Mario Kart may the king of kart racing game franchises, but it's one that has been given a run for its money over the last few years by ModNation Racers, and from a recent hands-on session it appears that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is now ready to crash the party too. Colourful, accessible and packed with SEGA fan service, the ambitious game takes racing beyond the track by also giving you vehicles to cross the sea and sky.
It features a cast of 20 characters from popular SEGA series including Sonic, Tails, Eggman and Knuckles from Sonic, AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, BD Joe from Crazy Taxi, and Ralph from the upcoming Wreck-It Ralph movie, each of whom has unique racing attributes and vehicles. The tracks, which are arguably the real star of the show, are inspired by franchises like Sonic, Panzer Dragoon, Samba Di Amigo, Jet Set Radio and Afterburner.
The key features that make the game stand out from the competition are its transforming levels and vehicles. As players tear around courses chunks of the track crumble away or are destroyed, and the majority of stages include sections where the road drops off into water or launches you high into the air.
You have to contend with these challenges as well as environmental hazards ranging from roving whirlwinds to pillars of lava and awkwardly placed trees, and that's not forgetting the business of racing other players (ten can compete online) and avoiding their attacks.
Passing through large blue rings called Transformation Gates morphs your vehicle Transformers-style into a speedboat, an aircraft, or back into a car. Sprouting a rudder which lets you take to the sea, or wings and thrusters which allow you soar through the sky, delivers plenty of racing diversity.
All-Stars Racing Transformed features a different driving model for each of the three terrains - corner drifting on the ground in karts feels familiar, but on water the pace slows and wave physics can be used to knock competitors off their driving line, while the robust flight mechanics reward daring players with speed boosts.
Thrown into the mix is a fun set of weapons, from short-range shockwave attacks to guided missiles, with early favourites including ice blasts that turns opponents into ice cubes and tornados that flip them upside down. Hit fellow racers with these items and you're rewarded with gold coins, which are also littered across tracks. These can be gambled in a slot machine mini-game between races; strike it lucky and you'll be given a speed boost or some other form of bonus.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed builds on the classic virtual kart racing formula with morphing vehicles and tracks that offer plenty in the way of surprises as well as pleasingly varied gameplay. It's also a title that's accessible from the outset but will take some time to master, meaning it should appeal to players of all ages and skill levels. In summary, we're very much looking forward to getting back in the driving seat when the game launches next month.