Whenever Sega has released a mascot-fueled game, such as Sega Superstar Tennis, comparisons have inevitably been drawn to its Nintendo-developed counterpart. But Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is far from a poor man's Mario Kart. Fun track design, a solid character roster, and a bevy of multiplayer modes could have made this one of the best games of its class--but there are big problems with the Wii U version that significantly hinder it.
Like its predecessor, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed brings together a colorful cast of characters from many different beloved franchises. Many, like the popular Sonic and Knuckles, will be familiar even to the most casual Sega fans, while the likes of Golden Axe's Gilius and Vyse from Skies of Arcadia force longtime fans to dig a little deeper into their gaming memories. They are joined by guest characters Wreck-It Ralph, who fits in surprisingly well with the rest of the cast, and real-life racer Danica Patrick, who...well, she doesn't fit at all, really. Each racer has his or her own unique vehicle and associated stats, encouraging you to experiment with different styles.
But Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed doesn't depend on your nostalgia to be enjoyable. The core of the gameplay, the racing, is fast, fun, and easy to get into. The driving controls feel tight, allowing you to drift around corners and weave through enemy attacks with ease. When you bump into a wall, it feels like it was your fault, not the controller's. Drifting is as easy as holding down a button, and longer drifts earn you important boosts.
Items and weapons you pick up on the track work exactly as intended, and they do so in a well-balanced manner that prevents races from being decided entirely on one player's lucky item acquisition. You may still lose a close race due to a timely firework hit, but there is no "blue shell" equivalent to constantly ruin the fun of the racer in first.
Per the game's title, your vehicle transforms during a race into a car, boat, or flying vehicle, depending on the track's terrain. Don't be fooled into thinking this is merely aesthetic; each transformation handles differently, with track sections on water feeling more like Wave Race than a traditional kart racer. The flying sections feel the most different, because the ability to move up and down freely, as opposed to just left or right, makes a big difference not only in where you go, but also in how you use items. You're less likely to hit enemies with a weapon when they have an additional axis on which to move around and dodge.