Review by Rango

"Tunnel vision."

When Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing came out in 2010, it went from being a simple Mario Kart rip-off to one of the most enjoyable racing experiences on the Xbox 360, as well as other platforms. Those who enjoyed the over-the-top physics and item smashing of the Mario Kart series would find themselves right at home in the game. Plenty of characters from Sega's past to choose from, multiple racetracks with a theme from an older game, such as Sonic, Jet Set Radio, Samba de Amigo, and Billy Hatcher, and lots to do made the game warm and friendly to everyone. There were tons of reasons to play, and it ended up being a hit in 2010. Fast forward two years later, and we're given the sequel. Everyone wanted All-Stars to be usable in online mode, and they felt the game's balance needed to be fine-tuned. Did Sega live up?

The visuals in the game are the first thing to note in the game, and they have transitioned fairly well for the most part. The reason I say this is because the game has upgraded the visuals. Sega's team made the game and models look shinier, the backgrounds look sweeter, and the game a pleasant view on the eyes. However, this is pure aesthetics. The split-sceen, "I can't see the track ahead!" problem rears its ugly head once again, a problem that has never occurred in any game of Mario Kart I have ever played. I don't know why, but Sega can't seem to get the 3 and 4-player split-screen right, making the track hard to see in multiplayer mode. The other thing that has probably peeved me more than anything is in Billy Hatcher's stage, the ice walls and the water track are colored the exact same way, making it very difficult to see the path ahead, even in single player mode. This makes missions frustrating.

Audio compliments the visuals, and in a Sega game, this should always be an excel point. To me, it's a hit-or-miss, and this is going back to the first game. In Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, there was almost no "original" music, save for the catchy menu themes. All the game's music came from Sega's past titles, but you had the option to select whatever track to go to it, making it a wonderful licensed soundtrack. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed takes that option away, giving you one track to listen to. Richard Jacques remixes of music are catchy, but not memorable. To a trained ear, the beats sound very similar, offering little variety in the process. You get one song, as mentioned before, and as a result, I honestly feel the soundtrack has been gimped significantly. It would have been better to take the licensed approach again and give the player the option.

Going into the core finally, the gameplay consists of racing well as boats and jets! You can fly and drive on water now, just like in Diddy Kong Racing for the N64. It's a neat concept, in addition to the Mario Kart gameplay of grabbing items and slugging them at whoever's unlucky enough to be around you. Unfortunately, this causes some major control issues. It's not smooth, and turns can be a pain to the inexperienced player. Flying in general has its hassles if you dare to move off the green rail. To the experienced player, you're simply fighting with the Y-Invert while you're flying. Even if you change it to suit your control style, the game WILL invert your settings on your own, making flight an enormous hassle. In terms of the items, Sega has bunked this completely. The Firecrackers replace the Punch Glove of the first game, and it seems to be asking you to whack yourself with your item, even when you fire it forward. As for the All-Stars, Sega attempted to make it more challenging by holding your hand. Gone are the easy, Bullet Bill-esque trips through the track when needed most, because you can still fly off. And gone is the aesthetic appeal of Super Sonic and Super Shadow blazing through the track; they have been replaced by a modest ring-circle attack and Shadow using a Chaos Blast.

Some of the worst problems that plague the game include its A.I. and the glitches. The first game had the ability to turn off "Catch Up" mode, which was basically rubber-band A.I. that catches up to you when you're doing well and fires "smart shots" that hit the player without fail. This is removed from the game, making single player mode a challenging torment. Knowing Sega, they enjoy doing this, and you can get similar challenge from F-Zero GX on GameCube. However, it's not enjoyable, and constantly a chore attempting to catch up when the A.I. blasts off ahead of you. Medium mode, or 2-star mode, is MUCH harder than 150cc in any Mario Kart game, and not in an enjoyable way that trains the player. It's a chore, and makes the first game more fun in comparison. When it comes to glitches, this game is terribly unpolished. You can hit an A.I. with one of your items, and they will recover in a split second and still be ahead of you when you try to pass them. Shots have passed through A.I. opponents as well. Also, you can get stuck driving by nosediving into the road off a boost, and by flying slightly off course. The first game would flash the game's logo on-screen and help you recover quickly. This ls all but gone except in few situations. Plus, you no longer have "Do Not Finish", meaning you have to wait for your inexperienced friend for 30+ seconds in multiplayer races. The reason I called the review "tunnel vision" comes from the sheer intensity you put into a match at even medium difficulty. You can't just scope the track and plan out your next move; you need to focus on where you're going and beeline through the track as fast as possible. In the highest difficulty levels, where enemies barrel through you and snipe you (and only you) with items, you're better off praying while you struggle.

The game offers a World Tour mode, which involves torturous A.I. and practically forces you to do the hardest difficulties in order to unlock everything. There's also Grand Prix and multiplayer modes to keep you occupied, and it has online just like in the first game. The game's best feature is literally the update to the roster...and it's also one of the worst things to happen. On one hand, Sega legends like Vyse from Skies of Arcadia, Joe from Shinobi, NiGHTS, and even Wreck-It Ralph join the race. The other hand is Danica Patrick, a Nascar racer in real life. It's not bad enough to include a real life character in a game full of cartoon characters, but I cringe every time she says something. It reeks of cheese, and not in the good kind. And speaking of things most undesirable, I forgot to mention the track design in this game. Apart from Billy Hatcher's stage mentioned earlier, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has some of the most frustratingly tracks I have ever played in a racer. Anyone who played the first game knows what to expect from Super Monkey Ball, twists and turns, and plenty of collisions. But outside of aesthetic design, you get tracks like After Burner, which consists of a long, linear flight into a loop around an aircraft carrier, the Golden Axe stage, with lava and inconsistent turns everywhere, and the final stage, which is basically the "Rainbow Road" of the game. Make it difficult, but strip the fun completely out of it, especially with the A.I. destroying you left and right.

I found Sonic & All-Stars Transformed to be a disappointment. It's not so much because it's hard, but because of why it's hard. Poorly-programmed A.I., awkward controls for flying, and poorly designed tracks are no excuse. The game offers 16 new tracks, followed by 4 returning tracks; far less than any Mario Kart offering since Mario Kart DS, and they will get old quick. The variety was better in the first game as well. The joy of this game comes from the short-lived nostalgia of playing as other Sega characters and going through a retro, Sonic 3 & Knuckles course. After that, it's a flat-out frustration for you and your friends. If you love racing games and don't have another Mario Kart alternative to go to, this game might be fun for you. But honestly, you are better off with any Mario Kart racer or even Blur, another game on the Xbox 360.

Did I mention the control options are significantly reduced? You better learn how to drive with the triggers or buffers.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 11/28/12

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

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