Review by horror_spooky

"A genesis for kart racing"

Nintendo has been the undisputed king of kart racers with their Mario Kart franchise. Mario Kart has been so dominant, in fact, that there have hardly been any other competitors in the genre, until now. Sega has released two kart racing games to date, treating the games as a crossover series for all their biggest franchises. Ready to go for Wii U at launch is Sonic & All-Stars: Racing Transformed.

In many ways, Sega has outdone Nintendo at their own game. This racer features many aspects that put it a head above the competition. For example, Mario Kart features power-ups that are littered around the tracks which actually add a very unfair element to the game that makes the harder races feel cheap. Sega's racing game features power-ups as well, but they also make an effort to keep the game balanced by having power-ups that play off each other and by making it not impossible to dodge any of the weapons AI opponents may get their hands on.

For example, there are glove power-ups that are good to block an attack, and sometimes even send the attack flying back at the opponent that sent it to you. There are no over-powered power-ups like the blue shell to ruin the experience. Even the most powerful items in the game aren't even close to game-breaking, and can be counter-attacked by the racers it is being inflicted upon. Because of this, the racing in the game feels incredibly balanced.

The core driving is tight and responsive. Multiple control options on the Wii U makes sure everyone can play the game with their preferred controller. Drifting is perhaps given too much of a focus, but the game rewards players that master its conventions. Just learning shortcuts on the track isn't nearly enough to succeed at this game. Skilled players will learn how to drift perfectly around corners, and how many tricks they can pull off after each ramp to earn extra boosting power.

Tricks can be performed using the right analog stick on the GamePad or with motion controls. The motion controls in the game aren't nearly as reliable or responsive as the control sticks, so I recommend sticking to more traditional control methods. A new gimmick this time around involves the ability for the vehicles to "transform", and performing a trick in the midst of a vehicle transforming results in an even more powerful boost.

Transforming in the game is a cool gimmick, but it really doesn't change the gameplay all that much. Everyone has all the same transforming opportunities throughout the track, and it rarely gives you an advantage over the competition. On the plus side, it does result in more variety in the tracks. Cars are on solid ground, while boat vehicles can blow through water and lava and other liquid hazards. The fastest vehicle type are the flying vehicles in the game. All three different vehicle types have their own nuisances and tricks to learn, which makes the entire experience feel a little bit deeper, if ever sightly.

Career is the main mode in the game. In Career Mode, players can go through the World Tour events. The World Tour is a chapter-based set of events in which players can unlock new mods for racers and unlock new characters. World Tour features a wide variety of events that keeps the game from getting boring. There are regular races, as well as elimination-style races and even an event that involves fighting a tank. The variation in event types is a plus.

Each event starts with asking the player to choose a difficulty setting. The higher the difficulty completed, the more stars are earned in that event. Stars are very important in the game, as they unlock new levels and characters. I feel like the time it takes to master the game and unlock all the characters is a little too daunting, and that the game doesn't leave enough room for a learning curve at the beginning, but the events are still fun and rarely frustrating. Just expect to devote a significant amount of time to unlock everything in the World Tour mode.

Accompanying World Tour are more traditional game modes. A Grand Prix is available that works just like any other Grand Prix in a kart racer. Time Attack modes are also available. One aspect of the game that I thought was fairly cool was that throughout these modes, each racer earns experience points and can level up to unlock new mods for their cars. This added even more replayability to the game, and it's nice to see a kart racer get creative like that by incorporating RPG elements.

The roster of racers is impressive and will please hardcore Sega fans. All the major characters from Sonic show up, as well as characters from Sega's other properties such as Billy Hatcher, Nights, Alex Kidd (through a free online update), and more. Ralph from Disney's Wreck-It Ralph movie also appears as a playable racer. The Wii U version of the game also allows players to play as their Miis, upon unlocking the right to do so by completing the Grand Prix.

Other game modes include the standard multiplayer options. The game allows for online multiplayer as well as offline party games exclusive to the Wii U version that feature asymmetrical gameplay like some of the games from Nintendo Land. The coolest feature of the Wii U version is the ability to have five players play on one system. Four people play split-screen on the TV, and a fifth player can play the game as well exclusively on the GamePad screen.

The entire game can be played on the GamePad screen, actually. Unfortunately, playing it on the GamePad introduces some limitations, specifically in terms of graphics. On the GamePad, the once-beautiful game is fuzzy and definitely not as good looking. I know for a fact that games can be played on the GamePad screen without a noticeable dip in quality because it's done with games like Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U, so it looks like the ball was a dropped a little here.

All stats and accomplishments are tracked through the license. The license can be accessed from any of the menus in the game, and serves even more purpose in the Wii U version of the game. With the Wii U lacking system-wide achievements, developers are adding achievements to their games through unique methods such as this. For Sonic & All-Stars Racing, a sticker system is in place of a traditional achievement system. They even pop up like achievements after their conditions have been met, giving them an authentic achievement feel.

A standard Sega-style soundtrack is in place, but doesn't offer anything as catchy or memorable as the songs featured in its other games. As I stated earlier when talking about the GamePad screen, this game is actually quite beautiful. Colors pop, and there's a surprising amount of detail in the environments and with the characters. The game is animated quite impressively, with gorgeous environments, with great looking water and lava effects. The framerate never drops, and there's no stuttering or long load times of any kind. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Wii U is capable of.

Due to the added modes and features, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on Wii U is the definitive version of the game. Up to five players can enjoy the game in local multiplayer modes, plus the online offering is just as adequate as the one offered on the HD twins. Problems persistent throughout all versions hold this Wii U one back as well, but overall, this game is one of the best kart racers around, and if Sega keeps it up, we can have a true rival to Mario Kart's crown.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/28/13

Game Release: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (US, 11/18/12)

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