Let’s face it, we all love a good kart racer don’t we? Mario Kart being the industry standard of course. Just you and a few friends motoring around a dazzling race track spliced into an iconic level. It’s perfect isn’t it? Well no, not exactly. If we take our standard example there are a few problems. Once you start progressing towards the latter stages of the grand prix, unless you are a budding Formula 1 driver or have Michael Schumacher giving you instructions on how to take each turn, it is nigh on impossible to win consistently enough to come on top.
Regardless of driving skill, whether you win or not at Mario Kart is totally arbitrary when you think of how imbalanced the weapons are, and I’m looking at you blue shell! How many times have you been a few feet from the finishing line on the last lap in first place, with the AI karts breathing down your neck, and for a brief moment you think you are going to win, until you hear that noise. Before you know it, you get nuked in a blue fireball and a cluster of karts blast across the finishing before you even know what just happened.
“NEVER AGAIN!” I would yell, (only there would be often more profanity involved) my hands clenched around the controller, feeling as if it would shatter as I held it. This happened way too many times. So many races ended like this, until I got to the point where I unplugged my Wii, shelved the game and left the console to gather dust, promising myself not to play another kart racer until it snowed in hell.
That was until a couple of months back. A friend of mine popped up playing Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed. I was curious and asked him what he thought. His response: “the best kart racer of our generation.” I do enjoy racing games, just not being blitzed off the track as I’m about to win. I was still suspicious too, as I had it down as just another Mario Kart clone, only with our our spiky blue supersonic hedgehog in poll position than the friendly plumber. Eventually I gave into the curiosity when the game was reduced by 75% in a steam sale. I decided “oh what the heck, let’s give it a shot.”
From the get go, I was in love. All the joys of early stage Mario Kart were still there, but with added shine. Besides the standard pedal to the metal racing on four wheels, levels had sections where your kart transformed into a powerboat, charging through rapids at eye watering speeds or switching to flight mode that has you doing dizzying aerobatics to fend off competitors. These modes in themselves were incredibly refreshing. This was not just another Mario Kart clone after all.
To progress through the game, you no longer had to stick to Grand Prix game modes but instead could play through the World Tour mode which offered a greater array of activities and challenges which put you through your paces. The world tour mode was notably more rewarding than the GP too. As you progress, you unlock more characters and enhancements for your Karts, which may just give you the edge depending on what track you are racing on. On top of this, there is an experience system which allows you to level up each character as you play unlocking additional enhancements which can tailor your kart to the requirements of each track.
The tracks have a very wide variety, from the death egg space station, to Downtown Tokyo, steam-punk airship battles and summertime Shinto shrines, the game covers a vast number of locations. On top of this, the layout of each track may vary slightly depending on which lap you are on, meaning you always have to be on your tiptoes and ready to steer away from a hazard at a moments notice. In terms of characters, the usual cohort of Sonic the Hedgehog characters make a return, along side them other iconic Sega characters such as B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, Ulala from Space Channel 5 and Amigo from the Samba de Amigo games. Besides this Ralph from the Disney movie Wreck it Ralph makes an appearance as well as a few other characters from here and there turning up. It is quite the cast.
It’s all well and good to have pretty tracks and cool characters, but how does it stack up when it comes to the balance of in game weapons? I am pleased to report that they have the balance between driving skills and pickups just about right, even some verging on being slightly under-powered. Whilst victory depended on how well I could drive through a level, I was occasionally left wanting the weapons to be a little bit more effective, but to win I knew I would just have to up my game. There aren’t any items that are a guaranteed game changer, but what is there can give you just the edge you need to cross the finish line a fraction of a second before your rivals. Driving skill is paramount and if you have just the right amount of luck, you can clinch that victory, and boy, what a heart stopping victory that can be at times.
The game has a reasonable difficulty curve, which encourages new players and guides them on improving their skills, while also pushing more experienced drivers to the limit. Higher difficulty tracks can be frustrating, though I often found the frustration only made me more determined to place first in my next attempt rather than to leave the game to gather dust. It also includes a local and online multiplayer mode, so if you want to go head to head with a friend, you can.
Since I bought it, I have clocked in at 42 adrenaline fueled hours of game play and I am still way off completion. In conclusion, Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed is probably the best kart racer of the generation and is definitely worth playing. It may not be perfect, but it it manages to succeed where Mario Kart failed. It’s been out for about a year or so now, so will have gone down in price which is all the more reason to get it. It’s available on PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U platforms.