Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed isn’t a celebration, it’s a funeral
I've been playing Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed for the Wii U and, despite that clunky title, it may be my favorite racing game in the past year or so. The tracks are designed well, the racing feels different on the ground, on the water, or in the air, and the campaign mode balances the racing with other challenges to keep the player interested. There are optional paths to take in the selection of events, Sega characters to unlock, and Wreck-It Ralph is a playable character. Add the fact that the weapons can be thwarted with smart racing and a little bit of planning and you have a near-perfect game. This isn't Mario Kart, where the game aggressively punishes the player in the first place. Nor is it ModNation Racers or LittleBigPlanet Karting, which were both competent but basically boring racing titles. Sonic & All-Stars Racing is the rare game that takes the Mario Kart formula and improves on it. So why is playing it so damned depressing?
These aren't levels, they're graveyards
Nostalgia is a funny thing, and if you grew up as a fan of Sega this is a bittersweet game. There's Ristar waving the flag! Are we going to get another Ristar game soon? Probably not! The Panzer Dragoon series may be one of my favorite worlds in all of gaming, up to and including the now-rare Panzer Dragoon Orta for the Xbox, and being able to take other Sega characters and fly them around environments from the Panzer Dragoon games is like visiting an old friend. Of course the IP is dead, and it's incredibly unlikely that we'll get another Panzer Dragoon title any time soon, but this is the next best thing. The more I played Sonic & All-Stars Racing the more it felt like I was visiting the graves of old relatives. Here's an Afterburner level, do you remember how much fun that game was in the arcades? The giant machine that rocked back and forth as you played and cost a dollar per turn? That was great! Look, I'm playing as Sonic and there are jets flying around me!These aren't singles, they're album cuts. Billy Hatcher may not be a well-known character in gaming anymore, but I was a big fan of his work on the GameCube. Sonic & All-Stars nails the look and sounds of NiGHTS into Dreams, a game that is unlikely to see much of a renaissance after the underwhelming Wii title. How big of a NiGHTS fan am I? I still have the pillowcase that Best Buy gave out when the game was released on the Saturn. I slept on it all through college. I took that pillow to birthing classes when we were getting ready for my youngest son to be born. My oldest son now enjoys sleeping with it. I live in constant fear that it's going to pull apart, and in fact I control how many times it's washed to try to control the fading. It's wonderful to see these games being given more attention, but it doesn't feel like a victory lap as much as it feels like goodbye. All the HD re-releases in the world won't hide the fact that Sega isn't exactly making games as odd and wonderful as Jet Set Radio anymore, nor do many people remember From Software's Otogi series on the original Xbox. Not that Otogi is in this particular racing game, I'm just pointing out how delightfully weird Sega games have been in the past. Oh weird, there's Burning Rangers content in here? That's delightful! When's the last time you've thought about Burning Rangers? Do you think there's any hope of seeing another Burning Rangers game? Of course not. Just enjoy the nostalgia and pat the tombstone as you pass by. Samba de Amigo? You were my favorite on the Dreamcast! You crazy monkey! It's a shame you're not really going anywhere, but it's nice to see you again. The list goes on and on. I'm not even arguing that there's a market for the return for many of these games, or any of them, to be honest. And Sega has created some nicely twisted things since, such as Hell Yeah. But if you're a certain age, and you enjoyed the systems where Sega gleefully experimented with odd games featuring weird protagonists, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a painful reminder of all the good times and experimentation that used to happen within the company. We can always count on Nintendo to bring back the obscure characters we see in their compilation games, including a 3DS to celebrate the once-obscure Fire Emblem series, but most of the games referenced in Sega's racer are memories, and little else. It's an amazing game, and it's even out on Steam, but it can be a depressing ride for fans of the company. Sega, if you were to ever collect the Panzer Dragoon games for a compilation on the 3DS, you could name your price. As it stands, it's been fun to drive around so many games I still love.