Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, like Mario Kart 7 before it, takes racing to both the seas and the sky with wildly frantic tracks that combine land, water, and aerial portions into one massive course. Drawing upon a wide variety of Sega franchises, SASRT packs in an incredible amount of content for both single-player and multiplayer racing, all with a selection of imaginative tracks and racers. Admittedly, at a glance the game seems like a cheap kart racer, but its wealth of challenging content and quality racing gameplay make SASRT a surprisingly charming, addictive, and entertaining racing game.
As expected for a kart racer, SASRT can be a hectic cluster of varied racers, items exploding around you, and elaborate track designs that see you driving through all manner of scenery. However, despite its similarities to Mario Kart games, SASRT is overall a less luck-driven event. The item selection is relatively small and isn’t as overwhelmingly powerful as those in Mario Kart–they can help you certainly, but they’re no substitute for driving skill. And really, that’s how items should function in a racing game. Despite its colorful and cheery appearance, SASRT can get brutally challenging on higher difficulty levels and requires not only sharp reflexes but a considerable amount of skill with drifting, which should satisfy the more serious kart racing crowd, while the more casual lower difficulties are the perfect way to start out and practice you skills or just to enjoy the race. The highest difficulty is truly an insane test of skill though and can easily be off-putting for some players, but the lower difficulties are no less entertaining.
The big catch in SASRT is the ability to change between karts, planes, and boats as the track requires. Each vehicle has its own quirks to master, for example boats can be a little more unwieldy on rough waters, and planes give you more freedom of movement which is both liberating and demands more thoughtful piloting to move as quickly as possible. The transformation mechanic is a fun twist but even more exciting is the way the tracks themselves change as you race. One lap may be on land but on the next the ground falls away and you take to the air. When you start playing it seems like the course is going completely crazy but this is a clever way to keep you on your toes and provide variety within a three lap race, in addition to diverging paths and shortcuts. As the track changes so must your tactics, making virtually every lap of every race a unique challenge.
Unfortunately the game seems to suffer from some fairly common technical problems and can freeze up quite easily, sometimes before the game has even started and sometimes during or after a race. Patches from the developer have tried to mitigate the problem but it still seems prevalent enough to cause some concern for prospective players, so be aware that glitches may occur.
SASRT features both extensive single-player options and multiplayer modes. While playing solo you can tackle the standard single races, time trials–with some fiendishly fast staff ghosts to beat–grand prix on five different cups, and last but certainly not least world tour mode which is essentially a series of challenges including standard races, boost challenges, and battle races where you have to destroy the other racers with items. The sheer variety is a more than welcome addition to a racing game, plus world tour is a perfect introduction to the courses and the game’s mechanics. This is an ideal way of developing you skills while also rewarding the player with a sense of progression and unlockables.
Multiplayer, meanwhile, offers both local and online racing mayhem with normal races and special arena mode matches which mix battle-type matches and unique objectives such as capturing a Chao to score points. Like the single-player mode, multiplayer offers an impressive amount of options along with the convenience of racing other players online. The online community seems a little sparse unfortunately; you may often find yourself with only a partially full lobby of players, and playing with only one or two others isn’t quite as much fun. Still, if you’re persistent (and play during normal hours) you’ll find at least a few good matches, and then the multiplayer mayhem truly shines. Furthermore, while playing both solo and in multiplayer you can level up the characters you’re using, giving them more mod options to alter their stats. No matter what mode you prefer though, SASRT is a treasure trove of content that can easily last weeks and months.
The controls are about as simple as you can get for a kart racing game, which makes it very easy for players to jump into the gameplay quickly and easily experiment with different characters and their respective strengths and weaknesses. Whether you’re using the Gamepad or the Wii remote, anyone can join in on the action with only minimal practice. Additionally, SASRT supports Gamepad only play, which allows up to five players to race simultaneously. The frenetic action is even more intense and a little hard to discern on the Gamepad’s screen, but the option is always welcome in Wii U games.
The game’s graphics are a true beauty, from the first course to the last–the NiGHTS inspired track in particular is an amazing journey through varied locations that are charmingly imaginative and breathtakingly colorful. Best of all the game represents a wide variety of Sega games, even if there aren’t characters from those games included as racers. From Sonic to House of the Dead, the course design is not only a thrilling gameplay experience but beautiful in appearance as well. The soundtrack is a perfect complement to the varied locations, and catchy to boot. Indeed, it’s hard to get the Samba de Amigo music out of your head after playing. The one downside to the presentation is that the scenery is so busy and the motion blur from racing distorts the surroundings so much that it’s often hard to make out much of the detail. Worse still, it can be hard to discern where the track is supposed to lead, especially the first time you play a course. A little practice mitigates this problem but it’s still a noticeable oddity when you start playing.
Most every kart racing game tends to be held up against Mario Kart as a judge of quality, but Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed gives the Nintendo series a run for its money. The ever changing track design seems gimmicky but is in truth a clever way of keeping players on their toes, no matter what level of difficulty you’re playing on. The impressive amount of content is matched only by the high challenge of completing all races, cups, and sticker collections, while the many multiplayer features provide even further replay value. The technical problems are a lamentable aspect of the game, even in my short time with the game, but don’t let those glitches turn you away from this charming racer.