that exists for the purpose of temporarily satisfying any racing needs that players might have until Mario Kart comes around. Although it pales in comparison to the marvelous Mario Kart 8 – especially on the multiplayer front, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is still a very good buy due to its clever three-vehicle mechanics and its huge single-player value. It features tons of content, which aside from simply racing includes over 100 collectible stickers that serve as awards for the completion of achievements, a nice degree of vehicle customization, and a huge load of the undeniable charm of the most popular Sega franchises. Put some good level of challenge in there, which is sometimes unfortunately done cheaply, and you have a lasting, fun and rewarding title.