Last Updated on June 17, 2023
Remembering One of the most famous kart racers with no Mario, Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed.
Super Mario Kart. A fine example of a definitive, and one with a legacy that harkens disappointment. Many heard the call to make a better kart racer, even and with much hilarity from me, Nintendo itself, who found themselves in the same pit as everyone else since polygons were invented.
They just don’t control quite as sharp as pixels. And Super Mario Karts controlled just so.
I have said before that the much-heralded Mario Kart 64 handled like an old curly Cumberland sausage, and I stand by it. Not even Mario Kart Advance crossed the line on a photo finish with the original and you would have bet on the Game Boy Advance to be the machine to do so.
Time would pass and as I recall it some people were genuinely satisfied with the Crash Bandicoot karters, but I wasn’t taking those seriously. As far as I was concerned, for the next decade or so the best kart handling experience in gaming was driving one of the warthogs in Halo. And they came with people hanging off them and shooting machine guns, so I was good.
I was good all the way to just a few years ago when I picked up a second-hand Xbox 360 copy of Sonic Racing Transformed from one of those modernity gaming shops that apparently pass for culture these days. I wasn’t particularly interested in the transforming kart gimmick, but was happy to pay only a few quid for something that was likely to be a let down. But let me tell you, oh my…!
The Sheffield Sumo
Developed by deft hands in Sheffield by Sumo Digital, Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed was published by Sega in 2012, and even from a cursory glance into the retro-sphere, you will probably hear good things already about this one.
Be it the aesthetic congruence of the many and various Sega property race tracks, or the naturally behind-the-beat, loose-at-the-rear handling, this game is known to put a smile on your face from the first play and then slowly tighten the screws as you feel and flow your way into ever greater boost opportunities and exuberant advantages.
But I am getting retrospectively ahead of my own review. Allow me to clear the formalities away. Most important is that this is the sequel to the popular Sonic Team Racing, also from the tag-team of Sumo Digital development and Sega publishing. A great game, and made with an apparent kinship for the characters and worlds that Sumo Digital was pumping from.
(Now I don’t how or why Billy Hatcher got pumped through but he did. Someone noticed though and he wouldn’t make the sequel. Much like his own game. Burn.)
Many other, better characters did make this other, better sequel though. Accepting that nobody is ever going to agree on a list of the best examples for a Sega roster of anything, this game plucks quite thoroughly from the Dreamcast era, as well as giving us the likes of Shinobi and the main car from Daytona USA. Less a deep cut and more of a recent greatest hits. They are all bright and breezy in design though, with their vehicles a little tighter and sharper than before.
Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed: Racing in disguise?
If the main hook for Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed is the transformation of the vehicles from kart to boat to flying machine and back again, it is worth noting that the first game comprehensively went on the attack of any 3-D Mario Kart and came within shooting distance of taking it. Expectation for the sequel was for more than just a fresh gimmick, it was for the win.
Right from the go you know Sumo Digital understand. The miserable housekeeping that is video game menu screens are as easy to navigate as a laminated children’s menu. Just look at the bright pictures and point. Easy peasy. Grab a bib though, as when you see the circuits you are going to be racing around, you are going to dribble.
Quite how Sumo Digital could take one engine and have it produce accurate visions of various Sega properties, and then design the most sweepingly loopy circuits within them, is known only to them. The cartoon, marker pen cityscapes of Jet Set Radio’s Tokyo-To look just so, and sit alongside Panzer Dragoon’s deep textured sandstone circuitry without breaking the tone of continuity between the various worlds.
And the twenty circuits themselves, they are joys. Vast and spaghetti-like in layout, each one a complete level of setting and fine set dressing details that harken to Sega’s heritage. Clear blue skies as they say; Sumo Digital must have been smoking the stuff.
But what of the transforming business? Is it an addition too far in a game replete with sights, sounds and special weapons? Well, it takes a little getting used to. The standard kart handling is formula as you are used to for the genre, albeit a little more superb than the first game, and the general competition. Always opening the door for you to go a little deeper and gain those precious extra nano-boosts. Think two-stroke Outrun and you are already playing it in your mind.
And then, the next moment you are flying as the circuit either drops away or is otherwise exposed to sudden, world-specific catastrophe. It is always rendered rather well, with a sense of weight shift and side-stepping physics that uplifts and sets you on a sudden course like a dart.
Now, you are not going to get the finer nuances of flying on your first couple of races. You are probably going to explore the outer reaches of where the circuit allows you to go. But after that, when you’ve achieved a couple of deft, banking, boost-inducing drifts, you are going to be grafted into the sense of the constant propulsion these sections provide.
Which just leaves you with the looser-than-an-old-gearbox water sections. Again, the transition is seamless regardless of the shape of your characters’ floaty boat. Personally, I liked Tails’ shark-nosed, propeller boat, but you’ll find your favourite, in fact probably a few. There are leanings for all the characters towards speed or handling, etcetera, but balance is the name of things here and once you get your mind around water flows and currents, you are going to be aqua boosting like a hooligan with any of the button bright cast.
The French pastry of kart racing
It should all be too much when placed together. I enjoy a French pastry when the chance comes, but I would not advise taking three of them and folding them into one. Sumo Digital did, and they achieved it; the sweetest, sharp edged pastry of design filled with Sega, and the greatest racing game to bear the Sega brand since Sega Rally.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.