With such an eclectic mix of development talent, featuring developers from Blur, Project Gotham Racing, and Split Second: Velocity, to Bizarre Creations and Black Rock Studio, it’s no wonder Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed feels like a genuinely challenging, well balanced racer. There’s a preconception that cart racers are merely ‘fun’ party games, either thrown together in the wake of a Hollywood animated movie, or another iteration of Mario centric characters, but Sonic Racing Transformed is a clear exemption from the rule.

Following in the roots of its predecessor, Sonic Racing Transformed offers a host of 29 character mascots with their own carts, alongside a range of Sega inspired and beautifully rendered tracks, brought to life by a modified version of the latest CriWare engine. The first and most surprising thing about Sonic Racing Transformed, is that the port to PC is actually stunning; the cars, maps, characters and animations are all superbly polished, with bright, handsome character textures and animations. If you’ve a high resolution IPS monitor, you’re going to get a lot of enjoyment out of the decidedly vivid color palette.

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Despite the out-of-application graphical options and configuration settings, All Stars Racing Transformed surpasses the quality of most AAA ports, despite the title’s niche, and cost of only £19.99 (UK). The title is also fully compliant with Xbox 360 controllers – although two of our team report issues with wired Xbox 360 controllers – and works well with PS3 pad emulation support from a third party firmware. You can play with up to four people locally, allowing you to play through the entire “campaign” (Career Mode) cooperatively, or even taking your party online to play vs other players with a mix of local and internet play. This feature is often overlooked, and it meant that we could effectively have four people at any one PC. Allowing internet and local play is a huge bonus for us, considering the potential for taking your party (literal or figurative) online.

Launching without the ability to mute other players was problematic, but this has since been patched, allowing drivers to easily mute players with undesirable background noise. This came with a host of stability and internet patches, with Sumo supporting the game since launch better than expected. We initially had to use Hamachi to breach region restricted play, since half our team are based in Asia, but a need for this seems to have subsided. Ostensibly, online stability is really the foundation for enjoyment in a title like this, and whilst we all experience problems with either connectivity or input to some degree, each of these problems have been ironed out post launch.

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Aside from World Tour (campaign) Mode acting as the games primary career from which to unlock characters and tracks, the real game starts with friends. Whilst the world tour mode offers a host of challenges and game types, all enjoyable and creative, it can be a little tedious knowing you’ve to grind the game in order to unlock some of the better characters – and the better tracks – in order to play with them online. You can play any track online that you haven’t unlocked, but you can’t host with a track you’ve yet to unlock. For this reason, grinding through the world tour seems necessary – but I’m hearing reports a trainer does a pretty good job at unlocking the games content if you want to play online and don’t have time for the World Tour.

World Tour mode does offer entertaining content, though; with checkpoint races, boost races, standard races, and elimination events, there’s always a variation of mode, map, and character to keep things fresh. The problem is, launching a single player session usually results in a number of friend requests nagging you for online play. Still, if you make it through the games career mode, you can unlock some of the more interesting characters such as Shadow the Hedgehog and Joe Musashi from Shinobi, as well as some strange additions such as characters from Football Manager and Shogun 2. Each character has his or her own stage, too, in rich detail, with sublime track design. 

Full Character List

  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Miles “Tails” Prower
  • Amy Rose
  • Knuckles the Echidna
  • Doctor Eggman
  • Shadow the Hedgehog
  • AiAi
  • MeeMee
  • Amigo
  • Beat
  • Gum
  • B.D. Joe
  • Gilius Thunderhead
  • Vyse
  • Joe Musashi
  • Ulala
  • Pudding Space Channel 5
  • Nightsa
  • Realaa
  • AGES
  • Danica Patrick
  • Wreck-It Ralph
  • Metal Sonicc
  • Alex Kiddd
  • Miie
  • Avatarf
  • Football Manager
  • Shogun
  • Team Fortress

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There’s of course a risk that All Stars Racing Transformed is merely a poor man’s Mario Kart, but Sumo Digital have taken the genre a few steps forward in more ways than one. Yes, there are a fun array of weapons to fire both forward and backwards to distract your friends, but there’s also the ability to both fly and sail in the more dynamic mode of racing All Stars Transformed offers. Nearly every map offers a mix of racing, flying, and sailing – which changes the route substantially. Often switching around 3 times per lap, and substantially shifting route every lap, this cart racer uses a three dimensional plain to its full potential. The tracks are incredibly versatile, and players will need to use the drift-boost ability (holding down brake whilst turning for a while to boost), and quick-correct dashes in order to survive. This cart racer isn’t just about fun, it’s about winning. 

Each of the characters have different stats, such as handling and acceleration and speed, which can be modified in variables by leveling up each character – or earning XP per race with each mascot. Bikes, as expected, tend to have better handling, whilst cars have better overall speed (one of the reasons I prefer Knuckles’ bike to Sonic’s car). Once you level up to the maximum, your racer unlocks ‘All-Star’ spec: the best all-round spec they could possibly have. It’s true that there are some character which are clearly better than others, but there’s also a large amount of room for finding one that works for you. I know that Knuckles isn’t actually the fastest character, but I find that for me he just works. Sega Transformed has all the hallmarks of a well built, well balanced competitive racer, such as Blur, and it’s easy for the childish aesthetic to fool you into thinking it’s an easy ride.

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Track memory is of paramount concern, with some devilishly tricky corners in some of the latter maps. For instance, many of the maps leave it open for characters to fall right off alongside narrow pathways, and in some ways – especially playing on the hardest difficulty, or class, the game feels more like Wipeout than Mario Kart. Weapons are basically what you’d expect, with few defensive weapons, but mostly offensive weapons. Some plant obstacles that get in the way of other drivers, whilst others are projectiles that either lock on or require manual aim. Most weapons will merely spin your opponent around, but some leave them facing the wrong direction. There aren’t any real “debuff” weapons that would, say, shrink, or slow your opponents, but I think in the interest of balance, what there is suffices, considering the rage invoking sensation of being set to a crawl by someone who claimed to be your friend.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed feels a little bit like an advert for all the glorious benefits of hallucinogenic drugs. I mean that in the Alice and Wonderland kind of way, more-so than the British sitcom ‘Spaced’ kind of way. It’s a game created for adults who know that being silly is okay, whilst retaining their competitive edge. This disparity in attitudes can be problematic, since it is entirely possible to be good at Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Placed against people who aren’t messing around, the title can become a bit of an angry chore, causing you to play the perfect game rather than goof around, and with no lobby system for different styles of game-play  there’s the opportunity for some odd reception in the game lobby’s. For instance, I joined a game where someone instantly said “Oh God, don’t suck if you’re going to be Knuckles. I’ll be Knuckles if you’re going to suck,” to which you just sort of want to reply: “Dude, you’re playing a kids card racer…” If you want to stick with your friends, and party up that way, you can easily avoid that problem. I cannot imagine what multiplayer lobby’s are line on the consoles, though, given the relative maturity of PC gamers.

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If racing isn’t your thing, there are battle, elimination, and capture the flag modes, all of which are competent and enjoyable. The assassination mode is also great, with players starting on 3 bars of health, and the last person to die winning. Mixing up the game types in a party scenario is a good way to keep things entertaining, but with the wealth of different maps (no map is remotely similar in aesthetic to another) which can be played backwards, too, and the huge array of mascots and DLC characters, you’ll find yourself returning to this title more than you possibly expected.

Sumo Digital have created a game that probably surprised everyone. An under-the-radar Steam release that gave a middle finger to GFWL, with Steam connectivity, and a pretty price of £19.99, nobody really expected the amount of content and polish you get with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. A well balanced, content rich, highly technical racer with a competitive edge, Racing Transformed is disingenuously packaged as a kids game. It isn’t a kids game. I swore more times playing Sonic & All-Stars than I did dying from the final boss fight of Final Fantasy 8 after 120 hours of sweat and tears. In fact, if you wanted a back-of-the-box quote: “Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed will teach your kids the meaning of anger, and what it is to lose a friend.”