Available on: Xbox 360 (version tested), PS3, WiiU, PC, 3DS, Vita
Bit of a mouthful that title. And that’s after they removed the context giving “Sega” from it. Now they’re just all-stars. All-stars of what? I dunno. Not Sega though… If it was it would have said so right? Fun fact, The devs refer to these games internally as SSR, as in Sega Superstar Racing. That was the original title of the first game until the higher ups decide Sonic needed his name all over dat shit. Yup, despite the fact the Sonic games have been spotty at best the last… oooh… 15 years, they figured the name still had enough value to chuck it on the box. At this time I point out that the Super Smash Bros games aren’t called Super Mario and the Smash Bros All-Star Fighting Country Vacation. Dear Sega, you have more characters than Sonic. Maybe if you used them a little more you wouldn’t feel compelled to rely on the blue hog all the time. Anyway, I’ve got a review to write, for a game I will refer to from now on as SSR Transformed. Because sod typing that full title out each time. Also, Sega Superstar Racing sounds better.
SSR Transformed is the sequel to that other Sonic racing game that wasn’t Sonic R or that one on the Game Gear with the name I can’t remember and am too lazy to find out. In the previous entry in this series Sonic and a bunch of his Sega themed friends raced around Sega themed levels firing weapons that were totally not just the weapons from Mario Kart with new graphics at each other. The courses were over the top. The graphics bright and bold. The gameplay was surprisingly solid. In all the game was a fun, faster alternative to Mario Kart. Hell, I’d go as far as to say it was better then the Wii Mario Kart. The game sold fairly well and Sumo Digital, the former running machine programmers that are now one of the best developers Sega has, were granted the chance to make a sequel. For this sequel they took a little influence from the gameplay of Diddy Kong Racing, with it’s cars, planes and boats set up, and said to themselves “what if you could do all 3 in one race”.
SSR Transformed has you driving around hairpin turns one minute only to be flung into the ocean, with your car transforming into a boat, the next, only for you to hit a ramp which causes your boat to become a plane. It’s a cool dynamic that means the player will get the chance to mix up racing styles multiple times over the course of a race. To add to that the theme of transformation has spread to the circuits themselves. Many of the courses change their layout as the race progresses with bridges from one lap collapsing to force you into a river on the next. One under-utilised element is that on a couple of course you can switch vehicles a little early allowing you to take advantage of a plane’s speed or the car’s manoeuvrability. Whilst on paper this would suggest no two races are the same, in reality the courses are preset to change each lap. It’s a great idea though and one that elevates the games design beyond straight up Mario Kart clone. Maybe another sequel will allow for a little more dynamism.
The game carries with it a fairly well rounded set of modes. There’s the main campaign mode which has you competing in a long series of events, not just races, to win stars which in turn unlock new stages. The events may involve hitting speed boosts, defeating 4 opponents battle mode style before finishing the race or even a straight up time trial. In all there’s about a dozen different events to try. What will hit you fairly early on with this mode is the difficulty. On the normal setting, it’s tricky, on hard , it’s a real challenge… and then the game reveals a 4th difficulty and you die a little inside. For the most part the difficulty isn’t too much of an issue, you’ll always have enough stars to progress if you’ve stuck to the normal modes. When you get to the last set of stages, though, you’ll find that you’re going to have to go back and challenge the harder events to progress. And herein lies some degree of frustration. The trouble stems from Sumo digital building a game that is actually pretty hardcore, but at the same time it’s aimed at kids. The gameplay is well defined enough that the idea of getting better is never an unattainable goal, but your patience could very well break with the pure frustration some of the campaign stages could induce. I do wonder how the average child with the attention span of a gnat will cope with this.
The other modes are your standard Grand Prix, Battle and time trial modes. You can pick out to play single races and so on at will and most of the modes have online multiplayer options. The online gameplay is generally fairly decent and smooth but I have had a few experiences of dropped games and poor lag. On aspect that is very welcome is the chance to play multiplayer almost anywhere. A second player just has to hit start on their pad and they can join in the action from the main menu regardless of the mode being selected. This can be done with up to 4 local players for a bit of good old fashioned split screen mayhem. The fact the game manages to trundle along smoothly at its pace with a 4 player split going on is quite a feat.
A new feature to the game is the vehicle mods. This isn’t the standard gradual modification feature most racing games have where you pick parts to kit out your car. This is more like instant speccing. As you race with a character they’ll level up by earning xp. When they level up a new mod is unlocked which will be geared towards speed, handling, and other styles of play. This comes in handy for the campaign mode as you’ll be able to focus on a speed based build for the events you’ll need it on, and similarly a handling based spec for events involving dodging traffic. You can also unlock what are called Console Mods that are a themed set of mods unique to certain characters. Themed around the Genesis (despite having a big MD for Mega Drive on it’s graphic in the UK version) and other consoles each one is assigned to the characters it more befits. For example many of the Sonic characters receive the Genesis mod while Guest star Wreck It Ralph gets the Arcade mod. They aren’t instant win upgrades but they offer a more varied approach to the racing feel.
Ultimately SSR Transformed is a very well made, very fast and very challenging arcade racer. It borrows heavily from Sega’s history and even manages to bring together all the various design styles into one cohesive look. The game even calls back to Outrun for it’s drifting mechanic showing a real knowledge for what helped make Sega’s games great back in the 90s. It’s kind of strange that a small British developer “gets” the Sega style better than Sega themselves do now. Personally, I’d love to see them given a chance to make a full fledged Sonic the Hedgehog game. They certainly understand the style, speed and fun needed to make a good arcade racer, a lot of that knowledge could be transferred to a Sonic game easily. Overall SSR Transformed is a very solid, if a little frustratingly difficult, piece of racing fun that’s going fairly cheap in stores now. Pick it up. You might actually prefer it to Mario Kart.