Game Picks: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

CorrespondentNovember 29, 2012 

Humility is a cherished spiritual virtue, sought by wise men throughout the course of history. It suggests a healthy reduction of the ego – an acceptance that, in essence, you can’t win ’em all.

I’ve discovered an exciting new path to instant humility, and it involves playing against your nine-year-old kid in the new kart racing title “Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed” (multiple platforms, rated E10+, $39.99). This is a game that rewards quick thinking and lightning-fast reflexes – qualities in full bloom amongst the fourth-grade crowd. In the 40-something player? Less so.

“Transformed” gathers characters from Sega’s long line of video game franchises, headlined by marquee mascot Sonic the Hedgehog. Also among the game’s 30 playable racers are familiar faces like Knuckles the Anteater, relatively obscure characters such as B.D. Joe from “Crazy Taxi,” and rookies Wreck-It-Ralph and – no kidding – Danica Patrick.

The game switches the usual kart racer formula by equipping each character with a special multipurpose vehicle that transforms into car, boat or plane, depending on track conditions. You’ll be rolling through a grand prix course when you suddenly drop off a cliff into a river, or maybe just thin air.

The control scheme for each type of vehicle is different. Turning and braking is much looser on the water courses, and you’ve got a new vertical axis to contend with in the air. All of this results in a particularly challenging racing game. I soon discovered – the hard way – that younger gamers can adapt to these rapid control changes much more quickly than older gamers. It’s depressing is what it is.

Anyway, the track designs take advantage of the morphing vehicle element, and the courses are impressively varied and creative. Some are based on previous Sega games, and others are just random and strange. Classic Japanese architecture might give way to bubbling pools of lava or surreal dreamscapes straight out of “Alice in Wonderland.” The tracks can change mid-race, too – that suspension bridge from the first lap might be destroyed on the second lap, triggering a new aerial sequence.

The items and weapons in the game are variations on the standard kart racing arsenal. You can shoot ice pellets to freeze rivals in front of you or behind you. The “blowfish” weapon works like a landmine for pursuing racers. The twister attack disables opponents’ steering and the swarm weapon launches a colony of bees. Each weapon works a bit differently depending on whether you’re on the ground, on water, or in the air.

All of these tweaks result in a kart racing game that feels fresh and inventive. “Transformed” shuffles the deck effectively by adding air and water racing, and putting new twists on the usual genre features. In addition to Career Mode, in which you move through the levels sequentially, the game features time trials, drift challenges and a particularly fun capture-the-flag mini-game. Up to four players can race locally in split-screen, and multiplayer online is available in selected modes, depending on the platform.

Kart racing games tend to have a good shelf life. Both kids and adults can play, it’s easy to fire up the system for a casual race or two, and they’re endlessly replayable. The best games in this class can stay on your shelf for years. “Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed” is one of those games.

New This Week: Frenetic platforming with “Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault” (PS3, Vita), old-fashioned kung-fu fighting with “Karateka” (PC. PS3, WiiU, iOS), and a reboot of the classic D&D RPG “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition.” (PC, iOS)

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