Of the multitude of Mario Kart clones released since Nintendo's chubby funster first parked his sizeable rump in the seat of a 50cc trundler, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was one of the most competent alternatives. The bundling together of current and classic Sega characters finally gave a Mario Kart to those of the Mega Drive and Dreamcast persuasion, and while it didn't have the greatest handling or multiplayer in the world, that it merely existed was enough for most.
This wasn't something the inevitable sequel could simply sit on, of course, which is why Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed comes with completely revamped physics and handling, partly thanks to the addition of ex-Project Gotham Racing guru Gareth Wilson as the game's lead designer.
Drifting round corners is now no longer an exercise in patience but an Outrun-esque dream. It'll take a couple of races to get used to but once you've nailed it there's nothing more satisfying than pulling the stick away from a long turn to arc smoothly round it, then slamming toward tight turns to take them aggressively. Too often in the past have kart games relied entirely on the zaniness and the chance to yell "oh, look, bet you didn't think you'd see Ren and Stimpy in a go-kart, lulz" without taking time to work on the actual feel of the game, and it's here where Transformed excels.
It isn't all thrills, mind - there are a couple of spills that drop the game slightly below a more coveted 9 score. The character roster is actually poorer than that of the original game, with Sega fan favourites like Alex Kidd and Shenmue star Ryo scrapped while the likes of Jet Set Radio, NiGHTS and Space Channel 5 get two characters each when only one would suffice.
Cynics would say the presence of these games on XBLA would suggest Sega's letting marketing cross-promotion take precedent over a diverse Sega fan-pleasing roster, and the inclusion of US racing heroine Danica Patrick and Disney star of the moment Wreck-It Ralph would add some weight to that argument. While the final unlockable is truly a marvellous sight, there's still a feeling that this roster is a step back from what was on offer before. Still, no doubt the inevitable downloadable content will put paid to that (pun intended).
It's a good job the actual action on the track (and sea and air) makes up for it. The actual courses themselves offer huge, sprawling laps packed with detail and multiple routes, offering further nods to more obscure Sega games like Panzer Dragoon and Burning Rangers. And the Project Gotham influence is made clear in the World Tour mode - which brings variety to proceedings by giving the player various drift, boost and traffic-dodging challenges in reward for stars that unlock characters.
Whereas its predecessor focused on celebrating long-forgotten Sega characters from the Master System and Mega Drive days (who'd have ever thought we'd see the Bonanza Bros or Sega's original mascot Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone again?), Transformed reins that in and features a roster more relevant to today's generation of younger gamers. It's no coincidence that almost every Sega character in this game can be found elsewhere on XBLA too, making this - oddly - a game that celebrates the HD-era Sega rather than the old, forgotten one. Good job it's such a blast to play, then.
By Chris Scullion
Finally, a kart racer on Xbox 360 that's actually fun to play
- Fantastic, satisfying drift mechanic
- Lengthy tracks packed with detail
- Not as rubber-bandy as Mario Kart
- Vehicle transformation is smooth
- Character roster is suspiciously ropey