A lot of carbon copy kart racing games have come and gone, trying to recapture the same magic that Nintendo first generated when it released Mario Kart quite a while back.  But only a certain few have managed to come close.  Among them is Sega, whose 2010 release Sega & Sonic All Stars Racing was met with great critical acclaim and pretty decent sales.  Featuring an all star cast of Sega-based racers and tracks, the game was a huge hit with fans, and attracted players of all ages as well.

So it should be no surprise then that Sega, along with Sumo Digital, are hard at work on a follow-up, one that continues to celebrate the company’s legacy when it comes to hitting the road.  But like any good sequel, Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed actually evolves the racing action as well.

In this case, it’s being able to change up your terrain over the course of a race.  Rather than just ruling the road in Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, you’re also able to rule the air and the water.  That’s because, over the course of certain events, your vehicle will automatically change depending on where you drive, though the handling will stay about the same.  You’ll still want to get a hang of the controls though, as you can easily lose your top spot if you drive a bit irresponsibly.  Remember, it’s all about taking – and keeping – the lead.

Several racing favorites will be making their return in Transformed, including Sonic the Hedgehog, AiAi from Super Monkey Ball, Dr. Robotnik, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, and others.  In addition, new riders are joining in the fun, including the dwarf Gilius Thunderhead from the Golden Axe series, as well as Vyse of Skies of Arcadia fame.  Sega’s roster hasn’t been completed quite yet, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for the addition of Ristar and a Gunstar Hero.

Oh, and here’s an interesting note – for the first time in the kart racer series’ history, you’ll actually be able to control a real driver.  Danica Patrick, of Formula 1 and, currently, NASCAR fame, will get behind the wheel of a car and race against competitors, showing that she has as much as it takes with the virtual world as she does with the real one.

Like the original game, Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed will also feature a variety of tracks inspired by the Sega games of old.  You’ll race around worlds inspired by Sonic, House of the Dead, Super Monkey Ball and other games.  One track in particular that completely caught our attention was one inspired by Panzer Dragoon, the classic shooting series that first got its start on the Sega Saturn.  Titled the Dragon Canyon, this track has you take to the sky in a biplane, barreling out of harm’s way while avoiding obstacles and incoming attacks.  Though it’s not the same as flying a dragon, it’s pretty awesome to be flying through this area.  Expect a few other favorites to join the track list before the game’s release as well.

Sumo Digital has been listening carefully to fans of the original game, and have been addressing some of the quirks that kept Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing from being a completely well-oiled machine.  With that, you can expect much smoother racing this time around, with controls that won’t have you accidentally careening into walls and a bit fairer track design, with no sudden stops caused by a wrong turn.  Furthermore, the game has a new All Star bar that lets you power up better, depending on how well you race within the game.  This can be turned around for boosting ability, helping you jet ahead of whoever might be holding the lead.

What’s more, the game has a much more balanced weapon system, so that you won’t be pounded in Transformed like you would be in the Mario Kart game.  (Remember the multiple shell hit syndrome?  UGH.)  It’ll allow you to evade certain attacks once you become good enough on the road, though you’ll still want to keep something handy just in case you’ve got something you can’t quite slip out of the way of.

Throw in some addictive multiplayer options (which the game will have, through online and local split-screen) and you’ve got a sequel that’s hitting the pavement in the strongest way possible.  Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is looking very good at this point, surpassing the original with a bigger roster, better track design, improved AI and weapons and colorful graphics.  Having Danica on board doesn’t hurt either, especially if you love the racing genre.  Look for this to make a spin on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (as well as 3DS and PlayStation Vita) later this year.  Let’s hit the road!