Last Friday, Sega introduced us to the sequel to their alternative to Nintendo's Mario Kart. Racing against their PR team and the Sonic brand manager, I learned how developer Sumo Digital is working on setting Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed apart from their first Sega kart racing title.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which Kotaku first reported back in February, separates itself from its predecessor with one strong point. While Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing had a variety of vehicles for players to race in, Transformed takes your track adventures to the sea and land with boats and airplanes, respectively.
The demonstration in New York last week introduced me to two tracks: Panzer Dragoon and Super Monkey Ball. Track designs serve as more than just your friendly battleground; they are nudges toward various Sega games. Though I've only seen two in the demo, we'll hopefully at least see a set to match each character appearance. So far the character selections include all the usual suspects, as well as a few new additions like Vyse (Skies of Arcadia) and Gilius (Golden Axe).
Throughout these tracks, you seamlessly transition from standard driving to flying and boating. Airplane-racing is, to me, a fickle art in video games. Aircrafts that aren't responsive to my direction, and/or can't pull off my intended moves smoothly is an immediate recipe that ends in my controller against a wall. And possibly me in a corner regretting the decisions that have led up to that moment.
Transformed is no stranger to my overly-tempered frustration. Fortunately no controllers were harmed in this process because the flying routines are by no means terrible. They are more uncomfortable than anything too damaging. Depending on your aircraft-flying preferences, you may even enjoy it. But if you're anything like me, you'll wish flying was faster and smoother. It's more fun that way.
Alternatively, one area where fighting your control fits is on water. Steering a boat through rapid flowing waters complete with waves and even whirlpools is difficult, but it's the good kind of difficult. It often feels like your boat is sticking to the water in all the wrong directions, but it simulates the rougher experience of boat racing. Water races were my favorite, because a minor jump from the elevation of a wave is an easy opportunity to do a barrel roll and gain speed. I'm told that in the future the developers will implement a similar boost system for aircrafts.
As you'd expect, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed includes item pick-ups that give you firepower to wield against your friends. This is where things get interesting. Not only do you have the power to piss off your friends by racing past them, but you can be the reason they froze into a stack of ice cubes or got knocked out of first place with Sega's version of the infamous blue shell.
These bonus items are currently limited for the first-time viewing, but with Sega's promises of more interesting weapons to come. One of the more exhilarating moments in a game like Mario Kart was waiting for your deadly gift to reveal itself from the slot machine-like animation, crossing your fingers for a set of red shells or a thunderbolt. Hopefully Transformed will inspire similar feelings once the armory feels more advanced.
What separated Sega's kart racing title from Nintendo's, though, is the characters. Besides choosing from iconic Sega characters for aesthetic reasons, each one has a special ability outside of the items they pick up. It's incentive to pick a character over the design of their car or your memory in playing with them. Each one opens up a new angle for a customizable playstyle and experience.
There's no word yet on what those special abilities are, but strong hints are dropped that gamers can look to Sega's first kart racing title for an idea of what they might be.
Some games are best enjoyed with a side of embarrassing your friends. And when it comes to embarrassing your friends, why not run them off the road in an intense kart racing match? Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed looks to be serving up a new kart racing title with more than a few ways to antagonize your friends, whether that's in the air, land, or standard ground tracks.
After playing several rounds in each track, all I can definitively say is that I want to spend more time with the game. If only to regain my gaming dignity after a little more practice.