CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Okay, let's get this out of the way right off the bat. Yes, "Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed" is just "Mario Kart" with Sega characters. No, Sega has not implanted any sort of original content to distinguish itself from others in the karting genre. Still, it's kind of fun.
This sequel to 2010's "Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing" is pretty much the same as its predecessor, but with one key difference. Can you guess what it is? Hint: it's in the title.
That's right, transformation! That's the word of the day with this game. No longer are you subjected to just racing on the ground.
At certain places in the track, your kart can now turn into a boat to skid along the water or become airborne to glide across the sky. This is a nice concept -- but one we've seen in 1997's "Diddy Kong Racing," and more recently, 2011's "Mario Kart 7."
But let's be honest, if you're interested in this game at all, you know it will be a clone of "Mario Kart." The good news is that it's a fun clone of "Mario Kart."
The bright and cheerful graphics are real eye candy, the course designs are original and there's a broad range of characters from all sorts of Sega franchises. Aside from Sonic and pals, you'll also be racing with Vyse from "Skies of Arcadia," Nights from "NiGHTS into Dreams" and more. Also included is Ralph from the critically acclaimed Disney movie "Wreck-It Ralph," and real life racer Danica Patrick, who is ... short on cash, I suppose?
There's the issue of bad rubber band AI, as with most kart racers. "What's rubber band AI," you ask?
In layman's terms, it's basically a gameplay system that changes the difficulty of the game's opponents or changes the distribution of items to ensure that players don't get too far ahead of their enemies. This is supposed to challenge players and keep them on their toes, but it just becomes frustratingly difficult.
The phrase, "This game cheats!" can actually be used here without crying, "Sore loser!"
That said, it's still enjoyable. There are plenty of single player game modes, such as World Tour, Grand Prix and Time Attack, along with local and online multiplayer. Because characters gain experience points that change their base stats of speed, handling and the like, you're never punished for picking your racer.
If you want to make it through the entire game as Ralph, then go right ahead. Of course, not all the characters are unlocked from the start, so you'll have to progress through the game if you're just dying to battle it out with Sonic as Danica Patrick."Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed," rated E10 , is available now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PlaySation Vita. A PC version is due Jan. 31, with Nintendo 3DS following Feb. 12. It will be available on iOS later this year.