At first glance there doesn’t appear to much that differentiates Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed from its predecessor. After all, both games feature various SEGA characters racing on various tracks inspired by several SEGA games. So far, so similar.
However, the sequel to All-Stars Racing features a rather unique mechanic which helps set it apart from other racers, such as Mario Kart and the upcoming LittleBigPlanet Karting. The clue is in the title, and whilst Sonic hasn’t quite become a robot in disguise, his mode of transport is certainly more than meets the eye. (Please note: I sincerely apologise for the references to the classic Transformers cartoon, but I just couldn’t help it)
In Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, not only do the character’s vehicles transform between a normal road car, a plane, and a speedboat, but the tracks on which they race also transform. At E3 2012 I was able to have a test drive on three of the tracks which will feature in the game, ones based on Monkey Ball, Panzer Dragoon, and Golden Axe.
First up was Panzer Dragoon. Set in a canyon that was quite reminiscent of Mario Kart Wii’s Wario’s Goldmine track, the first lap was a rather bog standard affair as you drove around the track in your car. However, at the start of the second lap, the large dragon, which you thought was just there for decoration, suddenly launches into the sky and takes half of the track with it. Instead of simply falling into the abyss, your car swiftly changes into a jet and you take to the skies as you continue the race. The changes to the track is not limited there, and in a sense, the second and third laps become completely different tracks as you not only take to the sky, but the water as well, where once there was road.
The Monkey Ball track features a similar transformation feature, in that massive stone blocks will drop down, blocking the path you took on the previous lap and causing you to quickly change direction. The Golden Axe level on the other hand, whilst it doesn’t feature the level of transformation seen in the Panzer Dragoon stage, it does, in its one lap, allow you to race on the road, in the air, and across lava, all whilst attempting to dodge the swipes of a rather angry dragon.
Transformations to your vehicle happen automatically as you reach certain parts of the track, which I found to be a little bit of a shame. It would have been nice to be faced with a choice as to whether I wished to take, for example, a route across the water in my boat, or a path which took to the skies. Perhaps the final game will include tracks which offer this type of player involvement.
There was also a relatively small number of weapons available, so small in fact that I repeatedly kept receiving the same set of three snowballs as a pick-up. The other weapons were also a little underwhelming, and using them didn’t seem to reward the advantage that weapons in a game such as Mario Kart do.
In terms of the handling of the vehicles themselves, they were certainly passable, however, I felt that the drift mechanic was perhaps a little too loose, and, as such, I kept hitting the barrier whilst attempting to drift round a corner. The boat suffered from being on the water too much, making it difficult to steer at times, with perhaps the plane controlling the best of all.
That being said though, having the levels transform as you race around them certainly is a novel idea, and I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face after my time with the game had finished. Throw in a greater number of interesting and effective weapons, and perhaps change the handling of the vehicles, and SEGA may just have a fun little racer here.