I tried to keep my identity a secret for a long time, but I guess there's no sense in hiding it anymore. I'm pretty much out of the closet, already. Yes, the rumors and whispers are true. I just have to be honest with myself and everyone on Negative World about who I really am.
I'm a SEGA fan.
Enough of one that I have to type SEGA in all caps, anyway. It looks weird to me any other way.
But despite a pretty solid legacy of gaming systems and software, it's a hard road out there for a SEGA fan. First, of course, you've got to deal with the specter of Nintendo, who are superior to SEGA pretty much across the board. That stings to admit if you love the company, but I pity anyone who's in denial about it by this point. It's just a bitter truth that you've gotta deal with if you love these guys. But, even apart from the rivalry with Nintendo, it's been an era of pessimism for SEGA fans. Ever since the merger with Sammy, SEGA has been the Chicago Cubs of game developers - just straight losing so many times that you wonder if it might be worth bringing a goat around to break whatever curse is hanging over them.
So I love SEGA, but I'm generally pessimistic about SEGA. That's probably the mark of a true fan at this point. When I hear a new Sonic game is coming out, I brace my gag reflexes for the worst. And sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised.
I gotta tell you, I'm in love with Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed!
I didn't think I would be. It's got some strikes against it from the start. That title is so unruly that it's hard to believe that it's being made by a team who has their shit together. Why not just call it Sonic Racing? Or SEGA Racing? Or… I could come up with reasonable names all day that are all punchier than Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed. Why not any of those?
Also, when you're a company that has to deal with negative comparisons to Nintendo, is cramming all your mascots into go-karts really the best way to get out of the shadow?
But it doesn't matter, because Sonic and All Stars Racing is pretty darn fantastic and everybody in Negative World ought to give it a look.
Need a reason? Buddy, I'll give you 10! (In no particular order)
A low price point doesn't make a bad game great, of course. But I gotta admit that I took a shot on Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed largely because of the price point. 40 dollars seemed like a worthwhile risk, considering we're already in a software lull with the Wii U and I was looking for a pick-up-and-play game to share with my wife.
Now that I've played it, I can honestly say I would happily have paid full price for this game. At 40 bucks, I'd recommend it to any fan of Mario Kart. The Wii U iteration of that franchise is at least a year away, at this point. Maybe longer. So 40 bucks is probably worth it to have a good racing game to tide you over.
Even if you feel you can wait on Mario Kart, though, Transformed is probably worth your time because...
9. It's Not Simply A Mario Kart Clone
Let's get this on the table: Mario Kart has been the gold standard in mascot racers since it first launched in 1992. There have been a lot - and I mean a lot - of pretenders over the years. The rule seems to be, if you've got a franchise more than 14 people recognize, you gotta crap out a kart racer at some point. I've played Mario Kart knockoffs starring every two-bit mascot under the sun, from Crash Bandicoot to the Smurfs to even Sonic himself. Not to mention also-rans in the genre like M&M Racing and Homie Rollerz.
Pretty much all of them share two things in common: They're all trying to be Mario Kart and they all totally suck at it.
It's still true: No one can beat Mario Kart at its own game.
But SEGA's done something a little different with Transformed. They're not simply trying to be Mario Kart, here. No, this game is way too ambitious for that. Copying Mario Kart is for amateurs. Transformed is trying to be all of Nintendo's racers. At once. All of them. You could almost subtitle it "Nintendo's All-Time Greatest Racing Hits (Only Developed By SEGA.)"
I'm not kidding. This game is Mario Kart, Wave Race, F-Zero, Diddy Kong Racing, and Excite Truck all rolled up into one. (With a dash of Smash, Star Fox and, would you believe it, Superman 64 in the mix.) That's not idle talk from an excitable SEGA fan, either. If you're familiar with Nintendo's racing offerings over the years, you're going to see direct references to all of them in Transformed.
I'll even break it down: The basic skeleton is Mario Kart, obviously, but it borrows the multiple vehicles from Diddy Kong Racing. The boost mechanic - and much of the level design - is similar to F-Zero GX, one of the greatest racers of all time (from SEGA, no less). The stunt boosts and terraforming are pure ExciteTruck and the water sections are heavily cribbed from Wave Race (and SEGA's own Hydro Thunder). Add to that some Smash Bros-style fan service and Star Fox-style on-rails flight sections and you've got one heck of an ambitious game on your hands. And most of it's stolen wholesale from Nintendo.
Now, if you're super protective about Nintendo, you might point out that this still makes Transformed a great big knock-off. But, I gotta ask you, with tears of joy in my eyes: Who cares? There hasn't been an F-Zero game in a decade. Good luck looking for a new Diddy Kong Racing game, with Rare owned by Microsoft. Wave Race? Only if you want to break out the Gamecube, homey. And, even if you still play all the old games, you've never seen them mixed together, before. To borrow a phrase from an old SEGA commercial: What, are you waiting for Nintendo to make this game? Keep waiting.
Or. OR. If you're a fan of those games, why not just cut SEGA some slack and have a look at how masterfully they've welded them all together? It's a lot of fun.
8. Many Different Race Types - All Of Them Fun
Here's the thing, though. It's not even just a Nintendo copycat racer. SEGA still had the forethought to add a few original moves to the mix. Or, at least, moves I've never seen in any Nintendo racers.
You've got battle races, which work like standard races except everyone has a life meter and can only take 3 hits from items before being eliminated. So you can win either by coming in first place or by playing Chicago Style, taking everyone else out and winning by default. It's a great mode for item mongers and people like Anand.
Or Boost races, where you go against a stress-inducing short timer that temporarily pauses every time you hit a boost pad or trigger a boost through your item box or by drifting. These are especially challenging at the harder level and reward tight racing and track memorization. They're a blast and one of my favorite aspects of Transformed.
Or Drift races, where you've got to build your timer by drifting through specific drift zones. Miss too many opportunities to drift and you're out. This mode is tough, but it's one of those things where the more you play, the better you get and the more rewarding it becomes. I did hurl a few obscenities at this mode, but every time I complete one at a tougher difficulty setting, I want to do a little endzone dance. Consider me satisfied.
Or Ring races where… oh god, this is where we enter Superman 64 territory. Thing is, this is actually Superman 64 done right, and it turns out to be a lot of fun. Basically, it's flying through rings. Miss too many and you're out. Sound boring? It's not, really. These levels are carefully tuned, presented clearly and they control well. When you miss a ring, it's because you screwed something up, not because you're fighting unforgiving controls. And the levels are short enough that it never feels tedious to complete them. In fact, it's disarmingly fun, especially considering the dubious history of the genre. Actually, this is more like something you might see in Star Fox or NiGHTS than Superman. And the After Burner Ring Race is one of my favorite levels in any recent game.
The 1980s, as chronicled by contemporary action movies.
There are a few other modes, too. You can race against specific rivals in Versus mode, battle one of Dr. Eggman's tanks on the Death Egg, race staff ghosts and a few other variations on those themes. Of course there are plenty of standard races, too. That's still the meat and potatoes of Transformed. Nothing wrong with that. If you only want to race, you can stick to Grand Prix mode, which works exactly like other kart racers, with individual cups of 4 tracks a piece. But in the main World Tour mode, all these extra race types offer some worthwhile variety.
If there's one thing I hope the next Mario Kart borrows from Transformed, it's this expansion of the format.
7. Smooth Controls
When I asked my wife, who's been playing Transformed with me over the last few weeks, what her favorite thing was about Transformed, she immediately said, "Smooth controls!"
So that had to make the list.
It's the thing Mario Kart always gets right and a shocking number of copycats get wrong. Thankfully, control feels great here, particularly when you consider that they had to nail not only the standard kart-style controls but also air and water modes, too. Sonic games have a track record of botching gameplay types if they start to get too ambitious, but I'd say Sumo and SEGA get it 3 for 3.
To go back to the Nintendo metaphors from earlier: It's basically Mario Kart on the ground, Wave Race in the water and Star Fox in the air. You might have a few niggles about those comparisons, but I think most people will agree they generally feel good.
Which leads pretty nice to my next point...
6. Transform Mechanic Isn't Just A Gimmick
Since the modes actually feel so remarkably different, the transformation mechanic is more than just a simple gimmick. The different modes actually change up the play style quite a bit and certainly feel more shocking than the rudimentary transformations in Mario Kart 7 (which, according to Sumo anyway, was announced to have multiple racing modes well after SEGA had already committed to taking a similar approach in Transformed). I like the transformations in Mario Kart 7, but I think it'd be a stretch to say they add a significant amount to the usual Mario Kart formula. They're nice, but they don't revolutionize the game. It's still basically Mario Kart.
But in Transformed it's a primary feature. No one racing style dominates over the others. You can't succeed simply by mastering one style of racing. You've got to master all three. That makes the transformation more fundamental to the DNA of this game than they were in Mario Kart 7, and I think this is an area where Transformed simply outclasses Nintendo's most recent offering. Yeah, I said it.
I should also add that there's not a feeling of schizophrenia to the racing. This isn't a situation where it tries to be everything to everyone and succeeds at none. All three components blend together for one diverse and compelling experience.
5. Dynamism of the Tracks
Here's something that's very ExciteTruck - quite a few of Transformed's levels physically change during a race. So that means, in addition to having tracks that are pretty big from the start, incorporating different race types, you can also have a totally different experience from lap to lap.
A few examples: In the Skies of Arcadia level, pirates attack the race at the start of the third lap, completely obliterating the track you've just been racing on, forcing the race to continue in the sky, as canons fly and parts of the track whizz by in the sky. In the House of the Dead level, a trap door opens up at one point and you're suddenly racing around a basement where a zombie rock band is having a concert. In the Panzer Dragoon race, a dragon breaks up the wooden track you've just been on, forcing everyone into the water. The first time through a new track, you always wonder what each lap has in store for you. It's fun stuff and keeps the tracks, which are already nicely designed, from becoming repetitive.
There are 21 tracks, not counting mirror modes. With the size of these tracks, that's good value, right there. But when you consider the dynamics from lap to lap, the actual amount of content is really quite a bit higher.
4. SEGA Nostalgia
SEGA doesn't really have a series like Smash, where they showcase their legacy in a big way. In fact, even as a fan, celebrating SEGA seems a little less joyous than celebrating Nintendo, partly because of their well-known hardware failures and recent struggles to remain relevant. SEGA's well loved generally, of course, but there's always a dark cloud hanging over the company's reputation. So it's easy to forget, sometimes, how much ground SEGA has actually covered over the years.
If you're a fan of SEGA, though, Transformed delivers a pretty sweet reminder. Loaded with more SEGA cross-references than any other game I'm aware of (short a few Genesis collections, I guess), Transformed immerses you in their history and nostalgia. There are levels devoted to old school arcade gems like After Burner, Golden Axe and Out Run - and it's a treat to see tributes to those games in HD glory - as well as fan favorites like Jet Set Radio, Skies of Arcadia and NiGHTS. And, of course, there are Sonic levels out the wazoo. The visual and sound design is impeccable pretty much across the board, so if you care about any of those games, you're going to play Transformed with a ridiculous smile on your face.
Whoa! It's a game where you fly through rings inside a game where you fly through rings!
And the character list goes even farther, with everyone from original SEGA mascot Alex Kidd to Space Channel 5's heroine Ulala joining the race. They picked the right racer from Crazy Taxi this time - B.D. Joe - and also made room for a barrel of monkeys - AiAi and MeeMee from the Monkey Ball games, and Amigo whose wacky levels almost steal the whole show. It's fun to see these guys again.
Yeah, there are a few reminders of SEGA misfires. Shadow the Hedgehog is here. I guess we're stuck with him at this point. But you gotta take the bad with the good, sometimes.
There are also some unnecessary cameos from NASCAR racer Danica Patrick and Donkey Kong stand-in Wreck It Ralph, which add their own value but somewhat crash the SEGA party. Not a major bellyache because they don't hurt the game at all, but I'd have happily traded them for ToeJam and/or Earl.
...although I gotta give Sonic credit: You can just read the jealousy on The Flash's face, back there.
There's probably an added effect to all this fan service, too. As Nintendo fans, most of us are familiar with that feeling you get while playing Smash, where a character from a series you've never really followed pops up in some form and, after a while, starts to intrigue you. Maybe you never played Pikmin or Earthbound before, but your exposure in Smash primed you to go back and visit those games. I suspect a similar thing will happen if you play Transformed. Personally, I found myself watching Sega Saturn Panzer Dragoon videos on YouTube after a few runs through the incredible track devoted to that series, here.
Even if you're only curious, it's a fun way to familiarize yourself with all things SEGA.
3. XP System is Actually Fun
I also enjoy the way racers level up in this game, through some very light RPG elements. The more you play with a certain character and the better you race, the more XP they'll gain. Eventually they'll earn enough to level up and gain access to a new modification setting for their racer. Think of it like getting access to a different "tune up" for their machine. There are 6 different mods for each racer, plus an overall Console Mod that can be unlocked from the world map. These mods give you some adaptability with your favorite racer.
The stat adjustments are usually pretty subtle, though you'll notice certain settings, like handling and boost, can effect the feel of your car noticeably. You don't want to go into something like a Ring Race with a low handling score, for instance, because precision in that category is the key to completing those missions. Boost Races are a good place to use a character's Boost Mod. If you've got a newbie who falls behind a lot, you might give them a Mod with a high All Star score, to keep them from falling too far behind.
Every character's stats are a little different, but I haven't discovered a mod that was completely broken, yet. I have made adjustments when I wasn't doing well in certain races, though, and felt the difference immediately. At the highest difficulty settings I imagine these things could get very decisive, but I think everyone short of the experts are going to simply enjoy getting a feel for the different racers and unlocking their extra tune ups. At the very least, it gives you another set of goals as you play through the game, and encourages you to try different characters.
2. Item Balance
You know what usually sinks all those Mario Kart wannabes for me? Crappy items.
I mean, think about how awesome and iconic the Kart items actually are. Bananas. Shells. Boxes. Simple. Elegant. Awesome. It's hard to imagine a game improving on them.
And, admittedly, Transformed doesn't improve on them at all. It takes a different tack.
On the surface, the items are a little weird. Some of them are pretty similar to the ones in Kart. You've got blowfish that work more or less like fake item boxes (though without trying to trick you). Ice blasts are a bit like shells. So are firecrackers. There's a drone that's a bit like a red shell. There are boosts, like mushrooms. Simple points of comparison.
These items don't really grip you the way Mario's items do. In fact, they aren't even all that recognizable as SEGA items. I mean… snow balls? You've got nothing more creative than that, SEGA?
A cactus in a bikini? Okay, that IS creative. I'll give you that.
But play with them for a while and you start to see their brilliance. These items are just plain less effective than the ones in Kart and I have to believe that's by design. The end result is that, sure, items can be the difference between a place or two, if used strategically, but they're generally less effective than in Mario Kart. Heck, even the actual item boxes are smaller and harder to pick up.
Less powerful items means there's less of a "scrum" in Transformed than there usually is in Mario Kart. For anyone who's bellyached about being slaughtered by items in the middle of a solid race, this feels pretty nice. If you do get hit by an item, you're not automatically out of contention. You're going to have to work to recover, though. That's easier here because you don't actually lose your item if you get hit. So you might be able to get back into the race right away if you've been saving a boost or are near a place where you can effectively drift.
Also, the items require just a slight bit more skill to use than some of the Kart items. The snowball has a very small hit box, so you're probably going to miss with it more than you hit. But that also means if you do get hit by one you know there was a bit more skill involved by your opponent. Personally, I find it feels better to be hit by a snowball in this game than some similar items in Mario Kart simply for that reason alone. I know I it was just random bad luck.
There are also no blanket status effect items, like the lightning bolt or Blooper, and no equivalent to the Blue Shell. Hallelujah!
1. Level Design
I've already touched on the dynamism of the levels, but here's the major crux of the whole thing: Nothing else on this list would matter if the tracks were terrible or boring. And they're not. They're beautiful, both mechanically and aesthetically.
If it hasn't been clear already, I love Mario Kart. If I had to make a list of top 10 favorite series of all time, it'd be on the list. I'm not so much of a SEGA nut that I'd forsake Mario just to score some points for them. But this is one area where I think Transformed puts Mario Kart on notice. Generally speaking, the levels here are bigger, more dynamic, require more skill to navigate and are just plain more exciting than most of the tracks in recent Kart games.
You getting bored with racing around Moo Moo Farm for the 4th time? Me too.
Pictured: The most awesome thing you will see today.
Play the Arcade Annihilation track and tell me you've ever played a kart racer that goes that far, before. It's gorgeous and bizarre and huge and so satisfying to race, falling somewhere between Rainbow Road, the original TRON movie and some SEGA developer's whiskey dreams. (It's also the only place you'll ever see a 40 foot tall likeness of the Bonanza Bros.)
Just recalling the levels in my head, right now, I think I could make a case for at least a half dozen of them to be in the top 20 kart tracks I've ever played. Skies of Arcadia. Panzer Dragoon. Jet Set Radio. After Burner. NiGHTS. Samba De Amigo. Super Monkey Ball. They're all great. (Even the lesser tracks, like the Billy Hatcher one or the Burning Rangers one have certain features that make them tricky and unique.)
Almost without exception, the track in Transformed are just designed well. The fundamental mechanics are sound. The dynamic terraforming means each lap is usually a little bit different than the last. They're themed well. And just… they're just great to race.
That's what it comes down to, in the end. It just feels great to race in Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed.
I hope you give it a shot, if nothing else as a snack to tide you over until Mario Kart U comes out.
Now, I don't want to suggest that Transformed is a perfect game, only that it's really, really good. Here are a few suggestions for how SEGA could improve it in a sequel:
1. Fix Some Glitches - I don't know if it's simply a problem with the Wii U port, or something that occurs across the board, but there are a few recurring glitches in the menu system. The slot machine never seems to work on the GamePad. Selecting a control method for the second player is obtuse and a chore. Sometimes when I select a character, it'll show the character model of a different racer. These aren't game breaking glitches but, seriously, there's no reason a piece of software that's otherwise this solid should have obvious issues like that. They may be minor, but they're not really acceptable.
Zero tells me the version he played had so many framerate issues that he could barely tell what was going on during the race. I haven't encountered this problem, so either I'm a completely unsophisticated boob who can't tell framerates from farm rats, or one of the after launch updates worked that kink out. Assuming there are some framerate issues, though, that's also not acceptable and should be addressed. (If you encounter those issues, don't blame me for recommending the game to you, though. I got enough things on my mind.)
2. ToeJam and Earl - Yeah, I know ToeJam and Earl aren't owned by SEGA, directly, and that some guys at SEGA HQ seem a little ashamed of the game. But, face it SEGA, ToeJam and Earl are an important part of your Genesis legacy. They are also some pretty high-profile SEGA characters, especially in the West. SEGA solicited suggestions for DLC racers for this series and ToeJam and Earl got a number of votes over the threshold SEGA set for serious consideration. Not bad for a couple of old school poindexters. Beyond that, they're also a perfect fit for this game. They bring some fun designs, great humor, already have a space ship ready to race, and their big bumpin' soundtrack is one thing everyone agrees on.
3. A Crazy Taxi level - It's so perfect, I can't imagine why it hasn't already been done! Ok, maybe I can. Maybe it's all the references to Pizza Hut and stuff like that. And the traffic. And the fact that it'd just be like playing Crazy Taxi, so why not just play Crazy Taxi? Still, you can work around that, can't you, SEGA? If there's any game that just begs for a level, it's Crazy Taxi. I want to race Sonic around that city!
4. Michael Jackson - Who's bad? SEGA's #1 fan managed to star in a couple of games over the years. There's Moonwalker, of course. Everyone knows that game. But he also turns up as Space Michael in Space Channel 5. Not to mention all those rumors about his involvement in the Sonic 3 soundtrack. That makes him a full fledged SEGA All Star, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not sure how the Jackson estate would feel about it, or what they'd try to charge to use his likeness, but I'm sure any appearance by the Gloved One would be great and that Michael would have loved it. And I just think it'd be hilarious to have Michael Jackson racing SEGA weirdos through outer space. Something apropos about it.
5. Aww, heck, just more SEGA references, okay! There will probably never be a SEGA version of Smash Bros. I'm not even sure that I'd want to play a game like that. But Transformed could serve SEGA fans the same way Smash serves fans of Nintendo. It seems like the natural place to celebrate SEGA's legacy. So why not give the next game the full Smash treatment? Trophies. Unlockables. A big, celebratory soundtrack. Show some of the SEGA doubters where you've been and what you've accomplished. Make it a big SEGA love fest. Because there are a lot of SEGA franchises that still have no true representation in this game. Shenmue. Space Harrier. Vectorman. Ecco the Dolphin. Ristar. Fantasy Zone. Phantasy Star. Altered Beast. Uh… Sega Bass Fishing. I'd love to see some kind of reference to all of them in the sequel.
Take us to the next level, guys!
And one more picture of Sonic with Danica Patrick. Because why not?
What I got from this is that Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is equivalent to Superman 64. You basically said it!
Thinking of #1 I forget... are you pro or anti "Nintendo Kart"? I'm very pro. I'd love to see tons of crazy tracks from all applicable Nintendo franchises in the next Mario Kart. And then throw in a few from non-applicable franchises for good measure.
Back to Sonic though... I enjoyed my time with it. And in some ways I agree that, even if I don't think it is better than Mario Kart, it has some things that Nintendo should take note of.
I'm not really pro or anti Nintendo Kart. If they announced it, I'd still be there day one. My feeling though is that recent Mario Karts have been a little too conservative for my taste. There've been a few incremental changes, sure, but they're generally pretty similar in feel (especially if you aren't playing with the Wii Wheel). My favorite Kart game since 64 was probably Double Dash because it was the most daring, to me.
A Nintendo Kart game that did nothing to change up the recent formula other than "You can play as Link now! On an F-Zero level! With Metroid items!" wouldn't be enough for me to get too excited. Smash is already the main "Nintendo Crossover" series and Nintendo Land is sorta doing it, too. I don't really need Mario Kart to go that way as well.
If I had a Wii U then I would have this game too. I'll probably still get it when I buy a Wii U, I'm sure it'll be nice and cheap by then.
I think #5 is the idea I'd most like to see in the next Mario Kart game. MKWii had a few tracks like this, such as Grumble Volcano falling apart each lap, and Dry Dry Ruin's pillars collapsing. It's a neat idea that I'd like to see more of in the next one.
I played a bit of the Wii U version. I wasn't crazy about it, but I think much of that is from playing 5-player on a not-so-big screen. Tiny splitscreen with low framerate will ruin almost any game for me anymore. How spoiled I've become...
That said, I liked the nostalgia overload and the racing seemed competent, though I didn't get to dig into it too much. I also just got the first Sonic All Star Racing as part of a Sonic bundle on Steam (Genesis trilogy, both Sonic 4 eps, Sonic CD, both Adventures, Generations, and Racing for $25) so I'm looking forward to trying that out, and definitely wouldn't rule out picking up Transformed down the line.
I was also sad to see Vectorman and Sketch Turner so low on the fan-voting. Honestly, one of them couldn't have replaced Shadow? BAH.
I downloaded the Demo but didn't get around to playing it yet. I'd ask what its like, but I'm sure it'd be easier to just, you know, play it! Interested to see how NASCAR's Danica Patrick is implemented, and to what extent. Sponsors are wild about themselves..
Just kidding. Sports couldn't mean less to me. But I do have a Cubs hat.
'Cause it's almost like having a Superman hat.
Sonic & Sega is pretty decent, from what I've played. Much better than the original. However, the framerate does severely impact the experience for me. Especially since it's a racing game. The items are also kind of generic, the characters are somewhat ill-chosen, the car handling and drifting seem a bit off, and the boat and plane controls seem a bit iffy. I'm not quite sure what's up with Danica Patrick and Wreck-It Ralph. Also, the Wii U exclusive modes and the usage of coins in multiplayer are baffling. BUT!
We had some fun with it at the Chicago Meet-up. Five-player multi is sweet. But I'll admit that I can't really understand the overwhelming love for this game (beyond the admittedly awesome fanservice). The disparity between my experience and the internet's was so large that I forced myself to play the demo over and over again until I figured out how to do the switch drifting (which is cool) and mastered the one race track in the demo (and even the annoying Boost Race). It's pretty cool when you know what you're doing. And, again, awesome fanservice. But the multiplayer doesn't compare to MK7 for me. And Crash Team Racing might still have the edge over Transformed. I'm still going to grab it when I get a chance, though. Off-screen play is the clincher.
But if you want a REAL Mario Kart-killer, Blur's your man! I still have to write my "What Mario Kart could learn from Blur" editorial.
And then submit it to IGN as a job application.
@kriswright I think the update was supposed to have improved the framerate.
I really enjoy this game. I had so much fun with the Wii U version that I picked up a cheap copy of the Vita version to play on quick breaks at work. I agree that I would've rather seen a couple other characters instead of Danica Patrick and Wreck-It Ralph. Some more tracks, or maybe even 1 or 2 others in place of some of the Sonic tracks would've been ok too.
@Shadowlink Just be prepared to get good before you'll be able to use him. He's one of the last unlockable characters and requires being able to beat at least some of the World Tour on hard to get enough stars.
Oh I wasn't serious on the sold thing (Although that character/vehicle combo *is* cool and a selling point). I'm not really in the mood for another racer right now, I bought Mario Kart 7 and realized I was pretty much raced out after a few weeks of playing- Too much MK Wii.
@deathly_hallows There are occasional framerate issues but not enough to really bother me. It didn't seem much worse than the Wii U version in that area at least. The only real difference between the Vita version and the PS3 version is 8 racers in a race instead of 10.