Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is an edgier, more subversive take on Mario Kart 7’s hyper-polished karting, with handling that recalls the satisfying heft of Blur’s vehicles, and deforming tracks that bring a little of Split Second’s Hollywood spectacle to proceedings. Those tracks have a more vital role than simply boggling the eye, however, also supporting Transformed’s central gimmick: each racer’s vehicle can shift between kart, boat and plane modes. It’s a process that’s triggered automatically when you pass through blue transformation gates, accompanied by a sound that might make a Hasbro lawyer’s ears tingle.
Sumo’s track designs are deliriously creative, the third lap often wildly different to the first; new routes open up regularly, and debris obstructs older paths. As fan service, the game excels, digging deep into Sega’s roster of colourful characters and going well beyond the obvious track settings. So you’ll find Sonic and Tails rubbing shoulders with BD Joe, Amigo and Ulala, while courses take in the sights of Jet Set Radio, Panzer Dragoon and even Burning Rangers.
Weapons are, for the most part, well balanced and fun to use. They include fire-from-the-hip projectiles (ice and fireworks), speed boosts (an overheating hotrod engine that must be dumped before it blows up) and Transformed’s blue shell equivalent, the leader-targeting Swarm. You can defend against attacks, too, letting you take the sting out of them with timing.
Characters are now unlocked in a career mode, which includes challenges such as Boost Rush (keep boosting to freeze the clock) and one-on-one versus rounds alongside the standard ten-kart races. There’s a set of four-course grand prix, too, as well as single races and time trials – a worthwhile distraction thanks to the stacking boost levels you gain from a prolonged drift.
As a package, it’s generous and deep, but Sumo has fallen victim to its own success. While enjoyable in their own right, boats and planes simply can’t match the moreish handling of the karts. As such, you’ll find yourself longing for a blue gate on tracks that keep you on the water or in the air for long periods.
And those incredibly detailed environs are sometimes so busy and colourful that the track is hard to see. That’s a problem eased by learning courses, but targeting opponents and avoiding projectiles while negotiating a particularly challenging switchback at speed can be too much. Even so, Sumo deserves recognition for keeping the framerate so smooth. Transformed’s a less consistent offering than Mario’s recent 3DS milestone, then, but there’s a solid, energetic kart racer under all its nostalgic livery.
PS3 version tested.