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