Put all thoughts of Mario Kart clones to rest – Sega’s latest on-wheels outing for the spiky blue blur really deserves to be judged on its own merits. While the core formula of zooming around colourful locales, collecting power-ups and hitting boost panels is here in full force, All-Stars Racing Transformed adds enough bursts of originality and innovation to stand on its own.
The biggest departure from other kart racers, and even the game’s own 2010 predecessor, is mid-race switches from road vehicles to boats or aircraft. Each form has distinctive handling – flying a plane doesn’t just feel like having one of the cars in the air – and require different approaches to stay ahead. Beyond the expected career and versus races, skill challenges test your mastery of specific mechanics, such as drifting or precision control through traffic. Better still, each of the 20+ characters on offer (a selection of Sega’s finest plus a few oddball crossovers, notably an almost paradoxical appearance by Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph) have tangible pros and cons when it comes to performance under different conditions. If the mix is reminiscent of anything, it’s N64 classic Diddy Kong Racing rather than the plumber’s driving sessions.
However, the overall difficulty is high, or at least higher than you’d expect. Enemy AI is fiendishly tricky to beat on the tougher difficulties, requiring you spend time level grinding to buy vehicle mods and upgrades. Luckily, even losing provides some experience but having to endure several defeats before progressing will be off-putting for some, particularly any younger players.
While those youngsters will enjoy the game’s bright and imaginative worlds, older fans will find it a nostalgia-powered tour of Sega’s past glories. Tracks and racers are plucked from games as disparate as Golden Axe, Space Channel 5 and Skies of Arcadia, providing a package that’s filled with charming nods to the fanbase.
Overall, Sonic’s second turn behind the wheel is a surprisingly complex offering, a kart racer that provides both an immediate surface appeal to newcomers and enough ‘fair frustration’ to maintain the interests of seasoned race gamers chasing that perfect result.