On the PS3, a much more finished build, there were many, many more tracks available and more characters too. While Sonic was well represented with Sonic, Tails, Amy, Dr Robotnik, Knuckles and Shadow showing their faces, other, less well known SEGA games got a look in too, with Gilius, from Golden Axe, Vyse, from the much-loved and desperately in need of a sequel Dreamcast role-playing game, Skies of Arcadia, and NiGHTS from, well, NiGHTS. Picking up a controller, ready to take on seven other people, we chose our character, and prepared for battle.
First up was a level based on Afterburner, an old, Top Gun influenced game that put you in the seat of an F-14 Tomcat. The race began on the deck of an aircraft carrier, with your vehicle in its car form, as you sped down the deck, over several rows of boost pads (to make it feel like youre taking off), before going through a giant, blue ring, which transformed you into a plane. Providing a visual cue that theres a change coming, you quickly learn to look out for the blue rings, as the controls are subtly different for each form. Again, though, its not as different as you may imagine even though the plane can fly in four directions rather than the car and boats two, theres still enough similarity that the changeover doesnt grate as much as youd expect. In the air, things take on a slightly different tone with the way illustrated by boost gates that you can fly through, and collections of power ups, which left us feeling a little bit cautious. Whilst on the ground, figuring out where you have to go is fairly straight forward, in the air, theres a lot more freedom and possibly too much so, as theres certainly plenty space to get lost, as our writer, Sarah, happily demonstrated, falling from first to seventh when the flying section began. Luckily, though, the team at Sumo Digital have a plan for that, too searching through the menu, we came across a Flight Assist option, which not only draws a line on screen for you to follow, to ensure you dont get lost, but also helps you stick to it. As the design director told us, Weve spent a lot of time trying to make this as easy as possible for families and kids to play. And it shows.
Back to the game having got the hang of the flight controls, swooped through a few boost gates, and skimmed the surface of the water, we shot back up into the sky again, before flying down towards the carriers deck, through a blue hoop that turns us back into a car, ready for a race around the carriers deck. Rounding the corner, and boosting forwards, we dropping down a step towards the water. Drop down another one, and through another blue hoop, and we transformed into a boat, ready to take on the ocean waves. Again, the controls are subtly different here, but with enough similarity that it doesnt feel awkward. While your boat takes slightly longer to steer, its still responsive enough that you can take the split second decisions you need with ease, and bobbing along on the ocean wave is as much fun as either of the other two forms.
With lots of action going on planes flying, carriers carving waves through the ocean, and lots of transformations that fitted in with the level perfectly, the After Burner level was arguably our favourite of the evening but the Skies of Arcadia level showed us something we hadnt seen before. You see, its not just the vehicles that transform here, but the whole stages themselves. Set on a collection of floating islands that appeared to be under attack, the first lap was mostly land based, as we whizzed through a small village, hopped over a bridge, and rounded the island. Heading into the second lap, we turned round a corner to see an island collapse, and passed through a hoop to transform to a plane, before landing again and continuing much as before, as bits of the island fell apart. On the third lap, so much of the island had fallen away that you had to spend the entire level as a plane and not only that, it was an entirely different course. With tunnels to explore, branching paths asking you to make a split second decision, and new routes that opened up, the third level was like nothing that had come before it. As the levels change, they change in every way possible, making memorising the course that much more difficult, keeping your heart racing and meaning you never really know whats lying around the next corner.
And even though we didnt get to play anything outside of the multiplayer mode, there was enough mentioned about the single player to whet our appetites almost as much as the time on the boat wet our face. The entire game will be playable in split-screen co-op, including the Grand Prix mode, and the World Tour, which sees the return of the popular challenges from the last game. Asking you to drift through a certain number of hoops, hit a character with a weapon a certain number of times, or squish enemies whilst rolling on top of a giant egg, the mission mode provided some much needed variety and this time, its playable entirely in co-op. And much to the relief of the less gaming able other halves out there, when racing in co-op mode, only the player who finishes highest counts. Better still, its possible to trade weapons with your co-op partner, giving them a much needed boost, or baseball glove, just in the nick of time.
And theres so much more that we saw mere glimmers of at the event that were dying to learn more about. There are 132 Mods to unlock, which tweak the handling of your vehicle to suit your racing style, and over 100 stickers an in game form of achievements that unlock when you do certain things in the game one we unlocked was for detonating the hot rod engine at the very last second. Whats more, the Wii U version will be coming with all manner of exclusive minigames that weve yet to see including the return in spiritual form of Bulldog from Project Gotham Racing 4. Effectively tag, with a load of cars, one player gets to play as Shinobi, chasing the other players down if they catch you, you turn into a ninja, and help hunt down the last straggler. Whats more, the Wii U version will allow for five player split-screen, with a fifth player using the Wii U GamePad!
On the way down to the event, we'd made a list of all the things wed love to see from Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed and when we left, we couldnt help but wonder if SEGA had been tracking us for all these years and taking notes of what we were thinking. Almost everything we could ever have hoped for is in the game split-screen online multiplayer, full co-op throughout the entire game, and a whole load of new features, weapons, and characters that come together to make a game that feels every bit as accessible and well balanced as before. In fact, the only concern we've really got is how the various unlockable mods will affect the game, especially taking newcomers into account, who won't have access to any of the mods more experienced players will have earnt - but having seen how well the rest of the game's been handled, we're sure it'll all work out fine.
We thought karting games couldnt get much better than Sonic and SEGA All Stars Racing, but Transformed looks set to prove us wrong.