Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is a Mario Kart klone. You know it, I know it. I’ve played many Mario Kart klones over the years, including the original Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing. None have come close to competing with the balanced gameplay or sheer fun of Mario Kart (and I refer to the series on the whole, because if you’re a Mario Kart fan, you’ll get me), but Transformed finally gets damn close. It is in fact better than Mario Kart in many ways, and Nintendo can learn a whole lot from Sega’s latest klone. And they’d damn well better because Sega is soooo close to taking Mario’s karting krown it’s not funny.

Transformed is better than the original in every way. Better menus, better game modes, better graphics, better multiplayer options, and on Wii U, five player split screen…oh yeah. So it’s better than the original by a long long way. That’s that.

Transformed’s visuals are amazing. It’s the best looking kart racer ever, that’s for sure. Anyone worrying about how it looks on Wii U shouldn’t worry at all. Some tracks and racers do look better than others though, for example Shadow and Vyse get amazing looking models, while Pudding and Mee Mee get ugly, low poly models that look like they came straight from the original Wii version. As far as tracks go, Shibuya Downtown and Roulette Road look the same as they did in the original, and new tracks Temple Trouble, Ocean View and Nights’ Dream Valley are the weakest visually. Dragon Canyon and Adders Lair amaze with incredible design, effects and sheer busyness. Carrier Zone, an After Burner inspired track, blew me away- while the Race Of Ages track needs to be seen to be believed. Beautiful.

The water and wave effects are awesome.

There seems to be a fair bit of talk about the frame rate. In two player- one with the Gamepad on one on the the television- the frame rate is mostly fine, with some minor, inconsistent stutters here and there. The game plays perfectly on the Gamepad screen, by the way. Three player was fine for me too. Get into four and five player modes though, and the frame rate does noticeably stutter but it’s only occasionally and not a big deal. I put my Motionflow on my TV up to medium in 4 player- a feature I usually have off altogether- and it really helps smooth things out. At times there can be so much happening on screen you kind of instinctively forgive small frame rate judders- it all just looks so damn good anyway.

Thankfully the voiceover guy has been toned down from the original- he’s quieter and talks more sense. He’ll congratulate you for a nice shot with a snowball or firework, let you know when someone has an all star, and let you know when someone (in multiplayer) has fired a weapon. So useful and unintrusive is he in this game, I really found myself appreciating him and his help, instead of wishing he would just shut up like I did the first time around. Music is just your average racing tunes- identifiable I’m sure to fans of each series, otherwise just enjoyable tunes to race to. Jet Set Radio’s tracks stand out for me. Sound effects again are nothing spectacular, but as you play more they attach themselves to a weapon or action in your memory so they serve their purpose. The “transform” sound is cute. Cute and shamelessly familiar.

Taxi from the 90’s vs. Space car from the future. Fair? No, but Ai Ai’s car is made of bananas.

So with the cosmetic out of the way, I’m so happy to say Transformed plays like a dream. I wish Nintendo was listening to this part. It’s as if Sega took the best elements of Split/Second, PURE, Blur, and Mario Kart and made them work together so brilliantly they almost create a new sub-genre: the serious kart racer. Anyway, controls are spot on, right trigger to accelerate feels so good here. I remember it feeling awkward in ModNation. Mercifully, when using the Gamepad and Pro Controller- stunts are mapped to a flick of the right stick. I’m so glad I don’t have to shake anything. You need to time your flick exactly right or you’ll lose speed when you land. The voiceover lets you know you messed it up, too. A nice touch.

Transformed takes depth in a kart racer to new… depths. Fly, hover on water and drive a kart- each controls differently, and differently again with each player. On top of this you can choose a pre-set mod to tune your vehicle to suit your play style. On top again there’s a heap of modes to choose from- racing, battle, capture the flag, drift challenge, and Split/Second style modes where you need to avoid waves of drone cars trying to fuck you up, and another where you need to shoot at a tank on the course to destroy it while avoiding its missiles. On top yet again is the fact that during races the courses physically change and you will be forced to take different paths, be it air or water, and there’s plenty of path options within each track. This adds to the replay value immeasurably and it’s something Nintendo really, really needs to pay attention to. The tracks in Mario Kart simply look boring by comparison.

Mixing “realistic” environments with cartoon characters works really well. The game is breathtaking at times.

The weapons. Fun. Imaginative. Clever. Fresh. But how, when they’re all basically an “equivalent” to those found in Mario Kart and every other klone? It’s Sega’s refinement of an idea. Take the swarm for example. It’s the blue shell equivalent but instead of guaranteeing devastation for first place, the swarm heads for the leader, and a little way in front of them drops a series of bees (wasps?) on the road that seriously mess you up if you hit them. The difference from the blue shell though is first place actually has a chance to avoid them. You know, by using their driving skills. It’s satisfying to avoid the swarm as you’ve in essence avoided the blue shell. The “blue shell” in Blur did the same thing by giving the player a chance to avoid lightning bolts. This is a much better alternative to the blue shell and Nintendo absolutely needs to adopt this for the next Mario Kart. Fair’s fair.

This is Blur. It is also an amazing racer. Great ideas. Sadly underrated.

Also, your Bullet Bill equivalent, the “All Star”, won’t just guide you ahead of the pack. You’ll be invincible but you’ll still need to steer if you want to make the most of it. Again, better. It’s this kind of focus on actual driving skill rather than sheer luck that makes Transformed so satisfying and fun to play. Come first all the way if you want- you won’t be punished by a blue shell just because you’re doing well. One more time: better.

With so much to do and so much to unlock, the replay value of Transformed is amazing. Considering its budget price I’m particularly impressed with the amount of content. Apparently when you collect all 3 stars on all the modes (and there’s 3 difficulty classes in each track in each mode,- i.e. a lot to do) a new challenge opens up. I’m not that far yet. The game is not easy, some of the challenges will really, really test you.

As far as the online component goes, I’ve raced online with strangers no problems. No trouble getting into a race. The game tells me when my friends are online and playing. And Nintendo’s online service is of course free so that’s another plus. Lack of voice chat is really disappointing. That’s what patches are for, Sega.

Summing up- if you have a Wii U you should really have this game. It’s fun, accessible to everyone yet very difficult to truly master, and great value given the sheer amount of content. This is the first kart racer that Nintendo really, really needs to stand up and pay attention to and yes, borrow some ideas from. Sega (and Sumo Digital) are so close to having a game that’s overall better than Mario Kart. If Nintendo isn’t careful, their next sequel will leave Mario and friends choking on its dust. Transformed is that good. Buy it. 9 out of 10.

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  • madeup

    the afterburner track had some bad looking waves and the splash affect is better left out it makes the track look not so great

  • carlyraejepsen

    i’m not sure it’s that close to being better than mario kart, but for sure the flying/water mechanics are way better than Mario Kart 7… underwater? give me a break…