Sonic and his All-Star Racing crew are back and this time they are transformed! But what’s so transformed about the sequel to 2010’s outing? Over the course of each racetrack your kart will transform from a land vehicle into a boat or plane and back again. There are points on the track that force this transformation to take your vehicle in to the skies or skimming over bright blue waves. Some tracks even give the choice between transformations by giving alternate paths, if you keep a keen eye out you can even leave the track and force these transformations into play.
It’s not just the karts that transform, the courses you race on change as you complete each lap, opening up different routes – what was once a road is now a rampant set of rapids – it’s all very Split/Second Velocity in style without the actual destruction of the track which causes these route changes. For the most part, the tracks are well designed with some being particularly devious and you will find that there are moments in the race that you will feel hard done by. Edges of the track feel needlessly sticky should you brush up against them and obstacles can spin you wildly out of control often leaving you facing the wrong way – even the camera seems confused as it tries to offer some assistance in helping to correct your race direction. You need to pay particular attention to power ups, boost pads and drift boosting if you hope to beat the AI which although never cheap, is rather tough to outsmart and pip to the post. Whilst these karting additions can be seen in many other karting titles out there, this is no mere kart clone. The weapons offer enough of an advantage that you can use them on opponents to give you enough of an edge to overtake them, but none of the weapons are real race changers, to win you need to race and race hard.
Playing on normal difficulty, I found the game pretty tough not only getting to the front of the pack but also staying there. Playing in the game’s campaign mode ‘World Tour’ you are set a target goal for each track, normal mode asks you to finish in the top three which sounds easy but it proved difficult more often than not. It wasn’t until I started to make use of the drift boost and the boost pads located around each track that I began to hold my own in the top three. Mastering tight turns and performing successful tricks (which award you a small speed boost) were the final skills I needed to master in order to land first place.
Each completed difficulty awards you with stars that may be used to unlock paths through each of the World Tours, these include optional routes each with their own unlockable rewards. As well as gaining stars you can also collect coins during the race that are dropped by opponents who have just been at the wrong end of an item, coins can be spent on a slot machine which, should you win, will award you with a power up giving you a boost in the next race. During the World Tour you will come across numerous versus races, elimination races and challenges as well as the standard ten-man race. The challenges in particular are tough but also a joy to play, they’re creative and they’ll push your skills to the limit. All of these variations of the standard race formula help to mix up each set of tracks keeping the action fresh and challenging. There is also a Grand Prix mode to get stuck into; this features the more standard race mode found in that other kart game featuring an Italian plumber!
Trial and error is rife in this game so you will be constantly learning, whether that is from layouts of the tracks and when they transform to race techniques. Races are highly competitive and the graphics and sound carry the charm that SEGA are renowned for, from Sonic and Panzer Dragoon to Afterburner and Skies of Arcadia, you are bound to find your most loved SEGA game and characters somewhere. I particularly loved exploring each of the tracks and taking in the influences that they draw from a different title in SEGA’s past.
While I enjoyed the dynamic of the transformation racing I did find that while in boat and plane mode the pace shifted to a more sluggish feel and whereas the likes of Mario Kart have that sense of manic speed, Sonic and his friends never instilled that same sense of high-speed kart action. However, these water and air transformations do give access to a larger sense of freedom. Each of the water and air sections are much wider than the confines of a track. In water you are constantly battling the waves, the murky creatures of the deep and the odd whirlpool – it’s very N64 Wave Race. The flying sections give you complete directional freedom, as well as the usual obstacles to fly around, under or over – pull off a stunt at the last second to get around them and you will be treated to a small speed boost. What these sections lack in a sense of speed they more than make up for in style.
Each of the characters can be levelled up and by investing your time into one character you can unlock several different mod abilities for them. Mod abilities give you access to additional race attributes, when choosing a character instead of being tied to their default race stats you can use a mod and select a new set of stats focused around any of the individual race attributes.
Multiplayer already suffers from a lack of online players but find a game or a group of gamers and there are plenty of game modes to choose from. Race, Battle Arena, Race Battle, capture the Chao and Boost Race – all are good fun game modes to challenge your friends to but they are rather limiting. The Battle Arena and Capture the Chao only have a few tracks on offer and although the other modes have the full complement of the game’s courses you must unlock them all first before they are available in multiplayer. I think it’s a real shame that this mode has had the shackles firmly clamped onto it especially when the online environment is pretty lacking in players!
SEGA fans will most certainly want to pick this up and although it may not feel like the fastest race title on the market the action is enjoyable, fun and a great challenge.