I?d loved to have been a fly-on-the-wall during contract negotiations for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
?So, Sonic, as we discussed on the phone, we?re looking at doing a sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing but this time with a stronger focus on SEGA?s other beloved brands.? the suits might open with.
?Great. My name still goes on the box or I?m out,? the spiky blue hedgehog would hypothetically reply; we all know Sonic is a hardass when it comes to contract negotiations and brand management.
?Hmm, well, we?re not sure that?s going to work because we?ve got this great line-up planned from Sega?s history that we think will really please the fans, plus we?ve got transforming vehicles,? the suits would mumble, nervously. ?So, we?re thinking of calling it ?SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed?
?No, you?re going to call it...Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which, in time, people will shorten to Sonic Racing Transformed. Drop the ?SEGA? bit; it makes you sound egotistical? At this point shoulders would have slumped, but it?s exactly what the suits knew would happen. ?Fine. Sign here.?
?Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, always a pleasure. Now...what are you going to do this time around to ensure that we?re not once again compared to that mushroom-munching plumber??
In truth, there?s nothing that the teams at SEGA and Sumo Digital could have done to prevent 2010?s Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing from being compared to Mario?s karting series. It?s the well-established elephant in the room and occupies the same spot that?s reserved for the likes of Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and FIFA in their respective genres.
To a degree, the same applies to upcoming sequel, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed; especially as Sumo Digital is including land, water and air-based shenanigans (a format that was apparently decided upon prior to Nintendo?s Mario Kart 7 reveal). However, asIGN discovered in April, there are fundamental differences between Sumo?s interpretation of how racing in air and water should feel when compared to Nintendo?s take.
Joe Musashi from Shinobi bombs around on a quad bike.
More importantly, it appears that both developer and publisher recognise that comparisons are inevitable and so have delved deeper into the SEGA annals in order to promote the ?All-Stars? moniker more heavily this time around; thus further differentiating the title from Mario?s single-brand identity. This has resulted in some fan-pleasing inclusions, both in terms of character choices and track design as SEGA?s recent visit to IGN illustrated.
First up, is the addition of Shinobi?s Joe Musashi, who drives a transforming land, sea and air vehicle that looks as though it?s been borrowed from Batman, complete with black paint job, angular body work and stealth-dampened sound effects. However, the real stars are not the characters, but the levels themselves and the unveiling of two, all-new tracks will appeal to fans of SEGA?s 16-bit era and its fondly remembered Dreamcast days.
Adder?s Lair is pulled from the halcyon days of Golden Axe. It?s a dark, challenging track that features the iconic skeleton with outstretched palms, which series fans will recognise from the Golden Axe character select screen. Like the majority of tracks in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, it features sections on land, sea (or in this case, lava) and in air and adheres to the game?s thematic concept of narrative events that alter or deform the track. This necessitates adaptation as new paths open and existing ones close as volcanoes erupt and meteors rain down, but its brooding tone is not simply for effect.
?This time around, every track is a different IP, as opposed to the last game where we had three tracks for each zone,? explains SEGA senior producer Gwilym Hughes. ?So, what we?ve tried to do is have the levels get thematically darker as they get harder. Golden Axe is toward the end and has some nasty bits in it and we intend that the tracks be grouped by difficulty and theme.?
Sonic and Shadow duke it out on the race track.
The second of the new tracks revels in the inner-city chaos of Jet Set Radio, in which a battle between the Rudies and the police plays out in the background. ?Jet Set is more of a story game we?ve tried to reflect that in the level,? says Hughes. ?So, a lot of it is about the Rudies versus the police: the police are bombing parts of the city and by the third lap they?ve called in the army.?
With only the track structure complete at this point it?s not yet clear how this carnage will manifest itself. Much of the level requires a gradual ascent to scramble over the rooftops set against a picturesque sunset before plunging into a train station and avoiding on-rushing locomotives, all rendered using Sumo?s new graphics engine.
While Sumo and SEGA?s efforts will likely once again be compared to that of Nintendo?s up and down success with Mario Kart, there?s a lot of effort being poured into establishing a break-out branded-racer that celebrates SEGA?s illustrious history just as much as it focuses on being fun to drive, fly and float. The racing feels different to Mario Kart and the all-star focus certainly looks different, but it seems that even SEGA can?t resist playfully butting heads with its old rival. ?With the tracks being as complex as they are, we?re trying to be more nuanced than Mario Kart in the second-to-second gameplay,? states Hughes. ?But we?re not trying to be different just to be different. We really want this to be a party game, and we want to promote the idea of fighting in the living room as well as on screen.?
Sonic would be pleased that SEGA hasn?t lost its spark.
Golden Axe tracks, Joe Mushashi from Shinobi... and no Valkyria Chronicles or Streets of Rage characters. Now I'm sad.