With game releases being slow this time of year (tons of announcements, not much in the way of things to play), I have decided to try and insure that my Wii U goes at least a couple more weeks before it begins to collect dust. Sonic, in this day and age, might not be the first name that comes to mind when one speaks of extending hours spent playing video games. The once-AAA mascot has seen his name fade into obscurity over the past decade with sub-par titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog (a 2006 reboot for the 360 and PS3 that gave Sonic a human love interest… not kidding), Sonic Unleashed (he was a werewolf in that one, excuse me: werehog), and Sonic Free Riders (just no). It is with his new underdog cult status that Sonic has attempted to rebuild his legacy over the past couple years (Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations serving as beacons of hope). Simply put, when 2D platformer games go 3D, they sometimes do not have a smooth transition. Sonic is the best example of this case. He has been without identity since Sonic Adventure debuted on the Dreamcast back in 1998. It is in this spirit of seeking identity (and not finding it) that I will discuss Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
This game came out for everything: Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, 3DS, Vita… literally every major platform on the market. This turned out to be a very good thing as I don’t think this game would hold quite the same appeal if it had been say a Nintendo exclusive. Why is that: because about twenty minutes in it becomes very apparent what type of game you’re playing.
This game really feels like a Mario Kart entry. From the racers to the courses to the power-ups, it has everything we have come to expect when Nintendo gets behind the wheel. However, like most of Sonic’s recent outings: this game doesn’t hold a candle to the Mario product.
Before I start analyzing the game I want to mention the name. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Now here’s a series with a name that just rolls right off the tongue, huh. There’s not many more ways you could screw up a title (see Wii U and Xbox One for more ways to screw up a title). Problem number one: competing brands. This problem was in some ways solved by the sequel as it removed Sega from the title. I will argue, however, that this was not the way to go. Sonic is not the name he once was: his titles are no longer synonymous with quality (if anything the opposite). Since this is a game with multiple Sega characters, I suggest simply sticking sonic to the box and calling all future entries Sega All-Stars Racing. Comes out a lot better. I don’t think I’ve said this title’s full name once while describing it in conversation (I’ve taken to simply calling it Sonic All-Stars Racing). When you’re trying to build a brand, you need a brand name. When challenging Mario Kart, you need something that encompasses the essence of the game just as quickly and easily. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has way too much going on to be marketable.
This brings me to my next topic: the characters. We got a lot more going on than Sonic in this game. Characters from properties like Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio, Nights into Dreams, Shinobi, and even Skies of Arcadia feature in the racing roster. If you are unfamiliar with all of those series… now you know why Sonic is in the title. Even Wreck-It Ralph (from Disney’s new movie of the same name) makes it into the cut. I know this is a nitpick but can I just show you Wreck-It Ralph’s racer real quick:
There’s nothing wrong with it. Cool little truck there. What about this though:
There was an actual race car in Wreck-It Ralph, racing was actually kind of a big part of the movie. Including this racer would have been a much cooler tie-in as well as allowing Vanellope von Schweetz a roster highlight as well. Before you ask, there is no Sugar Rush stage either. Pretty disappointing use of license there, Sega. Hopefully it will feature into the next Mario Kart.
But anyway, back to the character roster. The point I’m making is that it’s kinda weak, despite the fact that it reaches across Sega’s entire library. They really don’t have the character roster the way Nintendo does. Like Mario Kart doesn’t even dip into the full Nintendo library yet it contains more racers that I would be interested to play as. God help Sega if Nintendo even decides to take the Smash Bros. series into racing games (please Nintendo, make it happen).
But racing games go far beyond their drivers. Let’s talk about the stages. This is where Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed really doesn’t measure up to the Mario Kart series. The stages kinda suck. They’re long and vibrantly colorful but too much so in both areas. Without the transforming mechanic, the race ways feel very dull (this becomes obvious in the last grand prix, which is made up of stages from the first game). Even with the transforming, I still don’t feel the same draw to the raceways. Too bad because they are doing everything in their power to be memorable. There is so much going on on the courses that it can become distracting. At one point I stopped racing because I simply didn’t know which way to go. There was no immediate road that looked more real that anything else going on in the background. I had to wait for other racers to come and crash through the wall in front of me (don’t make it so you have to crash through walls in one course in a racing game) so I knew where to go. This is not the best design.
These tracks are not horrible by any stretch. There is nothing, however, on the level of say a Bowser’s Castle or a Rainbow Road in the bunch (or even a Toad’s Turnpike). They’re all flashy so the effect kind of wears out after a while. Really I could have used one or two more down-to-earth stages to help the more epic raceways stand out. That’s enough about the courses though, got to talk about the power-ups.
The power-ups in this game are bland imitations of the power-ups in Mario Kart. Wow, that didn’t take as long as I thought. Okay I’ll go more into it. They’re not bad, they do their job. There is nothing as devilishly fun as hitting someone with lightning or dispatching the blue shell of death. Instead of that we get bees… and puffer fish… and fireworks… what do these have to do with Sega? For instance: we got a Shinobi course and racer so why is there no ninja star? Just off the top of my head right there.
I know I’ve been very negative in this review but I’m just proving a point. This game is not the AAA challenger to Mario Kart. It is, however, still a very fun racer and as close as you will most likely come to experiencing Mario Kart without purchasing a Nintendo console. So for all the Microsoft, Sony and PC owners out there who want a fun racer: this game is pretty good. For us Nintendo owners: it is enough to satisfy until the main event arrives (Nintendo is unveiling Mario Kart Wii U on June 11th, get excited).
Oh and if there was anyone out there hoping this game would be the next Diddy Kong Racing: it’s not.
Oh, one last thing to include: does it seem odd to anyone else that Sonic needs a race car to go fast? Am I the only one who wonders about that?
Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of it or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.