The Sega “feel.” It’s that indescribable element that allows a person to pick up a Sega-developed game and without seeing a logo or having someone chant the name, know who made it. It is evident in anything the studio developed on their own, defined loosely by their edge. You pick it out in Streets of Rage as easily as you can in Vanquish, two games separated by decades. Sega has never lost their identity within the technology.
The Sega feel requires many elements to be strung together in unison to work. For Sega All Stars Racing, it is immediate fan servicing, from use of specific locales to music and character. That is all obvious, but looking deeper it is invested in the racing. Cars take a rigid, angular approach to corners in a necessitated drift. Controls carry a sharpness, and courses are anything but routine. You pick up the controller, characters and locations aside, and this is all Service and Games.
Transformed doesn’t have it, and it stops this kart racer dead. Transformed isn’t stuck to a track, and in a way, that’s outstanding. It has allowed for better scope than the previous game. Inserting the flight-happy Panzer Dragoon, Afterburner, and Nights franchises here is welcomed.
As the track progresses – or even from the outset – vehicles are not locked to the streets. In the vein of Spy Hunter, they cascade over water as speedboats or take to familiar saturated skylines as jets. On the ground, All Stars is directly familiar. It produces the same glimmering vibe of its near ‘racer of the year’ predecessor. Drifting is celebrated for players who can hold onto a skid long enough, generating a booming blast of boost that can be recreated swiftly around the next bend.
On the water or in the air, it’s not the same. That energy in the drift is lost despite remaining a requirement to stay competitive in a race. There is a softer element to the boats that denies them a chance at being from the bowels of Sega. The same goes for the winding jets with their erratic motion that gives them little basis for being here. And besides, you’re drifting in a jet. That’s stupid.
A lengthy trek through a thick single player mode will wind across generational gaps, from the skeletal sights of Golden Axe to the criminally misunderstood Billy Hatcher. The sheer number of games represented here is exhausting, no matter how menial their part. Platforming gem Ristar drops the checkered flag, and there’s a Sonic-born course that has the track being generated in front of the racers. It feels awfully similar to how the Saturn handled its visuals, but maybe that’s looking too far into it.
Unlocks are spaced wide; you’ll rarely progress a few races without some pop-up proclaiming your accomplishment. Characters dazzle in their implementation, and unlocks for each car require dedication to a single racer. As you level through your race placement and skill, you’ll earn mods for your transforming cars that tweak stats. Earning them all is for the dedicated at heart.
Seeing everything is the crux of Transformed’s ills. Each race carries three difficulties with three possible stars to earn. Only a first place finish on the highest challenge level will earn the final star. Good luck. Transformed doesn’t have the usual kart racing complications; AI almost seems to hold back and shoot others with track-laid power-ups. The issue is more concerned with speed, or the player’s lack thereof on, late courses. Transformed demands a perfect run. A single bump on a corner can mean second place and therefore a loss.
This of course covers all race types. Some are unique, including a three-man run where players take on one character at a time. As each is dispatched through distance or time, the next is tagged in for another go. There are boost challenges, drift challenges, timed challenges, traffic dodging challenges, and battle challenges. You will even be subjected to a struggle against a giant tank in one of the odder design choices.
Still, all of this hinges on a feel that isn’t always there. It is only partial, and that’s difficult to ignore. In their quest to freshen up something still completely new, Sega took a shot at their fan base and lost their edge. Transformed is still a gem, but an unpolished one that doesn’t lean as heavily on their own internal culture as it should. Inserting real life racing star Danica Patrick in a driver’s seat instead of Ristar is a marketing miscalculation that’s almost unforgivable.
Sega All Stars Racing Transformed is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Comic Mischief, Lyrics, Mild Cartoon Violence . This game can also be found on: PS3, Wii U.