Look, I wouldn't criticise you for turning your nose up at Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing Transformed. The idea of a Mario Kart-like racer featuring Sonic, his Sega friends and a few bizarre cameos doesn't exactly sound like fun personified, but don't jump to conclusions just yet.
Developed by Sumo Digital, Transformed is the sequel to the 'better than it had any right to be' Sega and Sonic All Stars Racing released back in 2010. Now I'll admit, I appreciate a good karting game every so often and it's unfortunate that our most recent offerings have either been flawed (LittleBigPlanet Karting) or the same old thing we've seen and done a hundred times over (Mario Kart 7). That's not to say Transformed does anything radically different, it's still a reasonably simple karting game after all. But it's how much fun it is to play that makes Transformed one of the few excellent karting games I've played in recent years.
Transformed isn't short on content either, with a variety of modes including a campaign featuring a range of race variants and characters to unlock, to grand Prix and time trial modes, add to that a collection of memorable tracks all based around iconic Sega franchises. It's a colourful, bright and delightful game that you can't help but appreciate for it's cheerfulness and optimism, a reminder why we still need karting games today.
With twenty plus characters to choose from, there's a healthy collection in all, from the more familiar Sonic and Sega figureheads such as Tails, Knuckles and Dr Robotnik, to the more bizarre additions such as Nascar's own Danica Patrick, Shogun dude and yes... Football Manager guy (those two, along with a Team Fortress kart being exclusive to the PC and Steam versions). Look, I could ask why they went and included karts for the Shogun and Football Manager franchises, but then I'd be questioning what makes Transformed so weirdly charming in the first place.
On the racetrack Transformed is a typical kart racer, you can drift, collect power ups (to use both in attack and to defend) and you can pull of air flips to earn bursts upon landing, with of course the ability to transform into a car, boat and plane. It's all rather typical really, but the fact that all these mechanics are all well gelled together results in a racing game that's challenging, well balanced and fair throughout. Even the power-ups are neither too overpowering or too weak to be of any use, with players still able to defend themselves when rockets or ice are fired your way. Rubber banding, often the most hated of features in racing games is carefully implemented and not so intruding.
Each character/kart as their very own characteristics and as you advance in levels, which are separate for each individual character, you unlock extra mods which help you customize the feel of the kart. These mods can be of importance if or when you need to complete events on the tougher A levels of difficulty, allowing you to be that little bit faster or more agile on track. There's even Sega inspired console mods to be unlocked (my favourite being the Saturn mod) which can dramatically change the handling of a kart.
It's worth noting that the console versions of Transformed suffer from some unfortunate framerate hiccups throughout and while the game's still playable, we all know that when it comes to racing games, framerate is king. With that in mind, I'd wholeheartedly recommend you check out the PC version instead, which runs buttery smooth and is a considerable step up visually compared to the console versions. It's worth it to, because Transformed is a charmingly bright and colourful game that looks and plays great on the PC. But if console be your only option, you'll be more than satisfied despite the few technical hiccups. Stay away from the 3DS version however.
With online support, a surprising amount of content and some of the best kart racing I've had for a good few years, Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing Transformed *takes breath* is easy to recommend. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't do anything new or even unique to this style of racing, but it doesn't need to and it's how well all this comes together that makes Transformed so much fun to play, without it feeling cheap or unfair. I don't know about you, but that ladies and gentlemen is what I look for in a fun wacky kart racer. All in all Transformed is easy to recommend to anyone who either loves themselves a bit of karting now and again or to those with past affection for Sega, if you sit in both camps you're in for a treat.
Versions reviewed: Xbox 360 and PC.