Though the Mario Kart franchise has reigned supreme in the kart racer genre for years, a worthy competitor will pop up every so often to challenge Nintendo‘s dominance.  Though one of my personal favorites was the Crash Bandicoot-flavored Crash Nitro Kart, I enjoyed the time I spent with 2010′s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and thought it was a decent start to a franchise that still had to find itself. Even though the series is set to take a page out of Mario Kart 7‘s playbook, I’m quite excited about the recently announced followup, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

The title is certainly a mouth full, but clunky naming aside, the sequel looks to be improving upon its predecessor in every conceivable way.  The official debut trailer, viewable below, shows only a few seconds of gameplay, but the graphical facelift is instantly noticeable and a great sign that this is not a simple retread of the original title.

Transformed is looking to be not only better but bigger, introducing more stages and characters, including Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe and a track inspired by the Panzer Dragoon franchise.  A full set of tracks and playable characters has not yet been announced, but SEGA does promise the return of many of the first games options.

Perhaps the most noticeable inclusion, however, is the versatility of the karts to soar through the skies and zip through the seas.  As the most recent Mario Kart title introduced, the vehicles will switch to suit the terrain, allowing for multiple paths and gameplay alterations.  Whereas Nintendo’s racer used this primarily as a cosmetic change, according to this IGN preview, the vehicle handling does change based on what form the kart is in, insuring players will have to adapt their skills to various racing styles.

I love that this gameplay change actually means something, as the promise of vehicles changing form in Mario Kart amounted to very little.  That the Sonic-fronted racer is directly applying the same change and making it mean something is certainly a challenge to Nintendo’s supremacy, and if the game can deliver on its promises as I hope it does, then Nintendo may no longer have find its position at the head of the pack as comfortable as before.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is set to release this year on almost every platform imaginable, including 3DS, PC, PS3, PS Vita, and Xbox 360.

via [Gaming Age]