Much like the first game, Transformed (I'm not typing out that whole name again) takes mascots from a wide range of Sega titles of all eras and drops them into enormous, dynamic racing tracks inspired by each of their games. Various pickups act as weapons to slow down, block, or disorient your opponents, and all cars can boost using a drift mechanic that charges the longer you can hold it.
Transformed dips even further into the older Sega catalog, bumps the roster up from 23 racers to 29, though some are console-specific, like the XBox Avarar, or the Wii U letting you use Miis. The PC gets even more exclusives including characters from Valve's Team Fortress 2, or the Football Manager from...er..Football Manager. They've cut back on Sonic characters thankfully, an brought in racers from games like Shinobi, Golden Axe, Skies Of Arcadia, and Shogun: Total War. Not entirely sure what Wreck-It Ralph and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick are doing in there, but hey...variety is the spice of life, right?
The 20+ tracks are no longer just ground roads; Transformed gets its name from racers' ability to switch between land, sea, and air modes. The transformations are contextual, not at will, depending on the course you're currently racing on, but every track contains at least one transformation during the three-lap races. All of the tracks are packed with alternate routes and visual spectacle, often being destroyed as you go to make room for new transformations, obstacles, and pathways.
I wish that I could tell you what sets the Sega racing games apart from all other kart racers I've played. I can't pinpoint the appeal, or cite things that they do better than the others. I'm not particularly invested in the characters any more or less than I am with say, Nintendo's franchises. I think a part of it is that a lot of kart racers focus on the cute stuff for kids, while the Sega games skew for a slightly older appeal.
I can say that Transformed features a surprisingly robust single-player mode, whereas other racing games seem to take the position of "Oh you don't have anyone to play with you? Well, fuck you then." Playing with friends is awesome, but sometimes you just want to hang out and play by yourself. Transformed offers a fairly long and deep Career mode that is more than just a chain of races. There are Boost and Drifting Challenges, Sprints, Vs Modes (where each lap has you racing against a different solitary opponent), even a mode where you chase a giant tank and try to destroy it before your three laps are finished.
There were a few changes from the first Sega racer that I was not thrilled with. The method of unlocking tracks and characters has been completely overhauled, in a way that favors skill, and punishes those that might not be as good at racing. The first game had all of the unlockables in a store, and completing races and cups earned you coins. The more difficult the challenge, the more coins you got. Even novice racers could in theory unlock everything, it might take them longer. Transformed places all of the unlockables in the Career mode, and they can only be unlocked by earning a certain number of stars, some of which can only be earned by defeating challenges on their hardest levels. It saddens me to know I might not be good enough to experience the entirety of what this game has to offer.
The biggest disappointment for me has very little impact on the gameplay itself: the race announcer. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing featured a race announcer that was ridiculously excited to narrate the entire race. He had a loud, booming voice that really grabbed you and pulled you into the game. He'd congratulate, he'd heckle, he'd spit out enthusiastic encouragements, and announce every action with gusto. The new announcer sounds like a younger guy, who is much calmer. The gameplay may be great and fun, but he just doesn't inspire as much enthusiasm for the game. He doesn't say anything fun, just says what happens as it happens.
Plus they got rid of Zobio & Zobiko, my favorite racers from the first game. Bastards.
Minor quibbles aside, this game is a ridiculous amount of fun. The challenges are tiered for players of all level of skill, from novices to experts, and the gameplay changes things up frequently enough to make sure nobody gets bored. Tracks have so much detail in them, you'll find something new every time you play. All of the characters gain experience as you race with them, unlocking new "mods" that slightly alter their stats to your liking. Don't like the way Crazy Taxi's BD Joe has high speed but crappy handling? Swap out to the handling mod. Want an extra edge? Earn the boost mod, which gives in-game and drifting boosts that little extra oomph.
Transformed was released as a budget title, brand new for only $39.99 on consoles, and $29.99 on PC. It's sort of enjoyed an underground popularity; it gets rave reviews from critics and players alike, but doesn't have the mass market appeal to compete with, say, Mario Kart. Still, I think it's a far superior game, and it packs a ton of content into a vibrant and energetic package. Play it solo, or play split-screen or online with your friends, I guarantee you have a great time with this one.
Anyone wanna race me over Steam?