Preview: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed Hands-On

Special thanks to Barry the Nomad for this image mock-up

Wow.

That is an actual quote this SEGA fanboy uttered as SEGA turned on the television to give a group of people from the gaming media their first look at the newest All-Stars game. As the TV switched on, I was expecting to see Green Hill, Chemical Plant, or maybe Emerald Coast grace the screen in glorious HD. This was a Sonic title after all, right? Then, as the screen turned on, I noticed a small Panzer Dragoon logo in the left hand corner. For a moment, I didn’t believe it. Then I saw Lagi stretching her wings, the Shelcoof soaring through the sky and heard “Flight” playing in the background, and the little SEGA fanboy in me screamed.

Wow.

The whole opening presentation had me randomly wowing with glee as I began to notice all the little awesome touches. Oh my God, that looks just like the palace from the first level of Panzer Dragoon! Is that Vyse, as a racer?! Wow, Gillius Thunderhead?! Whoa, that’s the Shelcoof from Zwei! Look, the over hanging plants from the second  level of Panzer Dragoon Orta! This one level had more SEGA fan service than anything I’ve seen since SEGA went third party, and this was just one level.

So yes, needless to say I really enjoyed what I saw of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Of course, it takes more than fan service to make a good game, and All-Stars thankfully has far more to offer then that. It’s also a very solid arcade racer, and has the potential to be the best kart racer in years. Yes, I am including Mario Kart in that statement.

I’ll start out with what will be immediately apparent to everyone who’s looked at the game’s screens and videos: the graphics are gorgeous. The game is running on an all new engine that is built to be upgradeable for next gen consoles. The lighting effects, textures and attention to detail are remarkable. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen this much life and movement in the background of a racing game. The Panzer track in particular is absolutely brimming with life. The skies are filled with creatures and things that could easily be stand-alone center pieces in stages, such as the aforementioned Ruined Palace and Shelcoof.

The other level on display, a Monkey Ball stage, shows off the game’s impressive wave and water effects. They didn’t cut any corners here: they are exactly what you would expect from an HD version of Wave Race or Hydro Thunder. The waves move up and down, rocking the player back and forth and they react realistically as monkey filled balls plummet into the water causing waves to erupt, jostling players around.

The only downside in the graphics that we saw in the demo was the frame rate. The Monkey Ball stage in particular featured a very unstable frame rate. This sort of problem is common for a pre-alpha build like the one we saw though, and Sumo Digital made it clear that this was purely due to the pre-alpha nature of the build. Considering the rock solid frame rate of the original ASR, I am inclined to believe they will get it done. When they do, this game is going to be gorgeous.

So I’m sure you’re wondering how the game plays. Well, the regular driving areas control about how you would expect. The drifting mechanics are the same as they were in SASR.  The cars still handle well, and players must still rely on Outrun-esque drifting in order to win. The big innovation in this game is the “transformation” mechanic. The game has three different “terrains”: land, water, and air. The land areas are the standard racing segments that players know well from SASR. The water and air areas, however, are different beasts entirely.

The water areas are reminiscent to water vehicle games like Wave Race and Hydro Thunder. For these areas, your car transforms into a motorboat. It’s still possible to drift on these watery areas, but the waves and water physics add a whole new dynamic to the race. Using the waves, which can be both scripted and randomly generated, players can perform tricks and send themselves flying through the air, much like they could when they managed to gain enough air in the original All-Stars Racing. It essentially plays like a ski-doo or motorboat racer, with some drifting mechanics and tricks thrown in.

The air levels cause the player’s car to transform into an air plane so they can freely fly through the sky. These areas feel very much like an arcade flying game. Changing altitudes is as simple as pulling up or down on the analog stick, and players can take different paths and find either power ups or speed boosts at different altitudes. The planes can’t drift, but they can perform barrel rolls. Out of the three terrains, air was the one I was able to experience the least, so unfortunately I can’t go into as much detail as I’d like.

SASR is essentially three kinds of racing games in one, and we were promised that different courses would emphasize certain terrain over others. The water filled Monkey Ball stage is a good example of this, as you spend most of your time in the water and you never fly, while the Panzer stage was evenly divided between the three kinds of terrain. Apparently, the game will even provide races that take place entirely on one type of terrain. Whether they were talking about specific courses or missions, we can only guess for the moment.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this the same gimmick that Mario Kart 7 used just last year? In that you could hang glide and go under water, and your kart transformed in that too! Well, no, they are actually very different games. Yes, Mario Kart had transformations, but they were considerably more limited in how they were used and how much they changed the race. The hang gliders gave the player a limited amount of flight time and are much more limited in their maneuverability. The only trick to using the hang glider was trying to maximize your air time to try and get ahead of the other racers. The underwater areas were merely floatier versions of the regular racing areas. The transformations in Transformed are much more fleshed out, and feel like completely different gameplay modes, with completely different vehicles and physics. In MK7, these transformations are little more than modest additions to the base formula.

SEGA had two courses on display, both of which you’ve seen: Panzer Dragoon’s Ruined Palace, and a Super Monkey Ball stage. I’ve already talked extensively about how great Ruined Palace looks, so allow me to get into some finer details regarding the course’s design. Ruined Palace is essentially a showcase for everything Sumo Digital wants to do with the tracks in this game. For one, the track evolves over the course of the race. The first go-around focused on driving around on land. After the first lap, an Imperial battle cruiser crashes onto the track and redirects the players onto a water way. On the third lap, a yondo-worm destroys a bridge, and the players then take off into the air. With each lap, the course changed and allowed players to explore a different part of the course, resulting in a very different experience for each lap.

The Monkey Ball stage featured a less pronounced form of track evolution. After the first lap, monkey balls began to fall from the sky in one portion of the track, creating larger waves for racers to do tricks off of. These were apparently originally meant to be hazards. They proved to not be very dangerous but they worked so well by simply giving racers more waves to jump off of that they decided to keep them in.

The Monkey Ball stage focused on a different aspect of Transformed’s course design: alternate paths. This course didn’t evolve too much from lap to lap, but gave players different paths to explore. These alternate paths gave players access to ramps and speed boosts and power ups. According to Sumo, alternate paths will also be used to allow players to choose what kind of terrain they will use in certain parts of the track, with different paths devoted to different terrain.

Monkey Ball also contained the most notable hazard in the demo: a giant whirl pool that will suck down players who get too close. On one lap, I was actually able to use the whirl pool to send myself flying into the air and over to the other side of it. I’m still not sure how I did it, but this should definitely open up some interesting possibilities, especially if other hazards allow for similar tricks.

If anything about the game underwhelmed me, it would probably be the items. The three I remember best are the speed boost, freeze attack, and the puffer fish. The speed boost is just the speed shoes from the previous game, the freeze attack froze players in ice, and the puffer fish seemed to act like some kind of bomb. Sumo said that these items were stand-in items and won’t necessarily be in the final game, but it’s clear that this aspect of the game remains the most unfinished.

In addition to the items, All-Star moves will also be making a return. Last time the move was an item, but this time around it’s separate. Rather than randomly obtaining an item, you collect stars on the track. Once you’ve collected them, you can activate the move whenever you please. Unfortunately, this feature was absent from the build that we played, so I have no idea what their All-Star moves are. I’ve no doubt that Vyse’s move involves the Delphinus raining hell fire down on the track with its moonstone cannon though.

As a SEGA fan and a fan of arcade racers, I have loved what I’ve seen so far. From what I’ve seen of the demo, Transformed looks to be everything the original All-Stars Racing should have been and more. The fan service in this demo is so thick you couldn’t even cut it with a knife. More importantly, this game is finally advancing a genre that has been stagnating for years. The different types of terrain add an all new dynamic to the races, and give the tracks a kind of variety that few other racers have.

While it remains to be seen whether or not the balancing issues of the last game that allowed motorcycles to dominate races and allowed people who got ahead early to become untouchable will be addressed, Sumo has said that they have taken these complaints into account and that they haven’t found these problems during play testing. In addition to this, Sumo has also promised that they are not going to recycle tracks as they did last time, and are going to draw from a far wider variety of franchises.

In short, this game is incredibly promising. From what I’ve played of this title, it’s going to be better than Mario Kart. The transformations alone are done far better in this game then in Mario Kart 7. The racing is much faster is more focused on skill then chance, and the sheer variety offered by the transformations add a lot to the standard kart racing formula. I implore people not to write this game off as another Mario Kart clone, as it is far more than that, and has the potential to take the genre in places Mario Kart probably never will.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is scheduled for release in time for the holiday season on the PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS, Vita and PC. For a second opinion on the demo, head over to SEGAbits for Jason Berry’s take.

70 Comments

  1. Considering I played the first one to death (Often causing the other 7 players to DNF online hehe) Colour me extremely excited.

    The fact Gillius is in there just sweetens the death.
    Surely Ristar will get in after all the positive feedback from the Death Egg stage in the original.

  2. This really does look quite good. However, The option to activate the all-star move once you gather stars through out the map might become quite annoying. Basically, if someone was in 1st position and collected all the stars, They would just get further away from the competition eliminating the fun. I know the opposition can use it too but if your a pro, the game could get boring quickly. Maybe if somehow, people further behind gather more stars from people in front, it might be balanced.

  3. ASR had a way of balancing all star moves for people further up in the pack: they wouldn’t last nearly as long. I once got an all-star move and activated it in fourth place, and it didn’t work for nearly as long.

    It will probably be the case here too.

  4. I can’t wait to see the Wii-U version at E3!

    If only it had an Adventure mode like Diddy Kong Racing or Crash Team Racing. Everything else looks great.

    Still waiting for Ristar, though!

  5. Would’ve liked to have Orta herself as a racer to represent the Panzer Dragoon series. But that’s no big deal since we have VYSE (Holy shit yeah!). They really need to get NiGHTS in on this one. He’d be perfect since he can morph into different things.

    1. This is what I am saying, as I am strictly a PC gamer anymore. But considering the last one made it to PC and that Sega has been showing a lot of love to PC in general recently, I’m sure we will get a version of it too. 🙂

  6. Everytime I see Vyse mentioned, I can’t help but have a huge grin on my face. This is my current most wanted game. No question.

  7. No story mode? I’ll make one then.

    Alex Kidd challenges [whoever_you_chose] to a race. You’re suspicious because he’s never lost, and mysteriously the losers are never seen again.
    You confront him, challenge him, win and ask him about the missing people. Turns he’s actually under Reala’s control and- okay maybe it doesn’t need a story mode after all.

  8. YESSSSSSSSSSSS! HELL YEAH! WOOOOOOOOO! WOOOOOO! I loved All Stars Racing, now Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed! Yes! It looks fantastic (dat Knuckles… yeah…) it immediately reminds me of Diddy Kong Racing and Mario Kart 7 (two of the best racing games I’ve ever played) AND it’s a nostalgia trip! Tails is in his Drift kart (hated Sonic Drift, but come on, that’s cool) Golden Axe, and looking at Eggman immediately reminds me of the Egg Dealer. This looks fantastic, and all I can say is that I will DEFINITELY pick it up, can’t tell if the PS3, Vita, or 3DS version will be superior, I liked playing as my Mii the most in 1 so, I’m leaning on the 3DS side. Must buy.

    1. Oh, but one thing, I thought that the name Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing was a bit weird because I thought it should’ve been “SEGA All Stars Racing” but now they took out the word SEGA… I wonder why, anybody got an idea on that?

      1. Sonic sells. S&SASR is too long of a name, so many just called it “Sonic All-Stars Racing” . Now it’s Sonic & All Stars Racing (Transformed). I don’t get that & though.

        1. Yeah, but if it’s Sonic All Stars Racing, what the heck are these random SEGA characters doing here? XD Then again… Sonic Riders…

  9. i would like if sega put DLC that you can get thr hover board off of sonic riders for the sonic carectors

    1. Correction, “Fan” wants to play as Silver. I swear if they waste a character slot on this guy…

  10. Vyse….Vyse Vyse…Oh man that rings a bell…

    Dreamcast?….errr…..He made a playable cameo in Valkyria Chronicles…
    UGH I CAN’T REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE GAME!!

    But I hope Aika is in this too! 😀 And maybe a VC character, Ristar and Nights 🙂

  11. some sega fanboy you are! This stage is obviously from Panzer Dragoon Zwei, with the shellcoff running rampage. Lagi is also from that game, but Lagi isn’t armored like that, and the coloring is very different. That’s clearly not Lagi, it’s the Dragon from the first panzer dragoon game, the unnamed blue dragon with armor. get it straight ;P

    1. Oh, but I do have it straight ;).

      Lagi is the dragon in all three Saturn games. Zwei told her origin story. She was born as a mutated coolia with a glowing throat. Over the course of the adventure she evolves, and if you play really well, by the end of the game she becomes the blue dragon from Panzer Dragoon. It is also heavily implied that the dragon from Saga and Orta are also Lagi, and SEGA has even released a wall paper detailing her evolution from a coolia into the blue dragon, then her split after Saga into a very mortal being and the immortal essense we see during Orta’s journey through Sestren.

      As for the location, the Shelcoof’s presense doesn’t mean anything. The Schelcoof is a wandering vessel, it isn’t limited to one specific place. It also survived after Zwei until Panzer Dragoon Saga, when Edge finally destroyed it. The palace is clearly designed after the place you fly through in the opening level of the first game. The AREA as well as many of the monsters are modeled after the jungle river canyon in the second level of Orta.

      So, I think I have it quite straight 😉

      1. She doesn’t become the blue dragon, she becomes a Solo Wing, which Saga made clear is just the final mutation of the heresy project. It’s clear that each dragon dies at the end of each game – Lagi is shown dead at the end of Zwei, with her “soul” living on (her soul being nothing more than the heresey project, which reinfects coolia and mutates them into other dragons).

        The dragon in Saga cannot be the dragon from Zwei because A) Lagi became a Solo wing at the end of Zwei and the dragon in Saga doesn’t become a solo wing until the end of that particular game, B) Lagi dies at the end of Zwei, and C) The dragon in Saga looks completely different than either Lagi or the blue armored dragon – it’s a deep red dragon in Saga.

        1. For one, it is unclear WHAT happened to the dragon at the end of each game, but it’s made pretty obvious when Orta encounters the “program” in sestren that

          A. The dragon had two halfs, a mortal physical half, and an immortal spiritual “program”, which you meet in Orta when flying through Sestren.

          B. This dragon has been around for awhile. The program refers to it as “old friend”, and the intention of the entire level is to link it back to Saga.

          C. When the dragon and program were bonded,the dragon was apparently immortal.

          Now, let’s be clear: Panzer Dragoon is very vague on a lot of things, including the final fates of the dragon. Little is made clear in this series. This has allowed fans to come up with plenty of theories. All I know is, I’m not the only person to consider this the same dragon, and the jury is still out on whether or not it is the same physical dragon that appears from game to game. If you want to get super technical, I can STILL call it Lagi because Lagi obtained the blue dragon form at the end of the game. Personally, I like the name far more then “blue dragon”. I was also right on every other point.

          Just look at this data entry from the only notable Panzer Dragoon site on the net:

          http://www.thewilloftheancients.com/encyclopaedia/the-dragon

          See? Jury is still out. You have your theory, I have mine, now lets agree to disagree and move on. I don’t care to debate this. The point I was making was that I AM a SEGA fanboy and I know my stuff about this series.

  12. I just watched the teaser trailer and amazed that Panzer Dragoon became part of the demo teaser.
    My heart skipped a beat, and just wrote to Richard Jacques a positive message! (couldn’t help it)
    Can only imagine what they’ll be able to pull off in this title. Who knows anything is possible!

    1. Aw come on, even if Billy isn’t in, ya still gotta admit, this game looks like it kicks ass…. 😀

      Even if it is a Mario Kart 7 clone… *sighs* Well, the true fans didn’t care when they saw the first one being a Mario Kart Wii clone, it was still a fun game.

    1. Just because he was in the first one doesn’t mean he’ll be back. They had Waluigi in Mario Kart 6 and took him out in 7. Its called shuffling the characters out and switching them in for new ones.

      1. But they replaced all kinds of awesome characters with Wiggler, Honey Queen, and Metal Mario… I’m fine with Wiggler, Honey Queen was a true mistake, and I think the Metal Cap should be a power-up, not a seperate character… but it is fun to use him.

  13. All-Star moves should be online this time, and also fix those respot glitches people abused in the first game (Mils).

    It already looks better than MK7 so far, so hopefully it plays better too.

  14. Vyse for the win!

    MK 7 was fun for awile, till all those glitchy shortcuts became a huge nuisance, thus I put down the game.

    Hoping this game vastly improves over it’s predecessor, and I’m not talking about the visuals or new mechanics.

  15. Doesn’t Sonic and All Stars Racing sound grammatically incorrect? I get that it’s like Sonic and the all stars but it just sounds off to me.

    1. I think it would make a lot more sense as “SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed” but who cares, the game looks awesome right? 😀

  16. I’m excited, this looks like the most innovative racing game since Diddy Kong Racing. Except unlike Diddy Kong racing, you don’t choose between car, hover craft, or plane, you transform into any of the three in mid race! This will be sweet. My top two characters I’m wanting in this are Silver and Blaze. Chaos 0 would be awesome, his All-Star move could be Perfect Chaos, where he uses chaos emerald energy to transform into a rampaging flood and blast racers who get caught in his waves. Silver’s All Star move could either be like his trademark attack from the Sonic Rivals series where he corrupts his opponents’ sense of control and direction, or he could use his telekinesis to gather and fling a bunch of metal objects like in his boss appearance in Sonic Generations. Blaze’s AS Move could be her Burning Blaze transformation. Knuckles should have a better AS move, maybe it could be earthy tremors that blast the grounds ahead of him to knock out racers. Also, I hope Shadow gets his AS move replaced with Chaos Blast from Shadow the Hedgehog.

  17. I wish sonic still had his red car, that blue one is the same as a human wearing a flesh and hair based car, ugh.

  18. woooo i loved the frist game and i still play it on my 360 when can we start pre ordering!!?

  19. I really love how the graphics are looking in this game. Especially the stages look well designed so far. I only played the demo of the first one but it was pretty fun for a racing game especially with Sonic in it. I look forward to seeing how this one goes. :>

    1. Yeah, normally, I’m not one to like a game because of graphics (one I refer to as a graphics whore) but this game looks amazing! And looking at the trailer, there is a lot of detail to everything, especially characters and their movement, it looks amazing, now just imagine it on an HD TV! Yes..

    1. But a lot of people didn’t like the lack of more tracks that didn’t make it into the game. At least this way, if you don’t have recycled tracks you still have the original track and they still have their additional tracks. Win/Win.

  20. I hope they have a stardust speed way this time i mean cmon it shoulda been in the first one. another one i hope they have is Crisis city. Could you imagine the obstacles that you’d have to dodge?

    1. well, with Transformed, what if they had Wing Fortress Zone? Huh? Yeah. Think about that! ;D lol

  21. This made me anticipate the game even more!!!!!!!!!!
    It looks BEAUTIFUL especially, in my opinion, the water areas!!!!
    I don’t own the original and i’ve only played it at Wal-Mart but i’m pretty sure i’ll be picking this up before the first one! (Not that the first doesn’t look great too.) 😀

  22. Still one thing I don’t get. I don’t know if they covered it and I just somehow missed it or didn’t notice, but do we automatically transform due to the terrains we run into? Or can we transform at will?

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