It’s been a good long while since I sat down and spent any real time with a kart racer. So when Scotty D gifted me Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed on Steam, I was intrigued to give Sega’s latest attempt to ape Nintendo a try. What I found was a very competent and entertaining racer which gives the best kart racers on the market a run for their money.
While comparisons to Nintendo’s own Mario Kart must be drawn, I found Sonic & All Star Racing to move past those comparisons thanks to a diverse line-up of characters, great control mechanics, and maps that constantly remain entertaining through transitions in the environment. This doesn’t mean that Sonic & All-Star Racing is a perfect game by any means. Flaws in the AI make some losses feel incredibly cheap. In contrast some power-ups, like the ability to use the all-star power, make subsequent victories a bit less sweet.
Graphically the game stands out as one of the prettiest kart racers to grace any console or PC. Running on Sega’s internal engine named SUMO, Sonic and company have never looked better. Environments are all beautifully rendered, and players may even find themselves wanting the action on screen to slow down a bit in order to take them all in. Map design remains faithful to whichever mascot inspired it, with the themes and music switching from environment to environment.
The games aesthetic is just window dressing to complement the very fluid and tight racing experience. Those of us who may not be as experienced with kart racers shouldn’t worry, there isn’t a huge learning curve to tackle here. One of Sega’s best decisions with Sonic & All-Stars (in my humble opinion) was to keep things relatively simple. New players will find that learning maps, the appropriate times to use power-ups, and the importance of drifting are all picked up fairly easily. That’s not to say there is no challenge to be found. The games AI is up to the task of delivering some quality opposition (most of the time). Additional races like boost and drift challenges will also challenge a players progression and take time to pass, let alone master.
At some point during each race, the environment will shift from road to water, water to air, air to road, etc… The transition is fairly seamless and impressive as not once did I feel that a botched turn or missed boost was the fault of a poorly placed transition. It’s a fairly novel idea for a kart racer to employ, forcing the player not to relax into one style of play and thus keeping them engaged with what is happening on the screen. Power-ups and weapons are strewn throughout maps like so many pieces of troll-flavored goodness. I find perverse pleasure in hitting buddies with anything from a mini-tornado, to heat seeking missiles compliments of the TF2 team. The ability to launch your weapons back at racers who may be looking to pass you is also an added plus which never fails to thrill. While the range of power-ups and weapons at the players disposal is wide and varied, none of them feel truly over-powered. Getting hit with a blow fish, or even multiple ice balls, won’t necessarily put a good driver out of the race.
There is a certain level of customization and character building allowed in Sonic & All Stars, but there is very little depth here. It seems this is the one part of the game in which the developers just phoned it in. As a player finishes races he accumulate XP, weapon points, drift points, etc… Once enough points are accumulated the player will level up and unlock modifiers that can be applied to their vehicles. Modifiers can be used to increase a racers stats such as speed, handling, boost, or the frequency in which they score an all-star power-up. I understand that this gripe conflicts with my praise of Sega keeping this game simple, but this is just a bit too simple in my opinion. Why not allow players who are into such things have total customization power over their preferred racers? And for the love of god why can’t we actually apply all of the cool little stickers we collect to our karts and not our retarded multiplayer tags???
Character selection is interesting and diverse. As a player progresses through the career mode, more racers will be unlocked. Most of the Sonic alumni make an appearance, along with other fan-favorite Sega mascots. The roster isn’t just limited to Sega owned characters though, the Team Fortress 2 team joins the fun along with Ralph from Wreck-It Ralph, Mii and Xbox Avatar depending on what console you are playing on, or General Winter from Company of Heroes 2 if you are playing on PC. The only odd ball in the group is Danica Patrick?!? Who the hell did this chick blow to get put in the game? All joking aside, Danica’s inclusion in the roster just feels completely out of place with the rest of the roster. Not to mention the game’s overall presentation.
In a very cool move, Sega allowed the community to create and vote on who they would want to see added to the roster via DLC. The list comprised of Ryo Hazuki, Hatsune Miku, Segata Sanshiro, Vectorman, ToeJam & Earl, Bayonetta, and Ristar was taken by Sega which has now confirmed that one of these characters is in development.
Sonic & All-Star’s multiplayer component is competent and works fairly well. There were some complaints early on about input lag and framerate issues, but those have seemingly been fixed through patching. Lag is kept to a minimum, and the fine job Sega has done balancing the various mascots means everyone in the room isn’t scrambling to choose the same character. It also means that most of the time they will not drop out if they don’t get said character. The in-game voice chat is somewhat atrocious. Since I own the PC version, my compatriots and I chose to use Skype as an alternative. Don’t get me wrong, it works…just not that well.
Over all, Sonic & All-Star Racing is a fantastic addition to anyone’s Steam library. Especially those of us who missed playing a quality kart racer and didn’t want to go waste money on a Wii, or Wii U for that matter. Sega has done a fine job of taking the best this genre has to offer and throwing it into the pot along with some new ideas that make the whole deal feel fresh. Maybe in the coming years people will start comparing Mario Kart to Sonic & All-Star, and not the other way around.
Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed currently retails on Steam for $14.99, and it’s worth every penny!