Whether you're on the road, water or sky, Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed easily speeds past its competition

User Rating: 9 | Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed X360
Even as a huge Sonic fan, even I rolled my eyes at the idea at the first Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing. No, not because Sonic was in a car, but because Mario Kart clones, which is what it looked like, had a very bad reputation such as M&M's Kart Racing. However, much to my surprise, the game was actually a lot of fun with tight controls, nice visuals and fun track design. That's not to say it didn't have its share of flaws though. More than 2 years later and Sumo has given us a sequel to this gem; Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed. Improving on the flaws of the first, Sumo has truly outdone themselves this time and not only made a better game, but they made an arcade racing game that is good enough to keep up with its competition.

The racing mechanics are only one of the many things that Transformed improved on. The racing is not only more fun, but it feels faster and tighter than the original. The solid controls return here, making drifting around corners a breeze. The physics actually do a better job at making you feel like you're on the track; when you bump into a wall or another racer, you actually feel it this time and it is your own fault, not the game's. In addition to the racing, items are present to give you an edge. Luckily, they seem balanced for the most part. Most of them are unimaginitive like the blow fish or ice, but they do have their advantages. There is even a "blue shell" equivalent, sort of, called "swarm" that puts up a blockade of bees in front of the race leader. However, unlike the blue shell, skilled drivers have a chance to navigate around the swarm and pass with ease. It's a way to screw over the guy in first without ruining the race.

There is a new twist this time around. As the title suggests, your vehicle can transform into a boat or a plane at certain parts on each track. This happens automatically depending on the track your on, and there are some routes where you get the choice to change into one or the other. The one thing that might fool you at first is a slight difference in your control scheme as you enter the water or the sky. Boats feel close to the car sections but it feels more like a wave race thanks to the terrain. Planes feel even more different because of your new ability to move up or down freely, and extra moves such as barrel rolling and flips. In spite of a slight difference in feel for each transformation, the plane and boat sections work surprisingly well and they keep the tracks interesting. The slight difference in controls don't take too long to get used to either, making the game easy to get into.

One thing that bothered me about the first game was a limited track selection. While there were a total of 21 tracks, most of the themes were repeated (why did we need 3 casino tracks, 3 beaches, 3 bases, and 3 haunted stages and why were only 5 franchises represented?). Luckily, Transformed offers more variety. With the exception of Sonic, who has 3 tracks from 3 separate games, all franchises represented are given one track and 4 more tracks from the first game. Adding to that, the track design look and design have improved, with each track feeling as unique as the last. Another feature that keeps them interesting is that some of the tracks change with each lap. Some tracks mix it up by changing the course by flooding the area (forcing you into a boat instead of a car), destroying the track (making you take to the skies in a plane) or just by altering the course altogether. This is where the track design shines as each lap is different than the last, offering a bit of variety in your races.

The character selection is a bit of a mixed bag. It did manage to get rid of characters that nobody wanted from the first game like Big the Cat, Zobio & Zobiko, the Bonanza Bros. etc., but at the cost of getting rid of characters like Ryu Hazuki, Billy Hatcher, and Opa Opa. At the same time, the game also made some good choices with its characters (Nights, Gillius, Vyse, and Wreck it Ralph) but it also added some dumb ideas too (like Danica Patrick, who doesn't fit at all, as well as clones like MeeMee and Reala). Whether or not you prefer this new roster or the old, there is certainly some variety of colorful Sega gems to choose from. What's even more interesting is each character has not only their own stats, but their own unlockable mods too. Racing will earn you experience which levels you up, unlocking different mods that change your stats (improve handling but reduce speed, etc.). The characters and mods work well together, and it encourages you to try different combinations that fit your best racing style.

As for modes, there's plenty to choose from. Of course, there's the return of the usual like Single Race, Time Attack and Grand Prix (now with multiplayer, finally) as well as multiplayer modes like battle (hit other characters a certain amount of times in a small arena). For multiplayer, there is also Boost Race (no items at all, just boost pads), Capture the Chao and Battle Race (race to the finish, but 3 hits and you're done). In addition, you can bring a friend with you into World Tour if you need help obtaining stars. These modes are fun to play as well whether it be online or off.

For single player, the new mode that you will be playing in most of the time is World Tour, a series of events that involve racing, ring racing, battling, drifting and various other challenges. Playing this mode is the only way to unlock characters for your roster, which are acquired by gaining a certain amount of stars. To get stars, you simply must complete different events. The higher the difficulty you complete each event on, the more stars you unlock with a maximum of 4 if you manage to beat expert, 3 for hard, 2 for medium and one for easy.

This does mean that you will eventually have to play on harder difficulties if you want to unlock EVERY character and mod, as well as advance through the WT, and this game's difficulty is no joke. With some practice, you can beat some of these challenges no problem, but other events will definitely give you some trouble (damn you Traffic Attack). It doesn't help that the expert AI is a little unfair; putting up a fight by hitting you more than anyone else and seemingly moving faster than you at times. The game requires your racing skill to unlock everything and you won't see the end of the Tour playing on easy the whole time. Other than the frustrating difficulty, World Tour works surprisingly well and most of the events are decent enough. Just don't expect the game to go easy on you.

Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing proved that Nintendo wasn't the only one that was capable of making a good kart racing game. Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed improves on almost everything that made the first game so fun and proves itself worthy to compete with the best of the genre. The expert AI might be enough to get on your nerves but making up for that is the high quality in dynamic track design, multiplayer, controls and the overall core racing gameplay that is made even more enjoyable with the transforming aspect. Whether on the ground, sea or air, Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is sure to satisfy your love for racing games. Watch out, Mario Kart.