A Lengthy Look at Sega’s Latest Mobile Racer
Better late than never…right?
Mobile and handheld versions of console games don’t have the best reputation. More often than not, they exist as pale imitations of their console brethren, hastily cobbled together and thrown out the door to make a quick buck. It was with this mentality that I hesitantly approached Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, expecting it to be nothing more than a lazy cash-in, much like its 3DS counterpart. I was then fairly surprised to experience a focused and lengthy product, one that has some deep flaws but more or less succeeds on its own merit.
SONIC & ALL-STARS RACING TRANSFORMED
Available on: iOS 7, Android 4.0+
Reviewed on: iPhone 5
I’ll start with a bit of a disclosure: I’ve never actually played an All-Stars Racing game before. I’ve read about them and watched a few videos, but I’ve never sat down and physically tried one, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Right off the bat, the game surprised me with its presentation. Lots of mobile games suffer from lackluster menus and navigation, but ASRT excels in this regard with a smooth, slick menu system; this goes a long way in helping the game look and feel like a complete, cohesive package that belongs on a console instead of my phone.
Upon starting the game up, you’ll find two basic modes. Grand Prix is your standard set of races across multiple tracks where you can unlock upgrades if you do well. World Tour, on the other hand, pits you against several unique missions on those same courses, ranging from drift challenges and all-out sprints to item wars and more. Both modes allow you to select a difficulty level by “betting” with coins or stars that you earn; a microtransaction system allows you to remove these restrictions or buy more of both should you run out, but you earn both of these commodities so readily that I never needed to spend a cent.
Once you start playing, you may find that the controls are a bit stiff and finicky at first, especially if you’re used to other item-based racers like Mario Kart. ASRT automatically accelerates for you, leaving you to focus your attention on steering and firing off items. I was opposed to this at first, but in retrospect I actually think it simplifies the gameplay for the better. The game’s virtual controls adapt to your touch, which means that the joystick will reposition itself based on where you place your finger, and that touch will count as center position. This dynamic is completely different from traditional, static D-pads, and if you’re like me, it may prove difficult to grasp. It gives the game a rather imprecise feel, at least initially; I did eventually adapt to it after a few extended play sessions, but I could never quite shake the longing for a physical controller or a D-pad that just stayed put. If touch controls aren’t your thing, you can use tilt-based controls instead, but this option is even more imprecise and I wouldn’t recommend it for anything beyond sheer novelty.
If you’ll allow me to nitpick, I want to talk about the controls in greater detail. Driving on land feels fine once you get used to your tiny steering radius and the mechanics of drifting, although item boxes are so small that you’ll probably miss more than a few. Driving on water actually reminded me a lot of good old Hydro Thunder with its touchy turning mechanics. The game compensates for this by offering much more open track design with item boxes that gravitate toward you, so the imprecisions balance out well; I actually think these sections are the highlight of the game.
Where things fell apart for me, though, were the flying segments. As mentioned before, the joystick adjusts to where you touch the screen, and this proved to be a major hindrance for me. For example, I would often tap to the left of the joystick intending to turn left, but this simply moved and re-centered the joystick, thus causing me to keep going straight. As a result, this struggle to control my vehicle turned missions that require precise flying into an absolute nightmare. Now, I’ll openly admit that I simply suck at these sections. If you’re more successful at getting the hang of it than I was, you probably won’t complain as much. If you’re not, a merciful option called Flight Assist exists, and this loosely puts your vehicle on rails; this makes these sections much more bearable, though possibly at the expense of your pride.
Much of what determines how solid your controls will be is the character you choose and the upgrades they possess. There are 15 playable characters in total, with some special characters like Ryu and Wreck-It Ralph making the jump to the mobile game. Each one has their own specific strengths and weaknesses that impact the game in surprisingly deep ways; for example, I found drifting accurately with Tails to be quite difficult, but drifting with Sonic was a breeze. All but four of the game’s characters are unlocked as you play, meaning that you’ll need to spend a lot of time with the game in order to fill out your roster; this is a great motivating factor for completionists, but it may turn off those who wanted a larger selection of characters available from the get-go.
By and large, the game plays very well with the frame rate almost always staying consistent. I only tested the game on one device, though, so your mileage may vary if you play on older iOS devices or the Android platform. That said, I did encounter a handful of curious bugs. One of them completely muted all in-game music; I had to delete and reinstall the app to get the music playing again. The other temporarily deleted all of my unlocked characters and upgrades only to bring them back a few minutes later. These bugs, while not complete game-breakers, were nonetheless quite frustrating and negatively impacted my enjoyment of the title.
I talked about the game’s solid presentation earlier, and this extends to the graphics and music. ASRT‘s visuals get the job done, though often unspectacularly, with tracks and character models that look pretty good from a distance but quickly drop in quality if you get too close. No track is particularly awash with detail, but most are acceptably colorful and represent their franchises well; the Samba de Amigo and Panzer Dragoon tracks stood out as my favorites. The race music appropriately represents the varied franchises and should be familiar to fans, though it ultimately takes a backseat to the varied and engaging voice acting and sound effects. Everything from the squealing of tires to transforming and the firing of items sounds great, especially through headphones. Oddly enough, though, I enjoyed the upbeat menu music the most; that results jingle is quite the earworm.
All things considered, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed packs a lot of content in for players. Despite some frustrating controls and an occasional lack of polish, it’s a decent amount of fun for those that are interested. Diehard fans and casual players should all find the game approachable, and it’s quite lengthy for a mobile title. Since it’s been out for well over a month at this point, you’ve likely either bought it or decided against it by now. However, if you’re still considering it, know that it’s well worth the asking price. Flawed as it may be, you’re getting a lot for your dollar here.