Reviewing games can be weird sometimes. You can spend hours upon hours with a game and write up an article that you think is a great representation of your experiences, only to re-play it again just before posting and realize you somehow got it all wrong. And that’s more or less what happened with me and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (out now, $4.99). I was less than impressed with the previous entry in the series several years ago, and my initial impressions of the follow-up were that not much had changed. It still looked pretty much the same, and — aside from the central gimmick of flying and boating — played the same, too. I even ended my opening paragraph with “first big disappointment of 2014” (which isn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds since we’re only two weeks in, but still). So what changed my mind?
It could have been that my expectations were too high. I never played the console version of Transformed, but I’d heard that it was pretty well-received and that Sumo Digital’s new iOS port was surprisingly faithful. Plus, it was getting rave reviews from the other guys, rocking a respectable79 on Metacritic. How could I not be let down, then, when my first few races felt largely the same as the game’s three year old predecessor?
I had a laundry list of problems. The physics feel a little stilted, the plane is nearly impossible to fly with tilt controls, it looks (and some tracks play) like garbage on my iPad 2, the currency system — while generous — is quite confused, and worst of all for a kart racer, the online multiplayer is nearly useless since it seems there’s never anyone else searching for a match.
It wasn’t all bad, though. I noted the inclusion of cloud syncing, which has flawlessly allowed me to switch to my iPhone 5 (where the experience seems significantly better). There’s a fairly well-rounded selection of favorite SEGA characters to play as (and then Wreck-it-Ralph, weirdly). Tracks are well-designed and there’s a nice upgrade system for karts. Still, I felt the bad outweighed the good and eventually stamped the game with a decidedly lukewarm 3 out of 5 stars.
Then something strange happened. I was just about to submit the review and I… I wanted to keep playing. I cautiously hopped into a few more World Tour events (one of the two single player modes — the other being the more traditional Grand Prix) and finally began to have fun. Maybe it was the fact that I was playing on an iPhone 5, or that the next few events had very little of the distracting flying and boating sections. Perhaps it was because I had unlocked enough upgrades to play on the two highest difficulties, where races are significantly faster and more frantic. Probably it was all of the above, and now drifting around long corners at high speeds suddenly felt fantastic. Whatever the reason, Transformed finally started to click with me. It began to feel more like a real kart racer, rather than a cheap imitation of one (which I still maintain about the first Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing). Plus, its only real competition at this point is Table Top Racing (which is excellent) and Angry Birds Go! (which… exists).
So why didn’t I just take the easy route and post the previous draft, cackling maniacally while cashing the check? Is it because I’m a consummate professional who is nothing — NOTHING! — if not dedicated to the integrity of his craft? Psh, duh. But also it’s because the game eventually got its hooks in and wore me down. I still don’t think it’s a great game, exactly, but it’s certainly pretty good, and I think that’s worth sharing.
Plus, I really, really want more people in multiplayer. Come on.
iFanzine Verdict: SEGA and Sumo Digital’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed does what any good sequel does: it turns everything up to 11. There is a lot more content to work through than the first game had, and the new flying and boating sections do their best to mix up the kart racing. However, the fundamental gameplay itself hasn’t changed much. Of course, if you enjoyed the way things looked and felt in the original, you’ll be happier than a hedgehog in a casino here. If you’re like me, though, and felt a tad underwhelmed by it, there may not be a whole lot in the follow-up that will change your mind.