Every so often you might be inclined to sit back from the hardcore “shoot this evil thing then stuff a blade up its arse in ultra-gory HD” mentality and pander to your inner child with something colourful, something that’s simple to grasp and hard to master, something that, in short, won’t win you any MLG gaming credibility but will make you blissfully happy.
SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed switches on your dopamine production whilst providing older gaming generation music, characters, and levels inspired by what are likely some of your most favourite games of all time. There are soundtracks here that are almost two decades old; that’s how far back it goes and it almost brings a tear to the eye.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never played classics like Jet Set Radio, Panzer Dragoon, or Burning Rangers (to name but a couple of oldies). SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed doesn’t attempt to introduce the wide variety of worlds it takes its spectacular racing arenas from; why should you care if you don’t recognise them? All that matters is that you’re watching an airship battle take place, a giant mechanical squid thrashing around in the water, or a parade of zombies blocking the road ahead, while hurtling through each scenario on a vehicle that transforms seamlessly from car to plane and boat modes.
The game does exceptional work in imitating the success of Mario Kart (let’s not be coy about these things, it’s quite obvious SEGA All-Stars takes its cue from plumber and friends), but it adds another dimension to things with its vehicle transformations and has its own variety of challenges to complete on four difficulty settings.
There’s also a boost system and by the gods it’s the very definition of ‘easy to learn, hard to master’. Drifting in and out of turns becomes a personal challenge to see if you can rev up to maximum boost speeds before straightening out and shooting off like a jet-fuelled arrow down the track.
You won’t find yourself running short of things to do, seeing as the game functions as perfectly online as it does offline and the number of modes at your disposal will keep you busy for tens of hours. New characters are unlocked in the usual fashion by completing modes and purchasing them with stars earned in the World Tour, and each character can be levelled-up a few times to unlock their driving ‘mods’.
The only real downside is that you’ll want there to be more tracks and characters – it certainly feels as though there should be more.
Most of the cast list is comprised, obviously, of Sonic and his more recognisable chums. There are a couple of others including, for reasons you will not fathom, Danica Patrick. Shouldn’t she be in a legitimate racing title alongside all the other grown ups? It seems silly to have a genuine racer stuffed amongst a cast of video game characters whose origins have almost nothing to do with racing. That being said, poor Vyse from Skies of Arcadia was racing alone without even his partner in crime Aika to keep him company, and there wasn’t even a glint of Edge or Azel from Panzer Dragoon Saga. Favourites from SEGA All-Stars Racing like Ryu from Shenmue have also gone.
Just a few examples of how the cast list is just a little too trimmed down, but let that not cloud the fact that this is a good racing game.
There are power-ups scattered around the tracks to help racers gain the advantage, as you’d expect, and while getting hit repeatedly can be annoying it rarely clashes with the skill factor.
Multiplayer lobbies might seem sparse at first, but after finding a lobby with one or two players in it things will pick up and soon enough you’ll be zooming through the diverse game worlds looking for every boosting opportunity, with several other human opponents on your tail.
It’s sad to think that SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed will remain unnoticed with titans like Call of Duty, HALO, and Far Cry locking their shiny muscled arms in an attempt to dominate the Christmas period, but for gamers who are fatigued by all that nonsense this is a great means of escapism. It won’t win awards or even critical acclaim; it doesn’t need to. It will make you happy. Your kids will be happy, too, if you manage to actually let them play it.