Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed reminds me much of Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing in many ways. You race against other colorful characters - of dubious origins, seriously this is a weird roster - in tracks inspired by a bunch of SEGA games using randomly shuffling power-ups to hinder your opponents or get ahead yourself. At specific points in tracks, your kart will transform into a boat or a plane, changing the controls and physics a bit. I enjoyed my time with this game even if I found it way too hard on ‘normal’ difficulty and that some of the stuff around the core gameplay was clunky.
The first thing I noticed when I booted up that game is that it has way too many menus, you need to select at least 6 different options before you can play the ‘Story’ mode, and this just felt weird to me. I like how they present each cup with a bunch of events like races and other challenges and you need a certain number of stars to unlock the next one, a bit like the overworld in Diddy Kong Racing, but moving around this menu can also be a bit weird sometimes. I tried doing all races at ‘normal’ difficulty because I wanted at least two stars for each level, but maybe I would’ve had a simpler experience if I selected the easier one.
The character roster is incredibly funny, but a bit much. You have characters from classic SEGA games, which makes sense, but then you have Football Manager, Wreck-It-Ralph, real life Kart Drivers sponsored by GoDaddy, and more. I’m fine with having the Shenmue guy or Alex Kidd or Jet Set Radio, but this felt just a bit silly. Each character has their different level alongside their experience level (that you increase by playing with them), which might seem fine in theory but I’ve found a bit convoluted in practice. By leveling up your characters you unlock different mods for them that increase or decrease certain of their stats like ‘Speed’ and ‘Handling’, like different vehicles in Mario Kart. There are already enough characters in the game with different stats and driving styles that I’m not sure you really need this extra layer of tweaking on top of it. Having to level everyone up to try and see which character really is your favorite and drives the way you want is too much of a commitment for me.
The racing itself is good, you go from kart to boat to plane and you drift, use shortcuts and items - the usual assortment of banana peel, shells and mushroom replacements - while doing stunts to increase you speed - a bit like in Mario Kart Wii. Here, however, things are a bit more difficult; I felt that computers were really tough to outperform and any slight error on my part made me finish 8th in most races. Worse yet is the stunt system that can make you lose speed if you mistime them, turning this into a risk-reward thing. The track variety is very good, I like the different worlds of SEGA games being turned into racing tracks and explored like that. I didn’t know all of the games represented, but it’s still a very cool thing.
Besides races, there are a bunch of challenges where you usually need to get through a bunch of checkpoints during a specific amount of time, doing certain actions like drifting or driving through gates to get more time. There are also battle races where you have three ‘hits’ before you’re out - and you still have to win the race, I didn’t like those very much. Outside of the story mode you have typical Grand Prix and Time Trials, so there’s a lot of stuff in there to do. A bunch of characters to unlock in story mode with branching paths and events that you can only attempt later when you have collected enough stars would probably have kept this game interesting for me long enough if I didn’t struggle so much with it.
I liked Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed! it’s a bit clunky and too complicated in specific ways, but the presentation and style is otherwise really neat. I would’ve preferred for the game to be easier and a bit more straightforward, but it’s a real good racing game if you miss Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing!