Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

This winter's release schedule has some prime pickings for all-family affairs.

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The plastic mountain of Spyro figurines overshadows the blocky characters of Lego Lord of the Rings, who stand beside a head-scratching Professor Layton, and somewhere in the distance a paper version of an Italian plumber waits for release.

They're a tonic to the bloodshed and body-count that amasses this time of year, an easy sell by virtue of what they are not.

The same can be said for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Bright and colourful, easy arcade controls, and with multiplayer offering comedic knockdowns rather than bloody takedowns, it's something you're happy to show to all ages of gamer.

But much like Mario Kart, what creator Sumo Digital is gunning for is that this'll appeal as much to the older hardcore market as younger players. And with the plumber retiring his kart to the garage this season, Sega's mascot has the road to himself.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

It's multiplayer that's the main focus of today's event. TVs strung along one wall, PS3s hidden underneath and press perched in front of each pod.

The opening of the event we spend watching from the sidelines. Partly to give proper attention to the new courses being unveiled today, but mainly to watch for those telltale signs of a good multiplayer racer: how long before anyone's willing to pass over a controller to one of the milling crowd behind.

And it's a while. We've finished a chicken salad, sunk our second drink and caught up with colleagues before a representative flags up a free PS3 controller. We throw our leg over the offered stool and a few seconds later are in a race.

It's an improved take on the original All-Stars Racing, and a massive improvement over the promising but buggy code shown earlier in the year - a drama that afflicts most early game builds, but more obvious in a racing title - that makes for a satisfactory hands-on event and a lingering hope that this will be Sonic's year at the races.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Vehicles look different but feel similar, no telling difference between weight or shape, be you riding a motorcycle with Knuckles, blue sports car with Sonic or any of the other thirteen racers lifted from across Sega's franchises. But there's distinct control changes when they transform into their jet or hovercraft modes. There seems no weight division (yet), so personal preference instead dictating who you drive with.

Every character's able to grab weapons from collecting item boxes littered about the track, and what's at hand is a nice blend of offensive and defensive abilities that keeps the playing field even. Such as a baseball glove that lets you safely catch any attack headed your way, or a explosive remote car that'll chase competitors along the course. Collectable stars hidden through each course will grant a short-term All-Star abilities specific to the characters.

The drift mechanic works as you'd imagine, but Sumo has implemented an ability that, in theory, sounds similar to Mario Kart's snaking, letting you continue to do small drifts even on straights to build up your speed. We'd still not perfected the technique by the session's end, so what impact it'll have on online or split-screen multiplayer will have to wait for review.

Each vehicle's able to perform dodges and spins in mid-air. The first to try and avoid incoming strikes, the second for speed boosts if you score a successful landing.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing TransformedSonic & All-Stars Racing TransformedSonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Sonic & All-Stars Racing TransformedSonic & All-Stars Racing TransformedSonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

The three-way split in racing across land, sea and air isn't an even one. On most courses, Sumo draw upon the franchise represented on each to dictate what elements best mix for entertaining results.

It's really the courses at this point that really shine. While wide roads and generously-sized corners are a mainstay of most tracks, the variation and embracing of Sega's history makes the tracks we see so far a joy to behold (though you'll need to be a long time Sega fan to really appreciate the smaller details).

So Adders Lair, a nod to Golden Axe, is a race along crumbling stone bridges, through the mouths of gigantic statues and into the heart of a volcano - and out the other side and down a lava river. Dragon Valley is mainly a winged sweep through canyons alongside dragons and floating Empire galleons see in Panzer Dragoon. Galactic Parade is Racing's own Rainbow Road, a multi-coloured track taken from Sonic Colors, whose course is gradually created in front of you as you race.Booster rings dot the courses, emphasising the multiple routes you can take, race track splitting in two and joining together later on.

But it's Rogues Landing and Carrier Zone that really pull out the stops with lap-long set-pieces that make it hard to keep your eyes on your racing line.

As with each course, the final lap sees the track transform due to catastrophes that unfold in front of you. The former's an ode to RPG classic Skies of Arcadia, and finishes with a flight along floating islands and plunging through damaged airships. The latter has you zipping between aircraft carriers either in the air or on the oceans around them, while fighter jets roar past the race course.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

This escalation of off-course chaos makes for a great companion to the combat-heavy racing on track, invigorating the frantic battle for first place. There's more emphasis on pure survival, and even as the matches heat up, you don't loose track of your racer amidst the action.

Rubber-banding is another element that we'll have to check come the review stage, but there are close-knit race finishers, as exampled by the last race we partake in during the session. A last dash above and through the lava of Adders Lair becomes a neck-to-neck race between ourselves and another competitor, and nailing the perfect run is essential for the win. We overcompensate a drift on one of the final corners, massively dropping our top speed for a moment, and we're stuck behind their drift tail until the finishing line.

But there's smiles and handshakes all round, when we'd usually have grimaces and post-game smack talk. Maybe it's due to the relaxed surroundings, but maybe it's due to the game - immersing us in strictly PG-friendly fun. Transformed is definitely looking like good non-stressful fun for the family so far, and a fun multiplayer title.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

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