There was a time when a lot of companies were trying to get on the kart-racing bandwagon. Everyone and everything, from Konami to The Smurfs, had their own racer; Sega even dabbled a bit, putting Sonic up against some of his friends in Sonic R, Sonic Drift, and Sonic Riders. Fast forward a few years and Sega finally got things right with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, which brought together characters from Sega's rich history to go head-to-head in a light and accessible kart racing game on just about every platform imaginable. Luckily for fans of the original, a new sequel has been announced, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which takes the formula for the original, and expands on it by sending racers into the air, and onto the sea.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed takes the gameplay of the original game, and transforms it (get it?) on multiple different levels. First and foremost are the karts, which can instantly change from a land vehicle, to a boat, or to a plane depending on the terrain of the course. While the kart transforms are the most obvious of the titular "transformations," most of the courses also go through some serious changes as well each lap around. At a recent demo, I had the opportunity to play through a couple courses to see just how smoothly the new mechanics worked, while getting a peek at some of the new characters that will be making an appearance in Transformed.
First up was the Super Monkey Ball course that demonstrated both land and air terrain. The course is obviously different than the one from the first release, and that becomes abundantly clear moments after you start the race, and you're jockeying for position in mini-boats. This course, like many in the game, only offered two different types of environments because the developers, Sumo Digital, wanted to remain true to each board's source material. Including giant monkey balls as obstacles clearly makes sense for this course, but trying to shoehorn in a flight section wouldn't, unlike the second course that I was shown from Panzer Dragoon.
Longtime fans of one of Sega's most sacred franchises will be more than pleased to see what Sumo has done with the Panzer Dragoon franchise as the course was elegantly crafted, with lots of details and fan service. While it doesn't quite answer anyone's prayers for a new Dragoon game, the three laps around the course, which take players over land, sea, and air, has lots of dragons doing battle, and, in fact, they're the ones changing the path of the course. To prove just how much love there is poured into the game, as you're flying around on your third lap, trying to move up to first place just before the race ends, if you look up at just the right time, you'll get a glimpse of a massive airship battle with a bunch of dragons duking it out.
Perhaps the most important change in the game is the one that introduces a couple new characters to the roster. In addition to the expected returning racers like Sonic, Tails, B.D. Joe, and Doctor Eggman, two new faces were shown off in this build, and they should both be familiar to Sega fanboys. Gillius Thunderhead from Golden Axe and Vyse from Skies of Arcadia will be making their debut as kart racers in Transformed, and doing so in epic fashion, respectively bringing heavily stylized karts, boats, and planes that should bring smiles to any fans' face.
The first question that should pop into gamers' heads when they hear that courses could include up to three types of vehicles is how well can they control since boats, cars, and planes all have different physics? Rest at ease my friends, the transitions are smooth, and so are the controls. Retaining the very simplistic three button controls from the original game, Transformed is an accessible pick-up-and-play racer for just about anyone.
When Sega picks a theme, they really stick with it, as Transformed is setting up to be a great follow-up to an enjoyable racer. While the first game served the mainstream Sega fans, it's looking like this release is laying the fans service on pretty thick. With the list of already rumored additions to the roster, Transformed may be the kart racer to keep an eye on when it's released later this year.