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Kart racing showdown: Sonic Transformed vs. LittleBigPlanet vs. F1 Race Stars

This holiday season saw the release of three fairly high-profile kart racing games, and not a single one of them had anything to do with Mario. But which one is worth your limited holiday money, and how do they stack up against each other? GamesBeat put F1 Race Stars, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and LittleBigPlanet Karting through their paces to find out.

Presentation

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

As with the original, courses in Sonic Transformed are inspired by games across the entire library of Sega franchises. With courses from sources such as Panzer Dragoon to Nights into Dreams, this has plenty of nostalgic magic to bask in. It’s also interesting to see some of those worlds re-created (in race track form, of course) in modern, high-definition graphics. Sonic Transformed isn’t exactly rocking the latest in Unreal Engine technology or anything like that, but the colorful, cartoonish approach fits this well. Likewise, the expansive soundtrack by longtime game industry composer Richard Jacques revives some of the greatest tunes to ever accompany pixels and polygons on-screen, and even throws in some subtle dubstep on the main menu for good measure.

LittleBigPlanet Karting

Even in kart form, Sackboy and the LittleBigPlanet universe retain their wholly unique audiovisual stylings. The game is not so fast or frantic that you can’t still enjoy the pieced-together locales, and the soundtrack is as an eclectic medley as you’d expect from the series. Longtime fans will find the identical user interface immediately accessible, but, just as in the main games, I feel like the weird, forced story elements are mere nuisances just begging to be skipped. 

F1 Race Stars

F1 games are typically rather dull as far as visuals goes. No matter how impressive the graphics engine behind them are, basing a game around real-world locations doesn’t always make for the greatest eye candy. But F1 Race Stars doesn’t have any such “realism” holding it back, and so the cartoonish tracks are very imaginative, complete with loops, river rapids, and huge jumps. The track design is definitely the key to F1 Race Stars appeal, as its audio presentation is forgettable (seriously, I can’t even remember it, at all).

Above: Wreck It Ralph’s Sugar Rush course recreated in LittleBigPlanet Karting.

Gameplay

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Building off of the strengths of the original Sonic & All-Stars Racing, developer Sumo Digital has taken a page out of Nintendo 64 classic Diddy Kong Racing’s playbook: In specific stages, your vehicle transforms between a kart, a boat, and a plane.

The core racing is what you’d expect, especially if you’ve played any other kart racing game ever (drift long enough to build up a speed boost and so on). Aerial sequences are decent. The controls are not as precise as they probably could have been, making it unnecessarily difficult to navigate tight spaces. The water sequences add some nice variety, at least visually, but the water physics themselves seem intentionally flat. This was probably to even the playing field for all racers, and that’s not a bad thing, but don’t expect any impressive water effects like what you’d find in Hydro Thunder or Assassin’s Creed III.

Unfortunately, Sonic Transformed is surprisingly difficult, and this comes from someone who mastered notoriously frustrating games like Crash Nitro Racing, Diddy Kong Racing, and Demon’s Souls. Each Grand Prix or World Tour event has four different difficulty settings, from Easy to Expert. The Normal setting will give you a run for your money, but the difficulties beyond that will be downright insurmountable for most players. This is its biggest fault — and a surprising design decision for a kid-friendly kart racer.

LittleBigPlanet Karting

Powersliding so that you can boost out of turns seems to be a mainstay of kart racing games, and LittleBigPlanet is no different. You can also pick up power-ups to attack fellow racers, but this system is much more pedestrian than the bullet hell-esque upgrade system in ModNation.

Sadly, the stunt mechanic in LittleBigPlanet Karting is terrible, in my opinion. You hold a button to rotate Sackboy in mid-air, but if you don’t land perfectly, and I mean perfectly, you’ll end up facing the wrong way or losing speed. It just doesn’t seem worth the trouble.

F1 Race Stars

Touted as being developed by the same company behind technical racers such as Grid and Dirt, F1 Race Stars makes two rookie mistakes, the first of which is completely unbalanced enemy A.I. who will constantly spam you with heat-seeking attacks. I have no problem maintaining first place in a race and blocking the occasional attacker looking to dethrone me, but when you’re overwhelmed every few seconds by incoming missiles, it’s impossible to dodge them all. One successful hit can set you back several race positions, and this killed the game for me pretty much immediately. It’s just not fun.

To compound matters, F1 Race Stars also tries to introduce some Formula 1-racing staples such as repairing your car at the pit, which really has no place in an allegedly exciting fantasy kart racing game. It slows the pace of every match down and ties into my first complaint, which is being bombarded with attacks. These will not only make you lose positions and momentum but damage will quickly slow your kart down until you repair. No thanks.

Above: Hitting the waves in Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed.

Multiplayer

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

You can either race or battle online in Sonic Transformed. Racing tends to get somewhat manic, as players all bunch up on the same places on the track, firing off weapons and running into each other. For some reason bumping another player in multiplayer causes you to lose speed and control over your vehicle, which doesn’t happen in single-player. It’s actually really annoying, as are all the weird glitches that seem to be provoked by playing against other players.

You can also play with up to four players locally in any of the game’s modes, including arena-style battle matches. If you have some friends willing to sit through the career with you, they can help level up your characters and combat the A.I. so you don’t have as many unfair enemies to deal with.

LittleBigPlanet Karting

There currently seems to be an issue with the servers that are preventing me from updating the game, so I couldn’t play online. We have a rule at GamesBeat that we write what we experienced (as opposed to saying what should have happened). However, just from playing the campaign and reading the trophy descriptions, Karting looks to sport all the same multiplayer options as the platforming versions, and of course the user-created levels and sharing play a massive role in the online portion of the game.

F1 Race Stars

F1 Race Stars offers a few team-based or solo multiplayer modes online, but you should consider them nonexistent since that’s what the community for this game is. If you’re looking to hop in a random match, you’ll be sitting in a lobby all by yourself for a long time. Up to four players can play split-screen locally, and this is probably the only good way to enjoy the game, as it reduces the A.I.’s presence to be a little more bearable.

Above: Sackboy’s about to have a bad day.

Extras

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

The career campaign offers a handful of unique challenges aside from standard races. Getting as many stars as you can and unlocking all the characters will act as your primary goal in the game, but the Hard and Expert difficulties will test your patience and sanity. Time Trials and a Grand Prix mode round out the single-player offerings for those looking to eventually get all the Achievements/trophies.

LittleBigPlanet Karting

LittleBigPlanet games are known for their virtually limitless community-driven content, and Karting is no different. The story mode provides plenty of minigame races to whet your appetite with possibilities, and for newcomers it’s a bit easier to produce results with the creation tools here than in standard LBP titles. You can also import your Sackpeople and outfits from previous games.

F1 Race Stars

F1 doesn’t come with nearly as many bells and whistles as the other games. You won’t find much outside of the main Grand Prix mode.

Above: Sonic and Amy having a romantic spat on one of Transformed’s Sonic the Hedgehog-themed courses.

Conclusion

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Racing your Xbox Live Avatar against Ulala and Nights in a Panzer Dragoon-themed course is worth the $40 asking price alone. The steep difficulty curve can be an insurmountable frustration in an otherwise great game, but there is still a ton of varied content and some solid racing to be had. Its transforming gimmick, multiplayer options and nostalgic soundtrack help liven the package, making this a must-buy for old-school Sega fans or younger players waiting for an introduction to some of gaming’s greatest franchises. GET!

LittleBigPlanet Karting

You could argue this is essentially a reskinned ModNation Racers, but LittleBigPlanet Karting is hands-down my preferred method for consuming this series. I never really felt like Media Molecule provided good enough controls or fun enough level design, but Sleeping Dogs developer United Front Games seems to have circumvented that. It’s not without its faults, and the standard retail price seems high for what’s essentially a side mode, but LittleBigPlanet’s signature user-created tools provide endless replay value and unique style make this a worthwhile purchase for most interested PlayStation 3 owners. GET!

F1 Race Stars 

While the concept was worth a shot, the execution fails in a few very vital ways. Even if this had been a budget-priced downloadable, which is what it looks and feels like, the annoying kart damage, pit stops, and relentless assault of enemy attacks suck any would-be enjoyment from this promising title. SKIP

Above: Super-deformed F1 race stars waving goodbye to their short-lived kart-racing careers.


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