Despite an ever-waning interest from its peers, Sega can still show its better side with some lovingly constructed games, such as Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (SART). This work of passion oozes with the spirit of a true gamer’s heart and that within a competent racing game that has some of the most content to date crammed inside of it. It may have a few issues here or there, but this title is pure gold for any racing fan and couch gamer.
A big part of SART’s charm is its huge level design that takes the scope of party karting games to a whole new level. Each level represents one or more sections from a notable Sega classic and that gets filled with colorful activity. While most tracks are huge in length already, the expansive horizons behind them make them that much more impressive. During a stage, several airships might fly by or a haunted mansion might have huge gargoyles clawing at players as they pass by. The possibilities are endless. While there are a few staler stages, most of them get stocked with bright flashing lights, contrasting colors and impacting animations that can affect the outcome of the race. In particular, the Nights into Dreams level shows a breathtaking way to create a captivating design that immerses the player in the middle of all its moving and shifting parts. Players are but a peon within its huge mechanisms going on as they drive by, which does command a sense of awe. More so, it pairs all these stages with an equally fitting themed soundtrack and sound effects. That particular Nights race might have ominous voices echoing, while a pinball stage will have gaudy arcade tunes blasting from all sides. In presentation alone, SART manages to show what designs can do to capture a player’s attention without resorting to cheap tricks.
Naturally, there’s still a game portion to look out for, which follows the design course along with some layered elements. The main portion of this feature will be played in the Career section, which has a World Tour, Grand Prix and so on. The first of these modes is the most appealing of the total, with a series of challenges through the many stages that in turn unlock more stages and characters. Not only is every level different in itself, ranging from easy turns to wildly swaying hills filled with jumps, but there are also an array of race modes. Aside from standard racing, players can take part in combat with a tank, try out some drifting skills, attempt to beat a series of one on one matches and much more. There is never a dull moment in this game, as the amount of variety can renew content for many hours to come. Especially since World Tour is just one part of many other modes, there is enough to go around for quite a while, certainly since some challenges are coarse and require some effort to complete. It’s a bit of a shame that Grand Prix and time trials keep things so traditional, given the alternatives presented, but it can also hardly be considered a flaw of any sort. In fact, it’s just more content to enjoy.
Controlling cars stays a steady course as well. Controls are accurately responsive to even fine details, which gives cars a sense of speed control. No matter what character, the difference between gas and a timely break makes all the difference when negotiating turns and that at sometimes breakneck speeds. In order to gain more boosts, players can perform tricks or drift during a period of time, which adds a certain skill level to the game that is, luckily, easily picked up. Just holding down the break while turning will launch the car into a drift and that while losing only minimal control.
Of course, there is still the transform element to discuss from the game’s title. Periodically, races have certain blue gates that instantly shift cars into other vehicles, like boats or planes. While it does change the control and aspect of the race, this gimmick doesn’t enhance gameplay per se. Any track is already open and vast as it is, without the somewhat troublesome shift occurring from time. For instance, shooting items with planes can be a pain, as pulling backwards also moves the vehicle around. However, again it isn’t as much of a downside as it is just a different way to play and an additional challenge.
Picking a character will be a facilitating factor to overcome any objective. Each car has a specific drive, which can also be further built out through a leveling scheme that adds mods to differentiate its statistics. Cars become faster at the cost of less acceleration, handle better but lose boost power and so forth. It also has a meter for the game’s ultimate weapon called All-Star, but it’s never really clear just what that meter stands for.
The NiGHTS stage really is just so amazing.
Leveling isn’t the only expansion in the game; there are tons of bonuses to unlock. Even when one event seems fully completed, another occurrence will get tacked on and while that does have a whiff of bogarding content, the core is enough already to be entertaining. That’s without discussing things like well-hidden shortcuts in races that offer a new way of racing, an online portion filled with more distinctive, competitive modes, decent matchmaking systems and couch play that can also be taken online. The sheer content available in SART puts many other titles to shame, especially since none of it seems like it’s a rush job or it’s just there for filler purposes. Each unlocked stage is as magical as the last, if not more.
There are some hindrances to discuss as well though. Most prominently, the game often overshoots the excess on screen, which leads to confusing sections in laps. All the blinking lights, crumbling parts and ramping hills often block the sight of where the race is going next and the small mini-map is of little help towards that. The result of this is that most races require a trial and error period of track recognition before hitting their true potential. It might occur that this recognition sets in after just one race, but as laps continuously shift in shape, it will probably involve a bit more muscle memory than that. The artificial intelligence also has a few minor dents. Particularly, using a Twister item against opponents won’t affect them or their seemingly endless amount of boosts. Finally, SART also has ring races and while that tribute to games like Superman 64 is cute, the vapid gameplay inside of them are only enhanced by frustrating obstacles.
While there are a few barriers in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, most of them can be joyously overlooked when put alongside the vast amount of captivating and alternating content the game holds. Not only is it a competent party racing game, but it also brings so many different ways to play with so many unique ways to play it. There is no reason for anyone to miss out on this highly entertaining title.