How Sega Is Transforming the Next Sonic Kart Racer

The follow-up to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing brings new drivers, new tracks, and two new vehicle types.

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When you hear people talk about Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, you're going to hear a lot of references to Rare's 1997 kart racer, Diddy Kong Racing. Both are goofy racing games starring a host of animal mascots, and both put you behind the wheel of cars, planes, and hovercrafts. In Diddy Kong Racing, you had to choose which vehicle type to pilot before a race; while in Transformed, you can control all three. Recently, we got the chance to get our first look at the game and go hands-on with a multiplayer demo. There are a lot of exciting additions to run through, so buckle up.

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In Transformed, each player controls a single vehicle that can alternate between three different modes: car, plane, and hovercraft. These transformations are triggered by driving through large blue rings, called "transformation gates" (see above), at specific locations along the track. Typically, these transformations are mandatory, and you don't control when they occur. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, one track might present a fork in the road, with one route leading to a hovercraft transformation and the other to a car transformation. Some tracks (and game modes) will even be mono-vehicular, with all players controlling a single vehicle type throughout.

Supporting these new vehicle types has led developer Sumo Digital to build an entirely new physics engine for this game. Compared to the automotive handling in the original, driving a car in Transformed felt more grounded. The cars are a bit more responsive when cutting corners at high speeds, and they emulate a better sense of weight on the track. The planes are much slower to turn than the cars, and travel the fastest of the three. Planes also have the added benefit of traveling along the z-axis, decelerating during ascent and (rapidly) accelerating during descent. Finally, the boat is the wild card. In shallow water it handles similarly to the car, but in deep water with heavy waves it's a challenge to stay in control while maintaining top speed.

Each vehicle felt distinct. They were challenging to pilot at times, but that challenge arose naturally from the track design, rather than poor handling. There were also a few new faces behind the wheels of these machines. Vyse, from the Dreamcast-era Japanese role-playing game Skies of Arcadia, and Gilius, from the late-'80s beat-'em-up Golden Axe, were playable (complete with their own unique vehicles). There are plenty more new racers to come, and each will handle a little differently from the others. Certain characters will even be better suited for one vehicle type over another, but these fine details are still in the works.

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There is plenty more Sega love to be found outside of the roster. Track selection is just as important, with our session's opening track being modeled after Japanese rail shooter Panzer Dragoon. This track incorporated all three vehicle types throughout the different laps. During the first lap we started as the car and then later transformed into the boat. On the second lap a piece of the track was destroyed, and our route was modified to include a plane section instead of a boat section. Route alterations such as this will not be uncommon and will trigger automatically.

A Super Monkey Ball-inspired track followed. This track was all downhill (a teleportation pad transported racers back to the top) and started in hovercraft mode. Being completely downhill, it was naturally a lot faster than the previous track and gave us plenty of opportunities to try out the new trick system. Tricks in Transformed work similarly to the way they did in Mario Kart Wii--by successfully performing a midair trick in Mario Kart Wii, your character earned a speed boost upon hitting the ground. Transformed takes it a step further by introducing a risk/reward element: if you hit the ground before completing a trick, you take a speed penalty. There are more complex tricks characters can perform as well, but whether this will lead to a larger speed boost is still being determined.

The final point to cover is the all-star attack. These behave a little differently than they did in the previous game. These powerful attacks are no longer just a means for helping players jump from the back of the pack to the front; they are a reward for good driving. By collecting coins, performing tricks, overtaking other racers, and so forth, you gradually fill your all-star meter. Once this meter is full, you can activate your character's all-star attack, which transforms your character into an invulnerable, supercharged airplane with a unique weapon. This power-up is only temporary and can be activated at any time once the all-star meter is full. However, once the all-star meter is full, it occupies your weapon slot, meaning you can no longer pick up or use the other weapons in the game. That is, until you exhaust your all-start attack.

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Sadly, the all-star attacks, along with several other features, were not yet implemented during our play session. Taking a hovercraft over lava, air-drifting alongside cavern walls, and exploring all of the different game modes will have to wait. Luckily, we won't have to wait for long since Sumo Digital is eyeing a winter release sometime this year. And when it's released, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS, and PlayStation Vita.

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