Kart racers are always popular amongst a wide range of audiences. Good, clean fun that can be enjoyed by the family and between friends, what's not to love? The trouble is, a lot of kart racing titles appear to offer the same experience without adding too much extra in terms of gameplay. Sure, they throw in a few unique characters and some different power-ups, but they can struggle to carve out their own identity amongst a sea of competitors. This is where Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed comes in.
The guys over at Sumo Digital have decided to buck the trend of having a kart racing game take place primarily on land and have thrown in flying and boat-racing elements. When the road comes to an end and it's time to get wet, your vehicle will transform mid-air so that it can handle the choppy waters. Likewise when you speed off a ramp and into the air, a plane will transform right in front of your eyes and you can continue your race to the finish line.
Once transformed, the way you control your vehicle will change drastically. Driving on the water makes it much harder to turn quickly, so you'll have to compensate by making your move earlier than usual. Steering a plane also gives you the option of moving up and down as well as left and right, adding another challenge as you struggle to avoid oncoming obstacles by ducking and diving out of the way.
It's not just the vehicles that transform either. Circuits dynamically change as a race is going on, so the second lap of a track could be completely different from the first as roads give way and new routes are discovered that weren't there before. Having this kind of feature means that you're never too sure about what to expect next, and every turn is taken with caution as you could find yourself catapulted into the water where there was a road before.
While there are many new additions, there are some features that the game keeps from its predecessor, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. You can still pick up weapons and speed boosts from driving over the power-ups scattered throughout the levels, and tricks that are performed in mid-air can still give players a nice boost of speed if done correctly. Drifting around corners can also give you a timely boost as long as you don't crash into anything in the process.
Players who get tired of racing can try out a few of the other modes on offer. The ones we tested include a battle arena which grants you and your opponents three lives and then lets you blast each other to bits. There was also a mode where you're being chased around by a giant ball and have to avoid being squashed. The racing might be the core part of the game but these modes are a nice little challenge away from that.
The Wii U version also brings a few unique features, most notably the chance to have five people playing local multiplayer. This works by having four players using the split-screen on the TV with Wii remotes and someone else using the Wii U GamePad. In single-player, the GamePad can be used as your map, telling you how far away your opponents are. Flicking the screen upwards will display a rear-view mirror, so you can take a quick look behind and see if there's anything you should be avoiding. The GamePad can also be used as a motion control if you prefer.
As expected there is a good roster of characters to select from a range of Sega games, such as Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio and of course, Sonic the Hedgehog. Before the beginning of any race there's a chance to mod your vehicle to suit your style, whether you prefer a speedier drive or one that's easier to handle. The tracks themselves are inspired by classic Sega games, so players will feel a tinge of nostalgia as they load up a circuit based off an old favourite for the first time.
All in all it adds up to a surprisingly deep kart racer that should keep players of all ages entertained for a while. The opportunity to have five people playing local multiplayer on the Wii U is one of the main attractions, and we expect a lot of friendly rivalries being made as players get to grips with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.