Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed takes the iconic (and some not so iconic) Sega characters – including Sonic, Nights and Alex Kidd – and pits them against each other on the racetrack. For the sake of getting this out of the way early, compared to Mario Kart, Sonic Transformed matches up quite nicely. As a follow up to 2010’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing, the big twist with Sonic Transformed is the inclusion of boat and plane modes. The karts not only drive on solid ground, but change on the fly to race in the sky and on water. It even has a Transformers-esque sound effect as your kart morphs into an entirely different vehicle.
The game welcomes you with Career Mode that includes World Tour, Grand Prix, Time Attack and Single Race modes. World Tour includes various missions to conquer, such as placing in a top spot during a race or executing a successful succession of drifts. Grand Prix, like in many other racers, demands consistency through multiple races. And the other racing standards, Time Attack and Single Race are self-explanatory. Playing through any of these modes helps level up whichever character you use and unlocks mods for their vehicle. Here is also where you unlock other characters.
The first thing noticed with Sonic Transformed upon playing is that it starts off as an ordinary kart racer with solid controls. Handling is responsive and you will understand that you’re losing a lead, because of your own bad play. Drifting is also included for sharp turns and holding onto a drift long enough offers up mini speed boosts for the more advanced players. That’s already good enough for any kart racer, but there are also changes of terrain marked by a blue rings throughout each course and driving through them suddenly puts you in a situation where you need to adjust to a different form of handling.
As you’re driving on water, waves crashing into your speed boat are to be considered as well as preparing for wide turns. Being in the air allows you to dip and rise, which offers the ability to drive in more directions than just left and right. At first it seems like a tacked on gimmick that will have you showing favoritism for some terrains over others, but all of them feel exceptionally great. Each driving mechanic feels different enough to bring variety to any track, but not too much where your natural kart racing instincts can’t pick up on almost immediately.
Tracks in Sonic Transformed are not your usual 3 laps around the same places. Each track goes around a closed loop, but as the laps go by, different areas open up that lead to entirely different parts of said loop. An example with this is The House of the Dead track, “Graveyard Gig” where you first enter a mansion and drive through the course two times. Then by the third lap, the ramp that was there upon entering the mansion the first two times has mysteriously dropped and you now have to race through an unfamiliar part of the track. Most of these track changes are cleverly implemented and it makes racing through courses in Sonic Transformed a lot less of a repetitive experience.
Weapons are a big part of any fun filled kart racer and Sonic Transformed includes a healthy batch. Rockets, speed boosts and even a defensive catcher’s mitt are included in the random assortment of weapons as you pick up “?” marks. There is also a timed “All-Star” pick-up that makes you untouchable as well as having an unlimited supply of a special move. Each character’s special move is different and discovering them is an enjoyable part of choosing different mascots.
Graphically, Sonic Transformed looks wonderful on the PS Vita; sacrifices made from its console counterpart are not very noticeable. Some details look ugly upon further inspection, but are invisible as you whizz past the scenery. The game runs smooth with minimal dips in framerate and effects look dynamite, such as the dizzying speeds and shimmering water. The music in Sonic Transformed is also noteworthy for having some really obscure themes that hardcore fans can really appreciate. I thought I was going crazy, but it turns out there are some instances of Sonic R themes being played. Definitely look out for that and other pieces of fan service throughout.
Creaming the computer is cool, but the most satisfying aspect of any party game like Sonic Transformed is the multiplayer. There’s just something about beating a human controlled racer that is unmatched, especially in Arena mode where the goal is to destroy your opponents with weapons. Online and offline multiplayer runs well and online matchmaking also includes a ranking system that awards more rating points for the better you do after each Race or Arena match.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a very good kart racer with lots of variety that is matched with equally as good gameplay. Aside from the overlookable hiccups in graphics and missing the much desired split-screen action the console versions provide, Sonic Transformed for PS Vita fulfills all the requirements desired from a handheld kart racer. It is one of the best PS Vita games in a while and that is telling of how lackluster this handheld’s lineup has been of late.