Review - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed 3DS

Posted on March 11, 2013 - 1:30pm

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While it’s about three months late in crossing the retail finish line, the 3DS port of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is finally available. Does it go for the gold like its console brethren? Not quite. However, it’s still in the running for a silver medal…as long as you can over look one glaring issue.

With a description like that, you might be thinking I didn’t enjoy my time with the game but that isn’t true, as I’ve actually had quite a fair bit of fun during my 14-hour play-through. To properly illustrate this point, I’ll talk about the positives before digging deeper into the game’s problems.   

For starters, the basic gameplay is very well designed and is a step beyond the Mario Kart knock off I originally thought it would be. It manages to expand upon the formula of the typical kart racer, to give it the balance of a more traditional racing game.

Don’t get me wrong, players still have a wide variety of unique and unpredictable weapons and items at their disposal, but there’s also various ways to avoid taking damage if you happen to be in the crosshairs. For instance, attacks can be dodged with cleverly executed aerial stunts (which can also provide a nice speed boost if landed correctly), or they can be cancelled out with a counter attack -- then there’s always the simpler option of moving out of the way. Heck, even the game’s one homing attack (the drone) can be dodged with some quick thinking. So if you get hit and lose your position in the race, it’s likely your own fault, rather than an unfortunate bit of random chance. These races are all about skillful driving.  

Speaking of skill, there’s also the superb level-up system which rewards the player based on how well they’ve performed throughout the entire race, as opposed to just whether or not they’ve made it to the podium. Every successful attack, dodge, and perfectly executed stunt will rack up experience points for your racer. This is a great way to help build up a character’s stats, as it serves as an interesting parallel between a character’s progression and the improvement of the player’s own skill level. Each vehicle modification is truly earned, even when you don’t come in first.  

The other key design choice is the new “transformation” mechanic of this sequel’s namesake. As I alluded to earlier, I was among those who figured this gimmick was taken directly from Mario Kart 7’s kart alterations, which allow racers to ride their vehicles under water and through the sky. However, when a car in SASRT transforms into a motorboat or a jet, it actually feels as if you’re operating a completely different vehicle and despite these slight changes in handling, the controls remain consistently solid.

While we’re on the topics of transformation and game design, the developers at Sumo Digital did a fantastic job constructing each of the game’s 21 tracks, which in their unique ways, respectively; make great use of the transformation theme. What I mean by that is, while some of the tracks merely transform your car at certain checkpoints, there’s a select few which drastically change the track’s layout as you approach the final lap, allowing for the transformations to be used in different ways. Although it should also be noted that each level has branching paths, which allow for alternate routes and perhaps even a slight change in transportation. These clever design choices not only keep each race interesting but also allow the player to think more strategically.

There’s also a decent selection of game modes, which includes the standard Single Race, Time Trial, and Grand Prix modes you’d find in any kart racer -- and they’re a good way to causally kill some time. However, the big draw of SASRT’s single player experience is the World Tour mode.

In this mode, players will explore five different worlds, competing in various challenges such as standard races, time trails, boost runs (a time trail variation), and intense 1v1 rival races, each with their own conditions. When these conditions are met, the player will be given an x amount of stars, which are used to unlock new mods, tracks, and racers. Of course, when you consider there’s only 20 tracks in the game, some are re-used throughout each world but the constantly changing conditions are a nice way to keep them fresh.

I’d also be remised if I didn’t mention the fantastic soundtrack composed by Sega legend Richard Jacques, when discussing the SASRT’s strong suits. Whether you’re soaring through the Skies of Arcadia, speeding your way through Ocean View, or grinding your way to the finish line in downtown Shibuya, these memorable remixes are bound to strike the right nostalgic chords of any long-time Sega fan.

With the pleasantries out of the way, it’s time to bring up the game’s unfortunate missteps. The online multiplayer mode, while serviceable, isn’t overly impressive. If you want to host a lobby and invite the peeps on your friends list to partake in a race, you can’t. Why? Because the choice of hosting a lobby or being entered into someone else’s, is completely random. To make matters worse, all of the players in the lobby are at the mercy of the host, as this lucky participant can start the race at any given time. So if you’re host happens to be a jerk, expect to have zero time to choose your character before the race starts. Seriously, I’ve dealt with online races in which I was forced to use a character I’ve barely even touched, while the host had ample time to chose a character they likely had completely levelled up…because that’s fair. 

The only part of the online lobby not controlled by the host player is the level select, but it’s still handled oddly. Once the host decides to start the race, all players will be promptly asked to vote for one of two random levels. The winning track will be location of the race. Normally, I’d find this kind of off-putting but considering the 3DS doesn’t exactly offer voice chat or in-game messaging, this is a good way of keeping things fair.

To Sumo’s credit, the game runs as smoothly on the online servers as it does during a single-player session and it takes very little time to log into a lobby. Just don’t expect to be competing in any eight-player races, as there aren’t too many people playing the game online. The highest number of people I’ve gone up against in a single session was five, but I mostly competed against only 1-3 people at a time. Although it was fun to play the game with other people, since I didn’t get to try out the multi-cart or download play options for the multiplayer.  

I know Sumo had to build this version from the ground up, but I have to be brutally honest, the graphics aren’t great. While the models of the cartoon-style characters (except Ralph) look good, the more “realistic characters” (except Ulala) aren’t as impressive and look as if they’d belong on a standard DS cart.

The levels have this same problem, as a good portion of the backgrounds aren’t quite as big of a visual step up from the game’s DS predecessor as they could have been. I will admit Sumo has lavished each one with a great use of color and a few select examples like the Seasonal Shrine, Sunshine Tour, and Race of Ages look great regardless of the overall lackluster graphical quality. However, I have to say overall, the graphics certainly aren’t up to par with the visuals of the original console versions, or what the 3DS is even capable of.

I’m not the kind of person who makes a fuss about graphics and normally I would have gone easier on this less than stellar presentation but it goes hand and hand with the game’s biggest problem -- the frame rate.

Whenever your car transforms, or the screen gets too busy, or you get hit by something; the game will experience some very noticeable lag, which will halt races to a snail’s pace for a couple of seconds at multiple intervals. Granted, I still had fun with the game despite this.  Even though I eventually got used to it, it was still off-putting and it stuck out like a sore thumb -- especially given that this is a racing game, which means speed is key. Considering the visuals are below what the 3DS can handle, I’m left wondering why this frame rate problem even exists.

Also, don’t use the 3D! It makes all of the colorful textures headache-inducing, while making the blurrier ones look worse. Not to mention the frame rate (which is already spotty) is unbearable with the 3D turned up, so keep it off. 

This was a tough review to write. On the one hand, I think the gameplay and level design have taken a huge step forward for the kart racer genre and the nostalgia factor is admittedly there as well. However, the game is handicapped by the frame rate bug, which is made worse by the mediocre presentation and awful 3D effects. Like I said, I still had fun in spite of this but I know a lot of you who are excited to pick up this port are going to be disappointed.

Stick to one of the console versions, or if you really want to play the game on your 3DS, I urge you to download the demo first. It’s a decent port of great game, but it isn’t great in and of itself.

Above Average

6 - Above Average6s have good ideas, but may not be executed the best. Can be enjoyable by certain circumstances or fans, but may feel shallow to most.

Ryan Conway became the Weekend Editor at ScrewAttack after writing for the community news section for 20 months (14 of which he served as head writer). This lover of platformers, beat ‘em ups, and fighting games (and just about any other genre really) currently resides in a small town located in Nova Scotia.

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