Amy Rose is an abomination, and Shadow the Hedgehog is the definitive manifestation of everything that SEGA has ever done wrong. I can't blame you for dismissing Sonic's latest, sidekick-stuffed racer, but Transformed is a game that deserves far more attention than it's getting.
The game's full name doesn't do it justice either. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed is a mouthful of words that don't gel together; a messy mash of pointless additions that mirrors the problem I've had with most Sonic games. The simplicity of the first few games made them magic, and over the years this became watered-down.
From afar this is a game that doesn't appeal to anyone who isn't a massive SEGA fan or - alternatively - a very small child. After playing it for the best part of a weekend, I'm ashamed of my prior assumptions. Transformed is a smart and varied game, full of brilliant ideas and plenty of depth.
In contrasts to the blue shell bullshit most of us have had to put up with for years, the power-ups in Transformed are well-balanced and fun. Most of the best ideas from Blur - another hugely underrated racing game, developed by many of those who worked on Transformed - make an appearance here.
There's a clever level of design behind Transformed's upgrades this isn't immediately apparent from the dull aesthetics. Instead of instantly hitting the person in first, for instance, the Swarm attack sends giant wasps to block the road ahead of those currently winning the race. Blowfishes feel like an odd stand-in for the iconic banana skin, but they're an improvement on the idea - big enough to stand out clearly even when playing the game in split-screen.
All weapons can be fired both forwards and backwards, and multiple projectiles can be used sparingly or fired all at once in a shotgun-style blast. When you're using weapons like the snowball, the approach you take has a substantial effect: hit the same foe with all three shots and you'll freeze them, slowing them down to an immediate crawl.
Pushing the right thumb stick after taking a jump will activate a stunt, giving you an instant speed boost when you hit the ground. Nailing the timing here is tricky - too early and you'll catch on the lip of the jump, too late and you'll land badly on the ground. Forward and back flips take slightly longer, but sometimes feel safer than barrel rolls.
Rolling to the left will nudge your vehicle slightly in that direction, which may well smash you into a wall. But once you learn the courses, you can start using this technique to your advantage - pushing yourself into a different lane in order to nail a racing line or shortcut.
The drift-boost mechanic that gives Mario Kart depth plays a huge part in Transformed too, with up to three levels of boost to unlock depending on how long you're able to maintain the drift for. When you start combining boost drifting with stunts, Transformed suddenly reveals its complexity: using boosts before jumps lets you perform more tricks, giving you more boost for the second you land. Once you master the controls after a few hours of play, you'll find yourself squeezing a barrel roll into a tiny jump whilst drifting - giving you the boost you need to straighten out your racing line, and shifting you away from the edge of the racetrack.
You won't know that combo chains exist at first, but these play a massive part in earning extra XP for each character. You'll earn XP for your racing and weapon skills as well as your position at the end of each race, and levelling up offers tweaks to the balance of each vehicle. Weapon combos take a degree of luck, but boost combos feel like Transformed's endgame - pushing you to devise the perfect racing line for every track, squeezing extra boost out of every jump and corner.