In 1991, SEGA debuted their answer to the worldwide success of Nintendo’s platforming prodigy; the ever amazing Italian-plumber, Mario. When Sonic the Hedgehog blasted on the scene with the SEGA Genesis as his valiant steed, Nintendo entered what would be the most iconic war between video game superpowers in the entire history of the industry.
Fast-forward to now, and things between the Blue and Red have taken on a much friendlier theme. When SEGA left the console-making business in 2001, they immediately turned to Nintendo as their new partners, and thus, the alliance between the Sonic & Super Mario universe began. A lot of time has passed since then, and with that, there have been numerous releases from both sides that are quite similar to each other in more ways than one. And with that, the question is asked — \”Who did it better?\”
Well then, let’s settle this, shall we?!
Welcome to a new \”VS!\” series here on Nintendo Enthusiast, written by yours truly, \”The Prince\”. This series will feature two particular games from each franchise that I found to be similar to each other, and with each entry, I will compare the two in different categories: Story (if available), Gameplay, Graphics, and Sound. At the end, I\’ll give my personal result for which game I found to be the better of the two. So without further ado, (in the words of Sonic the Hedgehog) — \”Alright, let’s do this!\”
The Mario Kart series has existed for a staggering 22 years. With an age like that, you\’d think it\’d be worn out by now. Quite the opposite! With its two-decade lifespan, there’s been only 8 installments in the series, and with that, the quality, like a fine bottle of wine, has only gotten better with age. Mario’s latest race-fest, Mario Kart 8, released to the masses in 2014 for the Wii U to a worldwide standing ovation from both fans and critics alike.
Sonic’s foray into the racing genre began with Sonic Drift back in 1994. Since then, his adventures on the racetrack have been on a more \’now-&-again\’ basis, and unlike Mario Kart, they\’ve never really sat well with the fans. Even so, that didn\’t stop SEGA from teaming up with the racing enthusiasts of SUMO Digital to create a new, modernized Sonic racer back in 2012 — Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
Having been former big-time rivals in the world of platformers, how do they stack up when they\’re zooming on the racetrack?
The Mario Kart series has been so influential, that it practically created a sub-genre under racing; arcade kart-racing. With that, pretty much every kart racer that’s featured a cast of characters racing on wacky tracks, smacking each other with items and power-ups, has been called a \”Mario Kart clone\”. Even so, there’s nothing better than the original, right?
Despite all the \’clones\’ that have sprouted over the years, there’s still a distinct difference between them and an authentic Mario Kart experience, and Mario Kart 8 further pushed that notion. What’s made Mario Kart keep its prestige over the years is the consistency in its formula. Nintendo has treated the series no different from its others — with a \”if it ain\’t broke, don\’t fix it\”, kind-of approach. With each iteration, only minor changes are made. Some mechanics have been added, while others taken away. Even so, the core experience has pretty much been left untouched.
In Mario Kart 8, Mario & Co. once again find themselves zooming around iconic tracks from the Mushroom Kingdom, as well as some brand new locals to discover. The big game changer? Zero-gravity, ala F-Zero style. With the karts now possessing the ability to transform into \”zero-g\” mode, races are no longer confined to a simple circular circuit. Now the action is taken on walls, over giant arches and massive bends. The level of imagination that’s been put into each track’s design is amazing, even to the point where the returning \”retro\” tracks feel new. The level design is complimented well with overall solid controls and a decent roster of characters to choose from. And of course, the ability to swap-and-select your preferred kart and its armaments further add to the experience. Mario Kart 8 has been hailed by many as the best in the series, and rightly so. The level of quality that oozes from it is what you\’d expect from Nintendo, which really puts the pressure on its contender. So, how does it stack up?
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed definitely falls under the category of being a Mario Kart \’clone\’. Similar to MK, Racing Transformed features a cast of characters to choose from. However, unlike the traditional MK-formula, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed shakes things up a bit by including iconic characters from SEGA’s other IPs outside of Sonic. While MK8 \’s two DLC packs add characters from other Nintendo universes, the amount is still quite low compared to the non-Sonic characters in the roster of Racing Transformed. Also unlike MK8, Racing Transformed has a vehicle that is specific to each character. With this system, the player is allowed to select a \”loadout\” that changes the stats of the vehicle.
The biggest game-changer between the two however, lies within the raw gameplay itself. Like its character roster, Racing Transformed features tracks that are insipired by key locals from many of the universes of many of SEGA’s IPs. This approach is quite different from MK8’s, which primarily features tracks inspired by the Super Mario franchise, and while although its DLC packs have changed this, its still not on the same level as Racing Transformed.
When it comes down to the core mechanics, everything begins to unravel. While MK8 features the new zer0-gravity mode, and the returning Glider and Underwater Propeller modes; Racing Transformed takes its name seriously. Here, each character’s vehicle also has 3 different modes: Kart, Airplane and Boat. The neat thing about the tracks in Racing Transformed is that they change on-the-fly, as do the karts. One minute you\’re racing on solid ground, and then, suddenly, it crumbles beneath you, and after passing through a convenient \’Transformation Ring\’, your kart either switches to a plane or boat depending on the situation. This mechanic, while similar to MK8, does have its differences. In fact, its actually now more comparable to Nintendo’s Diddy Kong Racing.
So, which is better?
The gameplay of each of these titles is certainly quite similar, but there are a few differences that are enough to separate them as two different experiences. One thing that can be said for sure about both of them is that they\’re very difficult! While some may think an arcade kart-racer is the pinnacle of \’casual\’ — each of these titles will smack your behind more than you\’d hope. The race is never over, until it’s over. It’s hard to say which is more punishing though. Since Racing Transformed features extra modes outside of simply just racing, it definitely carries the game-time out a little more, but in terms of raw racing, MK8 wins here.
The ability to swap between different karts and parts, is just too cool, not to mention that the new \’Zero-G\’ mode can lead to some pretty exhilarating moments. It allows you to have a series of different go-to combinations that are better suited to a specific track or cup. Not to mention each character that you can play is quite relatable, unlike the numerous of characters in Racing Transformed that haven\’t seen the light of day in a long time. Even so, it has a decent amount going for it, though. The kart-transformation mechanic is certainly a fun addition, and the on-the-fly transformations of the track is seamless. However, the game also features unnecessary \’filler\’ modes to try and flesh out as much game-time as possible, which becomes tedious quite quickly. Even when compared to the raw racing of MK8, Racing Transformed still can\’t quite match the sheer fluidity and ingenuity of its competitor’s track design. Sorry Sonic, \”you\’re (just) too slow!\”, here.
When gamers first laid eyes on MK8, one thought came to mind: \”Damn, that looks fine!\”
Indeed, MK8’s graphical work is so well done, you\’d think Nintendo has been making HD titles forever. The sheer amount of attention to detail in what’s supposed to be a \’kart racer\’ is amazing. From the intense lighting effects and shaders, to the rich particle effects and beautiful mixture of a realistic-fantasy artstyle, that carefully blends real-world architecture with cartoon-like imagination and color. And all of this running at a silky smooth 60 frames. We already knew Nintendo knows how to make good-looking games, but MK8 is in a boat on its own.
When it comes down to Racing Transformed, how does it compare?
Like MK8, Racing Transformed uses quite a bit of color, which is what you\’d expect from a SEGA title, especially one with Sonic in it. Also, this game features some decent graphical effects too; a lot of particle and lighting effects can be spotted, and the water textures are simply divine. Ironically however, while a lot of attention was put on the surrounding scenery, character models are lacking in that department. Many of them seem to look outdated and stiff. While the little details like Sonic’s quills flowing in the wind are present, as soon as you see him and the other racers up close, it just looks a little ugly. It’s also fair to add that unlike MK8, Racing Transformed runs at 30 frames. While that’s half of MK8\’s offerings, its still a locked framerate, which is decent.
Well, it’s quite obvious to see who won here. While Racing Transformed is certainly not a bad-looking title — even its best looking moments can\’t hold a candle to the level of beauty that MK8 so richly possesses.
HD graphics and zero-gravity racing weren\’t the only new additions to the longtime franchise; MK8 is also the first Mario Kart title to feature a fully orchestrated soundtrack. While past titles have always had catchy music — the level of difference that’s been created by putting real instruments into the mix is astounding. Nintendo has strut there stuff in this area with a lot of their recent titles, and MK8 is no exception. Every track, from new originals to the remixed-retros, has music that you\’re always going to want to bop your head to and it gets your blood pumping, adding to the already fun but chaotic atmosphere that the game possesses.
With Racing Transformed, things are more technical — literally. Racing Transformed features a techno-rock themed soundtrack, where every piece of music practically sounds the same. While certain songs have vocals and some identifiable instruments, for the most part, the underlying techno-rock-dubstep theme is quite obvious in each song. While this in no ways makes it sound bad, this does however, makes things a little boring after a while.
And what about those kart sounds? MK8’s sound effects for each kart is rather distinct. While there does seem to be a bit of recycling if you listen enough to certain vehicles, each kart sounds almost completely authentic. With Racing Transformed, (like the soundtrack), every kart sounds very similar to each other, which can also be quite boring.
Once again, Racing Transformed falls short of the mark here. While SUMO Digital and SEGA put up a good fight to give us a rather catchy remix of each original song for each track featured in the title, the prowess of Nintendo’s live band is simply amazing.
?THE BOTTOM LINE:
While the Mario Kart series has been imitated several times over the years, very few ever get anywhere near the level of quality that the series has managed to build up. With that said, it’s safe to say that SUMO Digital and SEGA really did put their best foot forward here. They were determined to give Sonic and Co. a proper racer, and they did just so.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a very well put together racer. Its kart and stage transformation mechanic is pretty cool, and can keep you racing for more than just a few hours. However, it also contains a lot of filler material that gets in the way of the main attraction. Not to mention its overall performance and sound is lacking, despite having good graphics and solid gameplay.
With that said, it’s no doubt that Mario Kart 8 re-iterates the saying: \”An original is more valuable than a copy\”. Like the majority of Nintendo’s titles, you can see the grueling hours of blood, sweat and tears that was put into making sure that MK8 wasn\’t simply just another entry in the longtime series, but a valuable, epic entry. MK8’s new \’Zero-Gravity\’ mechanic cuts the limit of the road, and takes the action up, down and all around. Add that to the amazing soundtrack and graphics that are simply to die for, and you have yourself one of the best arcade racers hands-down.
So then, for this first entry into the \”Mario & Sonic VS!\” series; I crown Nintendo’s Mario Kart 8 the WINNER!
Look forward to the next battle!