Platforms: PS3 (tested) | Xbox 360 | Wii U (tested) | 3DS | PS Vita Developers: Sumo Digital Publishers: SEGA Sumo Digital are very upfront about their main point of comparison for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, but then why wouldn't they be? Mario Kart is the undisputed king of the karting sub-genre, topping a small group of games that offer pick-up-and-play vehicular fun, that never takes itself too seriously, always gives you outlandish weapons to scupper the winning chances for those around you, and provides endless hours of multiplayer entertainment. But there's room for improvement, for new directions, new features, new opportunities, and it's here that SEGA are hoping Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed are hoping to fill some gaps. We saw Mario and co. take to both seas and skies on the 3DS, and Sumo Digital have followed suit, but in a bigger way. The every-increasing roster of playable characters, including newcomers such as Shinobi's Joe Musashi as well as guest stars such as Danica Patrick and your Mii/Avatar, that will feature in the new game all have transforming vehicles, the animation on which is exceptionally fluid. Wreck-It Ralph, the Disney guest star, will see his truck morph seamlessly into a mini industrial tugboat when it hits a liquid surface, and then into a boxy helicopter when sent skywards. The rather floaty driving mechanics return from the original title, for better or worse, and prove to require some real skill at handling in when in boat form. It's refreshing to have all three modes handle noticeably differently, and obviously those will also vary from vehicle to vehicle, but swooshing through the air in Knuckles' gyrocopter was a particular delight. For the most part, one of our criticisms with the first game appears to have been fixed, with pathfinding easier than it was in certain levels before. That being said, however, there were still a few too many invisible walls for our liking, especially when we were airborne. Sumo Digital have also tried to ensure that the weapons in the game are as well-balanced as possible, "fair and blockable" being the buzz phrase of the day from the studio's design director Gareth Wilson. In one instance a giant hot-rod engine bursts out of the back of Sonic's sleek blue cruiser, which can then be flung at enemies just before it burns out, exploding and taking them out. Well-placed expandable blowfish mines prove infuriating to dodge at speed, as are the pesky swarms of wasps that cloud areas of the track after someone has pulled off an exceptional drifting boost. A fellow racer flings a twister down the track, spinning other cars the wrong way round and momentarily scrambling their controls. There are twenty tracks in total - sixteen brand spanking new locations, and four of the best from the original game - and they'll all evoke a classic SEGA franchise of some kind. So it was that we found ourselves zipping about the Panzer Dragoon-inspired Dragon Canyon in one race, and then onto the lava-filled dungeons of Golden Axe's Adders Lair, before winding up in the gorgeous Rogues Landing track inspired by Skies of Arcadia. But the real twist is that all of these levels will be completely dynamic, serving up a three course meal of varying lap layouts. Adders Lair, for example, found us racing the same basic course for the first two laps, starting on wheels before surging around rivers of lava, but the third shot us into the air for an extended last section of the track. Don't expect things to change a huge amount, but the fact that some tracks will shift and change as the race progresses is a welcome addition. There's also been a concerted effort to provide a bit ore meat to the whole experience. There'll be a World Tour mode, which will see you hopping across the tracks in all of these themed locations in a career mode. There'll be varied challenges along the way, hitting boost gates, engaging in ring races that change the course a bit, fighting bosses in arenas. There'll be a multiplayer battle arena mode, with levels lifted from House of the Dead, Jet Set Radio, and Sonic Colours, and of course the option to leap into races with your friends both on and offline. Four player local splitscreen will be order of the day for the former, but you'll be able to take your local friends online too, with a maximum of ten players per race over the Net. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the game, though, is that it'll be part of the Wii U's launch lineup, as well as appearing on the existing home consoles. Capitalising on Nintendo's inability to get their own first-party karter out off the starting blocks (or even bother announcing one for the system), it could well be a go-to game for the system. Pleasingly, Sumo Digital have avoided trying to shoehorn too many Wii U Game Pad features in, with motion controls, and a map and rear view mirror on the screen the largest concessions to the console's unique features in normal play. The tilt controls feel pleasing, and in fact we rather found drifting in the game to be more enjoyable using the tilt input. The mechanisms are perfectly balanced - not too sensitive, but not too slack either - and, given time, it might actually become our preferred way of playing the game. There will be some unique minigames too that offer asynchronous multiplayer experiences, such as a Super Monkey Ball themed level that sees the Game Pad holder playing as AiAi, trying to crush the other players zipping around collecting bananas with his massive ball. It's just as accessible as the first game, which was already one of the finest takes on the karting sub-genre we've seen, and the boosted content means that SEGA will almost certainly find a market for this. But its the variety of tracks, the nostalgic quality that permeates everything, and the impressive multiplayer options that made us particularly happy. Having an armoured dragon roaring us on, piloting Vyse and Gilius Thunderhead to victory and failure, and that feeling of frustration at being pipped to the line by a split second and immediately wanting to do it al again. For early Wii U adopters in particular,, this will be one to watch out for. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed launches on Nov. 16th, except on Wii U, where it'll be available at the console's release on Nov. 30th.