If not by land…

Why does Sonic need a car to race? One must wonder if it’s this inevitable, always-inane question that helped inspire the developers at Sumo Digital to create a game in which moving along the ground at high speeds is not always the key to victory. In Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, you’ll not only need to master the fine art of automobile racing, but you’ll also need to display dominance in soaring through the sky and riding the waves in order to succeed and capture the checkered flag.

Of course, if you’ve managed to play the game on the PC or one of its many handheld and high-definition console releases from just over a year ago, then you already knew this. With that experience, you might think you know just what to expect from the new mobile release. And to a certain extent, you would be correct.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

At its very core, the mobile release of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is the same as its previously-released brethren: You choose from one of a cast of SEGA (and other) characters and motor around various courses inspired by SEGA games from throughout the company’s ages, using a multitude of zany Mario Kart-esque weapons to offset your opponents and take the lead over land, sea, and air. However, it’s much of the framework around that core that differs in this version of the title.

Among the most notable of changes is the available roster in the game. Several members of the roster from the other versions don’t make the cut at all, including NASCAR’s Danica Patrick, and those available at the start differ as well*. Most characters can be unlocked by playing through the game’s World Tour and Grand Prix modes, but curiously, some don’t offer any criteria for unlocking – only that they can be unlocked “early” by purchasing their respective packs from the in-game shop. This includes those available at the start in other versions, such as Metal Sonic and Wreck-It Ralph, as well as Knuckles and the later unlockable Shadow, who come at $4.99 per respective pair. Everyone else can be had for $9.99.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Overall, the game feels a bit more monetized than previous versions, but aside from the Metal Sonic/Wreck-It Ralph and Knuckles/Shadow packs, it’s not pushed very heavily. Most of it comes from using the in-game currency of rings to purchase upgrades for your racers and partake in difficulty levels besides “Normal” (which less-experienced players might feel is a little punishing). A second currency has been added in stars, which have various uses, not the least of which is turning the All-Star super catch-up items into more of a commodity than a simple random pick-up. You can purchase rings or stars with real-world currency, but they’re easy enough to get in-game and plentiful enough, at least in the early goings, that it doesn’t feel like the game is scamming you for real money if you want to proceed in a timely manner.

Graphics and sound feel comparable to the game’s HD counterpart – at least, as much as it can be on a small iPhone screen – and the controls work quite well, too. Acceleration is automatic, and you’re given a button for drifting/braking/stunts, as well as one for items (and a second aforementioned All-Star button). Steering is performed by your choice of tilt controls or a virtual thumbstick, which we found works quite well—possibly better than the console versions, even, though that may just be us (it sure felt like we were doing better with it).

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

That is, until you come to flying. The thumbstick is floating, and there is no option to make it stay put. When steering left to right, we found it worked like a charm, but when it came to diving and pulling up, things felt a bit more strained. During the course of a normal race, this wasn’t really an issue, but during certain World Tour stunt courses (i.e. “fly through the rings”), it felt rather taxing. This in itself might not be so bad, but the more linear World Tour of the mobile version lacks the ability to choose different “paths” as the other versions do, meaning that not being able to perform the necessary trick to proceed can potentially grind the entire game to a screeching halt (as Grand Prix cups are also unlocked through World Tour mode).

Despite these setbacks, when Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed works, it works well. The racing is solid, responsive, and feels fair. As one might expect, we weren’t able to test out the multiplayer in the pre-release version, but the single-player experience is mostly solid, aside from the aforementioned tying of advancement in the Grand Prix to the trick-based World Tour mode. If that isn’t a problem for you, though, then this is undoubtedly one of the best racing experiences you can get on the iPhone.

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Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

*Starting lineup for consoles consists of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, AiAi and MeeMee from Super Monkey Ball, Beat from Jet Set Radio, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, Ulala from Space Channel 5, Wreck-It Ralph, and if you have the launch version of the game, Metal Sonic. Starting lineup for iPhone consists of Sonic, Tails, Amy Rose, and Ulala.

Gum from Jet Set Radio, AiAi, B.D. Joe, Joe Musashi from Shinobi, Dr. Eggman, AGES, Wreck-It Ralph, Metal Sonic, Knuckles, Shadow the Hedgehog, and new-addition Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue (who now sports a cool transforming SEGA arcade cabinet as his vehicle of choice) are the remaining characters in the iPhone version, and all must be unlocked or purchased.

Other characters can be unlocked through World Tour and Grand Prix modes, but Metal Sonic, Wreck-It Ralph, Knuckles, and Shadow have unknown criteria except that they can be “unlocked early” by paying money for them in the game’s shop.