Sonic has had a real return to form recently. Once a great childhood hero, the blue hedgehog lost nearly all of his credibility after a series of poor titles. We still approach anything that features the hedgehog with a degree of hesitation, but following the joys of Sonic Generations, all has been forgiven. Almost.
Sonic and Sega Allstars Racing Transformed really is the moment of truth for our favourite game character. A game which fell by the wayside slightly during all the excitement of the Wii U’s launch, it could be the best title on the system.
The key to Transformed’s gameplay is in the title. Take a pinch of Michael Bay, throw in some Diddy Kong Racing and then wrap it all up in a Sega-shaped package and there you go. This is kart-racing game all about track and vehicle transformation.
One race might see you go from plane, to boat and back to a car, all in the space of a single lap. Crucially though - and this is where we expected the game to fall over - is that the whole thing is done effortlessly and without a hiccup.
On top of the track change mechanic, you also get a selection of weapons to play with, like any good kart-racing game should. What we like here though, is that none of them is overpowered to the point where the core racing takes a hit.
Each simply helps you gain a position, from the hot-rod boost to the baseball glove that defends you. If you don’t race well, you will get left behind quickly and no miracle item is going to play catch-up for you.
As such this title is much more about the racing than most kart-racers. You need to get good at drifting very early on to gain just the right amount of boost to give you power on the straights. The drastic change in handling between boat, plane and car also needs to be learnt, otherwise you will find frequent crashes.
Each track has been extremely well designed, not only to give a retro nod to some Sega classics but also to give the best racing experience. The Golden Axe track is a particular highlight, as is the Jet Set Radio themed one.
In fact, for those into Sonic games, half the fun of this is exploring each track hunting out nods to some of your favourite titles. Jet Set Radio’s stage, for example, brings back one of the songs from the original game.
Once you finally nail the balance between boat, plane and car and have powersliding down to an art, the game starts to come into its own. Ramp up the difficulty to hard and you will enjoy every moment. It is a real challenge taking first place in any race, but not impossible.
Modes and multiplayer
The career mode asks you to travel down various paths to progress. Winning events unlocks different races, although occasionally you will need to store up stars to make new races available.
On top of normal races, there are other types of events, which include things like drift challenges and boost races. Some also require you to beat a specific character or series of characters for several laps.
For multiplayer you can have up to five-player split screen - thanks to the Wii U’s controller. There is a choice between conventional racing and battle modes as well as the mini game-centric party play options. All can be done offline and online although we vastly prefer playing kart-racing games like this with others in the room.
Sonic and Sega Allstars has a bit of an issue with its graphics. The problem is, that despite all the Wii U’s power, everything appears to have a sort of haze cast across it.
To us, it looks like a cross processing effect gone wrong. Like a post-processing filter, which due to the limits of a home console, simply can’t be done quite right. The result is that some of the lovely looking character models get lost in the hazy graphics.
That aside, the tracks in particular are stunning. Taking one example in particular, the After Burner track catapults you from sea to aircraft carrier in a blur. Most details are missed simply because of the speed you are whizzing along at, but the look and feel is definitely top-notch.
The way each car transforms is also very well done. We especially like the Crazy Taxi hovercraft, which is particularly strange looking. Unlocking new racers, part of the excitement comes from watching how they transform.
Clearly though, haze aside, the Wii U can manage some pretty graphics. It feels strange after all the Wii’s SD nonsense to play a Nintendo console in HD. Blocky colours and cartoony graphics are just perfectly suited to the resolution and this game, just as Super Mario Bros U was, is fantastic for the eye.
The Wii U slant
We already mentioned that the Wii U controller gives you a bit of a multiplayer edge in terms of the number of players, but what does it add to the core gameplay experience?
For the most part, not much. Short of being able to play the game in another room, the rest is simply either a map of the track or a rear-view camera. The latter definitely helps when aiming weapons but in reality, the extra Wii U features aren’t necessarily hugely exciting.
Here is an exciting kart-racer that doesn’t have Mario in it. A game which despite all the logical similarities with Mario Kart ends up being quite unique. The transformation element is done really well and the core gameplay is great fun.
Throw in a polished weapons system, character upgrades mechanic and a lengthy single player campaign and you have a great kart racer. Another good job from Sonic and hats off to developer Sumo Digital for doing something different with a tried and tested formula.