As a sequel to the well-received Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing on previous generation machines that took characters and locations from SEGA Lore, Transformed always had a strong foundation to build from, and developer SUMO Digital has taken the concept even further. Alluding to the Transformed part of the name, each character's racing car can now morph into a boat or plane depending on the terrain, not unlike the variety seen many moons ago in Diddy Kong Racing on Nintendo 64. This conversion is instant without any needless input from the player, and brings with it a slightly different feel to general movement when guiding the plane or the boat formations, making for an interesting mid-race adjustment. A new layer of strategy is subtly made use of too, as since the plane is slightly faster than the other vehicle modes, players are encouraged to find routes that will let them switch over faster.
Following on from its predecessor, Transformed takes key franchises from SEGA history, like Golden Axe, Jet Set Radio and Shinobi to name but a few, and drags locales and playable characters straight out of them. Like a certain all-encompassing mascot fighting game, Transformed contains a vast amount of SEGA goodness that any long-time fan will enjoy wading through, be it in the main Career mode, taking on the rest of the world in online match-ups, or simply taking in the luscious and familiar melodious remixes. Whether it's because of the sales factor or simply the headlining status, however, there does seem to be a little too much of the Sonic franchise in this sequel, with many of his friends taking up character slots and a considerable number of stages dedicated to the Blue Rodent's legacy. Not only that, but the weapons in this game feel rather generic, despite being well balanced functionally. Instead of Speed Shoes, for instance, there is a regular boost symbol, and where there could have been Alex Kidd's beam fists, there are snowballs. This isn't in any way a detriment to enjoying the game, but such weapon themes from popular franchises would have fit the game far better.
Whilst Transformed may suffer from identity confusion at these times, though, every other aspect of the game has been completely nailed. SUMO has done a fantastic job in creating a racing game that not only makes excellent use of the weapons-based mascot karting genre, but succeeds in making it a pure racer at the same time; one that encompasses the feel of a pure racing sim yet throws weapons into the mix without polluting the pool. In very few racing games do you get the sense of speed that this delivers, nor the satisfaction in nailing that tight corner with a drift or hitting that opponent out the corner of your eye. The sense of challenge is alive and well too, with opponents that will show no mercy and not leave an opening with which to gain traction. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and Transformed holds this saying in high regard; there is an absolute truckload of modes, features, and unlockables to search out. Aside from the choice of over two dozen characters to choose from, each with control modifications that unlock with enough use, there is the main Career mode, Time Trials, Arcade, Online Races, Friend Matches, Versus options, all topped off with an Achievement-like sticker system that allows for customising the licence sheet upon completing certain tasks.
The Wii U's extra functionality certainly makes this version of the game stand out more than most. Aside from the beautiful and colourful visuals locked into a steady frame-rate, there is the whole matter of the game being playable on the GamePad itself with a mere swipe of the screen, making for an extremely convenient TV dibs solution, albeit not as much of a good looking one due to the GamePad screen's lower resolution. All possible control methods that the Wii U will recognise are supported as well, with the Wii's Classic Controller and the Wii U's Pro pad functioning identically to the GamePad minus the screen. The Wii Remote option is a fiddly one, mainly because of the drift being mapped to the B trigger; adding a Nunchuk results in a control scheme much easier to grasp, though. Any one of these together with the GamePad allows a second players to have a screen all to themselves, making for an unrealised level of strategy when not being able to directly see the opponent's actions, adding more incentive to play any of the main modes through a Co-Operative option. Up to five players on the same machine at once are supported, in either a varying number of different race modes, or events unique to the Wii U version that are based around the GamePad player.
In a single-player race, the GamePad displays an overhead view of the racer's surroundings, together with a leader-board of current standings, and as a bonus, replay footage of when a weapon fired hits an opponent that is both quick and unobtrusive appears. Transformed is entirely playable without the advantage of the second screen (which isn't an issue in multiplayer play anyway), but freeing up the main screen display by hosting data on the 'Pad is a clear benefit.
The main Career mode takes players through stages of SEGA lore, separated by paths that can be unlocked by either beating the required world task, or accumulating enough stars to progress further. Gaining said stars brings up another of the game's unique points, the medal system that determines both difficulty and reward when facing computer opponents. Opting for Bronze will only let you earn that medal for any placement at third or higher, but opponents would be on the easiest difficulty. Silver is second or more for normal foes, and the almighty Gold is against the hardest opponents with only a first placement getting any awards. This mode isn't just all straight races, though, with a varying number of different tasks to complete within each new level -- be it reaching a target checkpoint in time, taking down a tank with ammunition, or out-pacing individual foes one at a time, making for a nice change of pace.
Arcade mode is a standard, consisting of grouping four levels together with a points value system determining overall winners, but Time Trials is the real trendsetter in Sonic & All-Stars Transformed. Unlike most renditions of this mode in other games that just give a few laps on a track to set a new record on, here it literally throws the staff ghosts right at the player in varying difficulties to spur them on, and with each lap finished, personal ghosts emerge from the overall best lap time to add that little bit more challenge. There aren't even any set number of laps to complete, allowing for a player to figuratively carry on until they beat that last stubborn ghost or feel they have had enough. This relentless version of the popular racing mode is a very welcome conversion.
Not to say that the game's main content is lacking in any respect, but the online function is as always the returning aspect of any competitive title, and Transformed does not disappoint here either. Aside from general single-player online races that net players levelling-up points for their chosen character and an overall score that rise or fall depending on placement, you can also choose to gather together buddies from your Wii U Friends list. The game provides you instant notifications for friend lobbies by way of a flashing icon on the main screen, and Transformed also allows players to choose from any of the main modes of play from regular split-screen multiplayer through individual votes, and also the difficulty of any other computer opponents, making for a tailor-made experience, and adding to an already packed title. If any launch game will last you into next year and beyond, it's this one.