The original Sonic & All-Stars Racing game defied the expectations of many with its strong arcade racing gameplay and fun, thoughtful homages to Sega classics big and small. Mascot-themed racing games aren't an easy sector of the market to diversify in, but a hefty challenge and wealth of content make Transformed a relatively easy to recommend game, in spite of some problems unique to the Wii U version.
Although the relatively simple act of arcade racing can be enjoyed by just about anyone, people who have fond memories of various Sega classics will get the most out of this one. The initial array of characters is vast, and there's a ton more to unlock from there. Sonic and his greater possé (yes, even Big the Cat) fill in the ranks here, but as in the first Sonic Racing release, the developers dig deep to come up with tons of cool characters that Sega scholars will definitely get a kick out of. Beat from Jet Set Radio has a baller gold car and can rollerblade around with his special attack, B.D Joe drifts around in his crazy taxi, and good ol' Nights appears as a vehicle. Hell, this game even has Vyse from the Dreamcast classic Skies of Arcadia, along with an awesome themed course. The only fudged cameo is Danica Patrick, the real-life racing champion that just doesn't mesh with the cartoon-like Sega designs.
Such a mascot-heavy setup draws immediate and enormous comparisons to Nintendo's Mario Kart series, to be sure, but Transformed does a good job in differentiating itself with greater course complexity and some solid controls (with the Gamepad or a Pro controller, at least - playing with only a Wii remote forces you to use the gyroscope to steer and feels pretty messy as a result). As you may expect, there's essentially no brake button in Transformed. Success hinges on driving aggressively, hitting boost pads to further your speed, and shooting all sorts of missle-esque projectiles to daze opponents. Drifting allows you to whip around corners and charge up further speed boosts, and is all but a must on anything but the easiest difficulty level. You may not think so by looking at it, but Transformed is a pretty difficult game. I often felt like I was scraping by just to win on the game's medium setting, and driving in the A-class is something that'll take some actual dedication and practice to get through.
Taking a page from the long-dormant Diddy Kong Racing, Transformed does good by its suffix and allows your car to transmogrify into a speedboat or plane, as well. Though different courses can contain wildly different proportions of racing types, most split your time between pavement, sea, and air pretty equally. The animations when you transform look sweet, and courses often break apart and change their shape throughout a race in a way that forces you into different vehicles. I wasn't the hugest fan of the choppy, sluggish water sections, but flying feels great under your thumb. Levels always change the same way at the same point in a course, though, which is a bit of a bummer.
There's a Career mode this time around, essentially a chain of races with some peripheral challenges offered up every so often. You'll run into Battle Race events that give your vehicle hit points that, when depleted, knock you out of a race for good. Other challenges include weaving through waves of traffic, trying to continually boost or drift against a clock, and some boss fight style races that have you pumping weapons into huge, tank-like enemies. There's a lot of events and courses to move through, and you can progress through the Career with multiple players locally, a great touch.
There's also Mario Kart-esque Grand Prix collections of courses to best, and all types of events are available in local and online multiplayer, as well. The online code seems great, and I never ran into any issues during a race. Starting and concluding races can take a while, though, especially when other players quit out of a game before you're taken back to the lobby.
The game's rendering of old Sega titles in detailed HD graphics is likely a major selling point for many, but you don't have to be a Sega historian to appreciate the myriad colourful, winding courses on offer. The inspiration ranges from the obvious (Outrun, Jet Set Radio, various Sonic platformers) to the pleasantly offbeat (Shinobi, Golden Axe). Some are downright obscure; remember Sonic Team's platformer and fire rescue game Burning Rangers for the Saturn? The effort put into fully exploring Sega's glory days far beyond the mass market stuff is surprising and awesome, but even newcomers can appreciate the sheer scope and brightness of the visuals. Playing local multiplayer noticeably dials back the detail, but it's nothing too grievous.
You can play the game entirely on the Gamepad by swiping down on the touchscreen, and it's mostly a fun, if slightly muddy-looking way to play. In a neat touch, the Gamepad also serves as a private display for whoever's using it during a local multiplayer game. This saves on splitscreen space and provides an interesting and unique way to leverage the Gamepad in a multiplayer setting.
Unfortunately, a string of scripting errors caused by a botched day one patch wreak havoc on some of the fun in the Wii U version of Transformed. Some of the boosting and drifting challenges are missing checkpoints needed to buy yourself extra time and complete the course, rendering them impossible to complete. Flunking these challenges several times on the easiest difficulty thankfully allows you to slip past those broken events, but it's the bare minimum of solace in what is, essentially, a partially broken game. Certain online battle race events are also inaccessible, spawning players off the track and continually into an abyss below. If your Wii U is connected to the internet, you have no choice but to download and apply the patch. I feel reasonably certain that Sega will patch the patch in the near future, but as it stands right now, it's a significant enough issue to meaningfully detract from the experience.
It's worth mentioning again that it is easy to move past these issues for the most part, and luckily, bugs don't end the Career mode or the vast majority of your local and online multiplayer options. Even in a messy state, Transformed is a cut above the average kart racer offering. It's a good deal of fun to whip around as your favourite character, and there's a load of content to unlock and chew through. It also retails for just forty bucks, making it one of the better value Wii U titles available now.
It's really a shame that such obvious and ostensibly easy-to-fix bugs are out there right now, because without them, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is an excellent entry into a monopolized subgenre that does things differently enough to be well worth a look. I feel pretty confident that a true fix will be realized eventually. As of a week a half after launch, though, this is a slightly busted version of a great game.