SONIC AND ALL-STARS RACING TRANSFORMED / Sega / PC
If you own a Nintendo handheld or console, you can count on there being a Mario Kart title for it that's at least decent. Even with the other systems, there's been a smattering of clones like Crash Team Racing and Konami Krazy Racers. The PC has been pretty dry for mascot kart racers, though ... what was the last one of consequence? Wacky Wheels? Skunny Kart?
Well, we finally have one that's really good. Sonic and All Stars is actually the second such karting game from Sega, but scuttlebutt is that this entry is vastly improved. Similar to Diddy Kong Racing, it also adds boat and plane racing to the mix. Unlike Diddy Kong, however, you switch back and forth between vehicles mid-course, thus the "Transformed" bit.
The game is targeted mostly at longtime Sega fans who have been playing the company's games since the 90s/early 2000s, since that's where most of their mascot roster comes from. If you do fall into that group, it's really a nice little love letter and fly-over of the company's history. There's a natural preponderance of Sonic characters and tracks, but even failed former mascot attempts like Alex Kidd and NiGHTS crack the roster. Some games that don't get character representatives at least get their own detailed, attractive tracks, like Burning Rangers and Panzer Dragoon. The only really glaring total omission I could think of was Phantasy Star. A few roster spaces are wasted on unrelated commercial crossovers like Danica Patrick and Wreck That Pussy Ralph, and longtime fans might have swapped out the characters from more recent PC games, but on the whole I liked the character and track choices here. Some nice remixes of classic tunes too.
Even if you're not a Sega mark, the gameplay and presentation both stand up on their own. Tracks are a nice blend of spectacle and playability. They generally have you do three laps, and many of them change somewhat on each lap, taking you through alternate pathways. The Skies of Arcadia level is one of my favorites for this -- the first two laps have you largely on the ground, but the final lap takes things to the skies as an ongoing pitched battle between a bunch of airships chews up the track.
The mid-track transformations are also handled pretty well, though it can be a little jarring going from karting to the more open style of the boat or plane at times. The boat handling is also a bit more jonky and frustrating at times than the other vehicles. But neither of these things brings the game down significantly.
The game's mechanics do center heavily on drifting, however, more so than most of the Mario Kart games. It's similar to generating blue sparks in Double Dash, except you don't have to waggle the stick, and the longer you hold your drift the more powerful boost you can get. If you're not already adjusted to this mechanic from other games, it can be a little irritating at first and may relegate you to the Easy difficulty only. Keep practicing and you'll get the hang of it fairly quickly, however, and it gives the game a unique feel. One caveat for the PC is that you absolutely need an Xbox controller or similar to play this, I can't imagine trying to drift with a keyboard and mouse.
Another thing that's nicely balanced is single- vs multi-player. Solo players aren't left out as there's a substantial "World Tour" mode that has you completing challenges to earn stars and gradually unlock new characters. Each character also gets experience points for each race you take them into, and leveling them up gradually unlocks mods that alter their statistics, like lowering their overall top speed for a little better handling and etc.
PC gamers finally have a polished, fun, really solid all-around karting title that can compare to Mario Kart with this one. Again, though, definitely have a gamepad on hand for it.
* Gameplay Video