Review: Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed (Sony Playstation Vita)
by Mark B. on December 27, 2012

Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed
Genre: Racing
Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 12/18/2012

The Vita has been doing a decent service to console owners who’d like to have their favorite console games available on the go, as ports that would have been borderline impossible (or highly broken down in any case) on the PSP or 3DS are a reality on the Vita, and look solid to boot. When it comes to exclusives the console may be a little lean, but fully functional versions of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Street Fighter X Tekken, Disgaea 3, Mortal Kombat and other titles exist on the Vita with only mild visual hits, so in that respect, the handheld is doing a good job. As the console establishes a larger fanbase (assuming this thing happens) we’ll also likely start seeing more same-day releases for the console that match up fairly well to their console counterparts, perhaps even handheld and console versions that drop the same day with Cross Play support. Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed isn’t quite at that point, unfortunately, as it’s not cross compatible and it’s still a little delayed from its console brethren, but otherwise, it still holds up fairly well in comparison to the console versions, and the release delay isn’t as bad as some other multi-platform releases. It doesn’t quite translate as well as some of the other games mentioned, unfortunately, but it’s not a bad port and it’s a fine enough release for those who can’t get enough of the console release.

As with the console versions, there’s no plot to speak of here, unless the unspoken “a bunch of Sega characters are racing each other” concept speaks to you personally, so let’s talk about the game modes. The game is broken down into three main categories: Career, which houses all of your local single and multiplayer modes, Match Making, which handles the online racing elements, and Custom Game, which is an amalgam of the two meant for private goofing around. Career Mode allows players to jump into World Tour mode to go through various series’ of race types to unlock bonuses, Grand Prix mode to go through five cups at four standard races apiece, Time Attack mode to make good times on tracks, and Single Race mode to get down to plain old racing. Match Making allows you to jump onto PSN and challenge others in regular competitive races, Arena matches, or “Lucky Dip” sessions that mix and match the two. Custom Game basically acts like a multiplayer custom race creator, allowing you more involved customization functions for Ad-Hoc or online racing, and while you can just jump into normal races from here, you can also make things like Battle Races, Boost Races and “Capture the Chao” events, depending on what you’re in the mood for. There are no new modes added to the Vita aside from the Ad-Hoc multiplayer replacing local multiplayer (for obvious reasons), but nothing is missing either, so we can safely call this a win for the handheld, as it’s as robust as its console counterparts mode-wise, which is always a good thing.

Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is mostly carried by its artistic style, visually, though unlike the console versions, the visuals aren’t quite as impressive as they could be. The characters generally look like they do in their other incarnations, for the most part, and their vehicles look interesting in all of their different modes. Humanoid characters still tend to look a little weird in winning poses in comparison to the more cartoon styled characters, especially Vyse, who looks like he’s about to snap at any moment with the creepy grin on his face. The race environments still take over the show, however, as the special effects and lighting effects that are used look solid on the handheld, and the obvious fan tribute stages that feature beloved Sonic the Hedgehog, After Burner, Panzer Dragoon, House of the Dead and Burning Rangers levels are intact here. However, the visuals are obviously downgraded for the Vita release, as characters show less detail than in the console versions in obvious ways, and the environments look more washed out. Water effects are also a lot brighter for some reason, and look less impressive in stages where this is the defining element as a result. There are also obvious frame rate issues when a lot is going on at one time that are absent from the console games, though these don’t impact the gameplay in any way. Aurally, the game music is about thirty percent music created for this game, which is all fine, and music culled from the franchises that the characters and tracks are a part of, which is all basically awesome. The voice acting is fine enough, as you’ll mostly only hear it during win and lose quotes, along with the odd comment hear and there during a race; nothing stands out as particularly good, but it doesn’t need to given its sporadic use. The sound effects are also generally pretty solid, as the racing noises are as one would expect and the rest of the effects have a pleasant arcade feel to them that fits the experience well.

Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed plays like the majority of racing games in its field, mechanically: the left stick steers, the right trigger is your gas, the left trigger is your brake and drift button, and the X button uses your power-ups you collect from the field. For those who are curious, the game does nothing, mechanically, with the touch screens or the gyroscope in the Vita, so this basically functions identically to its console counterparts, and is honestly better for it. Fans of Mario Kart or Blur should have an idea of how the more advanced mechanics work as well. As you race around the track, there are item caches to race over that award you with power-ups, including boost items, weapons of various sorts, and items that can assist you or impede your rivals on the track. You can fire them forward or backward with the up and down directions on the left stick as you press X, depending on your need at the moment, or let them fire in their default direction by simply pressing the button (or if they’re beneficial to you alone and need no input). As you take turns, you can drift through them by holding the left trigger, which allows you to power slide through the turn at a minimal loss of speed, and builds up boost (up to three levels worth) that is burned upon ending the drift session for a fast exit from the turn. You can also make use of tricks to earn boost, as you can perform tricks while airborne and, if you land successfully, you’ll get a quick boost to send you rocketing forward. Different courses will also have different environmental assistances and hazards, such as boost pads and markers to drive over for a quick boost forward, multiple paths, edges to fall from, moving walls and more, so you won’t just be competing against your opponents in many courses. None of this should be new and different unless you’ve never played a game of this type before, of course, as most of it can be considered staple pieces of the genre at this point. As such, fans should be perfectly fine inside of one race, and the controls and mechanics are simple enough that even new players should be fine in a few races.

Where the game gets into more novel territory is in the transformation system. Each track features different locations where your vehicle can transform from car to boat to plane, depending on the hazards ahead, which it will generally do instantly upon passing the transformation point. Cars and boats generally control in a similar manner, though boats tend to be a little more… floaty mechanically, for obvious reasons. Planes, however, allow full movement in all directions, which could theoretically be disorienting at first, but the mechanics are thankfully simplified enough here that anyone can get the basics down, and the game even offers the option to simply the controls further if you find them too problematic. The stages take a lot of advantage of this mechanical change, as well, as they will frequently change from one lap to the next, so one lap may be heavily driving based, but the next lap may rely more on water travel, and the third may switch to air travel because the stage has fallen apart. This makes tracks a lot more interesting as well, as the tracks take full advantage of the mechanics created, and vice versa, which makes both feel more interesting and important than they’d otherwise be on their own. The game also doesn’t simply ape the standard weapon varieties one would expect in the genre, as it incorporates its own unique weapon types, like swarms of wasps to impede the lead racer, a hot rod booster that can be detonated to injure surrounding racers, and All-Star power-ups that allow your racer an attack unique to them.

As you complete races with a character, online and off, you’ll earn experience points with the racer based on a number of factors. When the racer levels up, they in turn unlock a new tuning style for their cart, allowing them mild mechanical changes from the other styles available to them. Now, a character is generally going to stick to a general theme, style-wise, no matter what tuning kits they unlock, so a character who is speed-heavy will likely always lean in that direction no matter how many kits you unlock. However, this does allow for some modifications that can make racers more useful across all the tracks than they’d otherwise be. As such, you’ll find that you don’t need to swap to a better handling character on more turn-heavy tracks once you unlock a more handling-focused tuning kit for your more speed-oriented character, which makes characters more versatile than they’d otherwise be. You’ll likely not be interested in leveling up every character, of course, as it’ll take a good three or four hours to max out one character, but you can certainly max out your favorites without too much trouble. Tuning kits only affect four of your character’s categories: Speed, which changes their top speed, Acceleration, which changes how fast they get to top speed, Handling, which changes how well they take turns and steer, and Boost, which changes how fast they move when boosting. Their All-Star ranking is dependent upon the character and doesn’t change regardless of kit, but this isn’t likely to be a race-changing element in any case so it’s not a huge deal how high that ranking is. The other four categories contain a spread of twelve points, regardless of the racer, so outside of the All-Star category every racer is evenly balanced numerically, so you can feel comfortable picking anyone, as they’ll eventually have a tuning kit you’ll like even if you don’t like their starting stats.

You’ll spend most of your time in the beginning in the World Tour mode, as this is where you’ll find the majority of your unlockable content. There are five tours immediately on display (with a sixth tour to unlock), and you’ll plow through each in order, earning stars for your performance as you go. Each tour offers a variety of race types, including normal races, Drift Challenges (drift along paths to keep the time limit from expiring), Versus (beat individual opponents in sequence), Traffic Attacks (dodge cars on the field and hit gates to keep the time limit from expiring), Pursuit (shoot a tank and avoid its attacks) and all kinds of others you likely won’t expect. Each race allows you to compete on Easy, Normal and Hard difficulties, with each difficulty awarding one more star than the one before it. As you progress through the tours, you’ll find locked paths that require you to have a set amount of stars available before they’ll let you past, as well as locked characters and customization options that require the same. Now, you can unlock a good amount of content playing through the races on Easy, of course, but if you want to unlock all the characters, courses and such, you’ll need to step up your game a bit, as some locks will require a lot more stars than Easy offers. You can unlock a good amount of content without having to move onto Hard, of course, so even inexperienced players should be able to unlock most of the cool stuff without too much punishment. You can also unlock a few things by taking on the Grand Prix races, and you’re always earning experience no matter what race you’re taking on, but World Tour will be your bread and butter mode for a good long while. It also bears noting here that the Vita version of the game seems significantly more balanced, difficulty-wise, than the console versions, as Normal feels much less oppressive when playing against the CPU. You’ll still find that there’s some challenge to be had, but it’s much easier to take a win in Normal here instead of eking by with third place as you might in the console version, so if you found that version a bit too tough, you might find the Vita version more your speed.

Depending on your skill level and what you’re aiming to unlock, you can clear out World Tour in around five to ten hours or more, though if you’re aiming to get all the possible stars available that’s going to probably take a significant time investment. The same goes for character leveling, as you can level a few characters during your World Tour work, but leveling up everyone will probably take days or weeks of time investment. The multiplayer, online and via Ad-Hoc, also offers a fairly good amount of variety, since Ad-Hoc players can jump into nearly any mode available and race with no difficulty, and online play offers a decent amount of options to choose from. There are a fairly large amount of characters to choose from, including Sega mainstays like Sonic and Knuckles, more niche characters like NiGHTS and Vyse from Skies of Arcadia, and odd additions like Wreck-it Ralph, Danica Patrick and an animated VMU for you to unlock, as well as the various stages and custom tuning kits. Further, the game also has a fairly wide variety of Trophies to unlock, covering all sorts of random acts and success metrics. As such, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is very much a game you could easily spend a large amount of time on, whether for fun or progress, as there’s simply a large amount to do with it, no matter your interests.

Now, in fairness, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed owes a lot of its core mechanics to the Mario Kart foundation it’s built upon, and it borrows somewhat from Diddy Kong Racing as well with the various different vehicle types. That’s not to say it’s not very good at what it does, but that it’s more of an assembled mix of excellent mechanics from other games than its own thing, and it just happens to do what it does very well because it borrowed from other games that did very well. You may find that the CPU targets you more often than other CPU players with power-ups at times as something of a trade-off, but this isn’t as frequent as one might fear, and the otherwise rebalanced difficulty makes up for it. The washed out visuals in the handheld version and mild framerate issues don’t help the game much, nor does the lack of cross compatibility with the PS3 version, and the game feels largely like an identical port, albeit a more balanced one, of the console game. Also, while there are a lot of good ideas here when it comes down to the variety of races available, they’re not all winners, and it would be better to have more of a chance to play the better ideas (Ring Race for example) instead of things like Arena, which is generally not a favorite in any game that does it.

In the end, the Vita version of Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is still as worthwhile an experience as its console counterparts, and while it still has some originality issues and hiccups, as well as some visual issues, it’s a more balanced experience and it’s just as much fun as the console versions overall. There are plenty of modes to try out and make progress in to keep things active, and the game is visually and aurally interesting for Sega fans, though the visuals are downgraded obviously for the Vita, unfortunately. The gameplay is very simple to acclimate yourself to, whether you’re new to the genre or have been playing for years, and the game adds in some novelties, like the transformation gimmick, that are implemented well and make the whole experience sing, without sticking Vita-specific mechanics into the game that might hurt it. With all of the unlockable content in the game, the multiplayer modes online and via Ad-Hoc, the upgradable characters and more, there’s also plenty of reason to come back to the game for a good while. If you’ve been around the genre a while you’ve likely seen what it’s done before on some level or another, the game still has some issues where the CPU will target you heavily with items (though the difficulty is otherwise improved), and not all of the race variations are winners, sadly, which hurt a bit on one level or another. Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is still a very solid experience on the Vita, as it is on the consoles, and while it trades visual performance for balanced difficulty, it’s a fine addition to your Vita library whether you have the console version or not.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GOOD
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Vita version of Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is as solid a game as its console counterparts, as it retains all of the mechanical elements and variety that made the console game great, and while it trades off visual performance for rebalanced difficulty, the overall package is still solid. There are plenty of game modes available that offer the player lots of options, and the game looks fine, if noticeably downgraded, and sounds as good as ever. The core play mechanics are simple to learn whether you’re experienced in how they work or not without adding in any unfortunate Vita-specific mechanics, and the game is crafted to a level where the game and its more unique transformation mechanics compliment each other instead of existing independently in any capacity. There’s a lot of extra content to unlock and upgrade, as well as a robust amount of multiplayer content on and offline, so you’ll certainly have plenty of reasons to come back to the game regardless of what your interest in it is, as well. The game borrows noticeably from other games in the genre, mind you, so you’ll potentially have seen what the game has to offer in advance, and coupling this with some overly aggressive AI (though it’s much better overall than the console version) and occasionally unsuccessful attempts to expand the racing modes, the game does have its share of disappointments. The overall package, however, translates very well to the Vita, and if you can live with the visual hit, the rebalanced difficulty and otherwise fully intact experience makes Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed a worthwhile addition to the Vita library.




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Mark B.

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  • Marcus

    I’m just waiting for a price drop

  • http://must-hear-60s-songs.blogspot.com/ Mike

    This game is so much fun. I got it for Christmas.

  • matt

    Thank you mark! You convinced me to buy this game. Even though my attention span was so short, I skimmed the entire article including the short attention span summary.

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