Impressions... *spoilers I suppose, super duper excessively long sorry*
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As many of you likely know, Toys R Us broke street date and is selling the game nationwide. My friend picked up the Xbox360 version, and we've been playing for most of the evening. I'm pretty sure it's ToS safe to talk about it given that it's very easy to get a copy and everything I'm going to say would probably be pretty well SEGA approved anyway, but I don't see any other impressions topics so I figure this might help some people.
First for how the game plays... This game is way better than the first game; there's just no way around it. My experience with the first game was that the mechanics were a bit overly simple and that the controls were just plain kinda off. This vehicle controls and physics are vastly improved, and it's one of those things that's a lot harder to explain in words than to just assert and tell you that you'll feel it when you play. The game moves fluidly and controls tightly, and you don't even have to play as the lightweights to enjoy that which makes for a far better experience than the first game offered. The trick system is very well balanced as well; forward and back flips keep you on course but are kinda sluggish. If you can sneak them in you will get speed boosts when you land (stack up to three!). You can do a roll to the left or right as well in trick situations which is a bit faster than the flips but can easily drag you off-course, and if you're falling down a narrow tube or something rolling into the wall is a fine way to lose all your speed even though it doesn't look like a real impact.
The car generally controls the best of the three vehicles as well it should since it's the one you'll be using the most by far, and there's a lot of control and nuance to the way you can approach bumps and corners. Generally it's balanced that you want to get maximum air at all times both because it's faster in general and because you can do more tricks. The boat is kinda hit or miss; sometimes it's just a weightier car, but when you get zigzagging really fast or start hitting waves, it can be pretty awkward. The boat retains momentum way more so than the other vehicles which is something you can get used to but you will definitely have to, and the collision on waves is kinda awkward as sometimes small waves will kinda act like walls and just hold you from moving where you want to go or just slow you down a lot. The plane is way different than I expected; it's nothing like the plane in Diddy Kong Racing, but it's really not bad. It tends to lose speed pretty badly if you don't fly really steadily, and drifting in the plane is really difficult and awkward since you can only drift left and right like with land vehicles (even though drifting up and down would be incredibly useful!) and if you try to drift always have to drift at a very steep angle, but you can still get the large speed boosts that drifting can get you with land vehicles as well and speed boosts seem to have the largest impact on the plane of the three vehicles so figuring out how you can integrate that into your flying is going to be really important. Tricks with the plane also work differently than with the other vehicles; they're basically directional rolls that slow you down a bit. I don't think they're really all that useful overall, but they have situational merit.
To answer some questions I had before the game came out, if you fly over transformation gates, you immediately get the off-track screen and are plopped back down with large time losses (that being said, the detection area is pretty generous on the gates and you usually want to fly in them pretty high so you can do a trick as you land). In general there are a lot of invisible walls in the plane sections though most of them aren't the kind you impact so much as they just nudge you back toward the intended way with minimal speed loss (though there is some).
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Stage design is pretty varied though most stages use a mix of car and one of the other two vehicles (and boat seems a bit more common than plane so far). The nIGHTS level is the only exception we've seen so far which is mostly plane with a little boat (no car). A lot of the levels change radically lap to lap, generally requiring more of the secondary vehicles and less of the car as they deteriorate (and also generally throwing far more obstacles in the player's way). There are a lot of multiple paths, and the paths tend to be pretty well balanced in that you will often have choices in which it's shorter route versus boosts or perhaps a route with boosts versus a route that allows for more tricks and drifts. We tended to agree for the most part on best routes but it was seldom heartbreaking to end up on the "wrong" one, and we did have a few disagreements on some courses about which paths we preferred so it's pretty well balanced (and situationally with other racers and items, otherwise inferior routes can become quite lucrative). In terms of the gameplay as well, tracks tend to be very unique and memorable; it comes off as there being a whole lot of content here and good content too.
Artistically there are some neat sights though nothing really that breathtaking; the only thing that I really have to point out is that things like item boxes and boost pads don't change color per course so they can be very hard to see on certain courses. In particular one of the Super Monkey Ball courses has some ground sections that are very, very similar in color to the boost pads and we were missing them at an incredible rate because of it (you can see them if you focus on it, but there's a whole lot demanding your attention). Also, sometimes corners between routes are a bit too wide and you can hit them in a way that gets you "stuck" where you'll come to a true dead stop and have to slowly work your way out of it, and sometimes the edges of the track are not really visually distinct enough to stand out as easily as they should (the Billy Hatcher level is really, really horrible about this). To finish up with some of the bad stuff you run into in the courses, I should say that the plane in general has a collision area that's a tiny bit larger than the graphic (an issue that is reversed with the boat and car which have collision areas a tiny bit smaller than the graphic), and it can interact badly with some of the random objects in some of the flying courses that have collision that exceeds their graphic area a bit too. I saw myself bump into walls and such a few times even though visually I didn't make contact; it was pretty annoying though at least it's not so egregious that you make a strong impact (it's just a small slow-down from brushing a wall when it happens).
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Character balance seems mostly pretty good, but here are my impressions. We had the initial roster (Sonic, Tails, AiAi, Knuckles, Beat, Amy, Crazy Taxi guy, MeeMee, Ulala, Ralph), the DLC character Metal Sonic, and the unlocks from the first three worlds that we got as we went (Amigo, Danica, Shadow, Vyse, nIGHTS). We never played as Tails or Metal Sonic so I can't really say anything about either of them (other than that Metal Sonic was consistently one of the AI's better characters). Crazy Taxi guy and Ralph were used once each by my friend who thought they seemed bad, and he didn't use them again. Ulala was the same except by me. The others we explored more, and our conclusion was that of these characters Vyse seems like the clear best. He's just overwhelmingly fast even moreso than his displayed stats indicate, and his others parameters (notably his acceleration and handling) aren't even as bad as the displayed stats suggest though he won't be winning any awards with them. He also has one of the good kind of All Star powers though most characters do (more on that later). My friend was using Vyse for the end of the night (since he's one of the last guys we got), and it was really a big difference. The character I used the most was Amigo, and he seems really good to me too. Much like with Vyse, his overall performance seems to exceed what the displayed stats suggest. He's not as slow as the numbers suggest, and he handles like a dream even far in excess of the control you get from the other lightweights. He also has one of the top All Star powers which isn't a huge deal but doesn't hurt. Other notably impressive characters were Knuckles, Amy, and nIGHTS (all three were well rounded style characters who seemed to be overall weighted toward high performance) and Beat (a somewhat more well rounded lightweight than Amigo who still seems to somewhat exceed his numbers).
I spend a good deal of time playing around with AiAi and MeeMee, and honestly both seem good enough to be playable but pretty mediocre. They're both mostly inferior versions of Beat who in turn is a less extreme and quite possibly inferior overall character to Amigo anyway. My friend likewise drew a conclusion like that about Shadow; he seems good enough to use but not really impressive compared to the other options available. I also used Danica a good deal, and I'd say she's the best of the characters mentioned in this paragraph so far but probably not a top character. Her vehicle is really huge and she controls a bit worse than you'd like, but she seems decently fast and you really want to make her work anyway because she's by far the most hilarious character in this game we didn't even get Golden Axe guy but honestly I don't see how he could compete. She is not only a realistic human female plopped into this world which is very awkward, but she seems to have done her own VA and has some spotty delivery at times (her "ouch" is so unconvincing that you have to laugh every time) which compounds wonderfully with her overwhelmingly cheesy NASCAR reference lines that are the best unintentional comic gold in game writing since Star Fox 64. That just leaves Sonic himself; I only used him for a few races, and he seemed potentially pretty good though came off as a bit of a worse version of Vyse. I don't have a ton of optimism for him, but at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if he turned out to be pretty competitive especially on the simpler courses where he can really flex his top speed.
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I should talk about the mod system though which is highly relevant to character balance and the most likely thing that will make a lot of what I just said wrong in the long term (that and the fact that I'm not a top racing pro; that was just my impression which you can take or leave). The mods have a noticeable effect on character performance though even the ones with visibly large effects on the stat screen don't seem to really change the basics of how the character handles and moves (Vyse is always very fast, Amigo always handles very well, etc.). They usually just trade a "point" in one stat for a "point" in another, but sometimes they have secondary benefits that make some mods just really good (like Amigo's Acceleration mod trades a point in Handling for a point in each Acceleration and Speed which is pretty amazing). You unlock five mods by leveling characters, and while the first two levels come very quickly, the last three can take a good while longer and the last mod you unlock seems to be special (Amigo's last mod gave him a special handling rating above the normal maximum score of five). It's not strictly true either, but on average later mods seem to be a bit better than earlier ones though it seems tight enough that I'm sure a lot of argument will ensue about what's optimal. Each character also can get access to a console mod that is based on the console of origin of that character; we only unlocked the Genesis and Dreamcast ones, both of which had overwhelmingly lopsided stats that visually appeared underwhelming in most cases though the Dreamcast one seemed pretty good on Vyse. Metal Sonic comes with all his mods initially available which is why we didn't use him (we wanted to always be gaining levels, and yes you just gain experience at double the rate of normal play doing two player co-op since each player gets full experience and everyone shares the local profile which is awesome and makes co-op super rewarding probably even more so if you have three or four people over to play). If you're wondering why we didn't use Tails on that note, we just overlooked him sorry. If you are wondering about the overall rate, my friend had done most of the first section of the world tour but not quite all of it before we started and we finished the third section completely. The only two characters we completely finished in that time were Knuckles and Amigo though we gained at least one level with most characters and two with several of our other favorites with real progress toward the third on those.
This is getting long in the tooth already, but in terms of the world tour mode which is what we were playing, gameplay is split about 50-50 between challenges and races. Races are what you'd expect no explanation needed. Challenges are a specific gimmick like a focus on hitting boosts, drifting, avoiding traffic (tons of cars are put on the road for your inconvenience), etc.. The challenges tend to be much harder than the races and worth a lot less experience, but on our first day we were able to clear everything we tried on hard so most players should be able to get through everything especially if you decide to take it easy on yourself and play on lower difficulty settings (though that will slow your unlocking pace).
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I'm going to finish by talking about items. All Star powers come randomly and rarely, generally to players doing worse though the exact dynamics are pretty hard to judge. They are rare enough that you get one in fewer races than you don't, but they're really powerful. The good ones, which as far as I can tell is most of them but notably not Knuckles', put you in a fast flying vehicle that can cross all terrain easily and doesn't lose any speed at all from hitting walls (the worse ones don't fly which is a big disadvantage). You get some powerful and mostly spamable attack, generally either a cluster styled projectile (good) or an area of effect burst (worse but still useful). The other items tend to be relatively weak with your three flavors of projectile attacks (snowball, fireworks, toy car) all of which are relatively weak but good enough to be useful, a boost which is a pretty powerful boost, the hot rod which is far and away the best of the normal items that gives you a large speed boost for a prolonged period and is dispelled by pressing the item button again, creating a shockwave attack when you do so (but don't wait too long or it will blow up on you, easy to avoid), the twister which is a really obnoxious and stupid item that is a very low range projectile that reverses controls, a swarm of bees that flies to the front of the pack and leaves a variety of stationary hazards that everyone will have to navigate, the glove and super glove that catch incoming items with the super glove sticking around excessively longer, and the spiked fish which is a pretty underwhelming banana peel style item that you always groan when you get. If you hit the special item boxes on side routes or are just doing badly in the race, you can get double items sometimes which is pretty handy though if you are seeing the latter case it's usually too late for you to win.
If somehow in that absolute wall of text I wrote and at 4 AM after finishing it didn't feel like trimming down you still have questions, I'd be happy to answer to the best of my ability though I'm not the one with the copy of the game so I can only speak from my experiences (luckily this whole 4 AM thing means it's 4 hours old in Australia so I'm talking about an already released game, always good when it comes to not getting modded on this often vague gfaqs policy on this issue). It's a good game, a lot of fun generally, and anyone who is on the fence should definitely go for it.
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*begins slow clap*
I disagree about B.D. Joe. Even though he has a sluggish handling, unlocking and using the balance or the handling mod makes him so much better. The acceleration mod is also a plus for race tracks with little to no tight curves like Carrier Zone.
Man you wrote a lot, but I read it all too. Nice to see you enjoy the game.
"Proper sound shatters glass. Proper sound shatters the Universe."
This is better than the IGN review. Thank you.
:Inhabitants of Peach Trees, this is Judge Dredd.
How's the Battle mode?
No More Heroes
Great review. Fantastic.
Open up my eager eyes... 'Cause I'm Mr Brightside!
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