Against those we don't know, food never tasted, games never played. But it's not just the unknown: even imitations bring with them a form of preformed judgement.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is one of them. Sega's mascot does Mario Kart. To be fair, that's one hell of a template to work from if you're wanting to do arcade karting right. The result wasn't the best, but it was a decent effort unfairly hammered by comparison.
So it's over two years later, and Racing returns with a semi-sequel. In the intervening time others have tried their hand at the karting genre, and so prejudices have been significantly mitigated: the kart game is no longer a clone of Nintendo title, but a genre unto itself.
Transformed brings with it a heap of guest racers, huge winding tracks, shortcuts, power-ups...and the ability for rides to morph into jets and boats as race course terrain demands.
Nicely its more than a visual makeover: each configuration controls differently and conversions from the four-wheeled variety are faster, leading to some strategy in seeking earlier transformation points by way of the branching tracks and shortcuts.
Transformed also describes the courses, which alter during the race. Trackside objects will suddenly turn a once-empty street the first lap into a danger-filled obstacle course the second. Entire roadways will crumble, forcing you to roar through the skies for the final lap. It's fantastical to look at, though it means memorising track lines is a lot more difficult.
Finally the new title works its way into the power-ups. Strewn around each track are the standards for both defensive and offensive, but there's a transformation special for a particular collectable that'll turn your ride into something completely different (a flying robot, for example) and allows you to charge up the ranking, taking out competitors as you do. This is not anything particularly original, but it works.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed offers a surprisingly robust single player package. Career mode has a multitude of challenges alongside standard racing - checkpoint races, drift competitions, combat scenarios - as well as XP unlocks to buy you new courses and racers. There is also a Grand Prix mode, where there are five different cups with four levels each, along the lines of Mario Kart. Finally, there are the usual single race and time trial modes.
Of course, the multiplayer is the big attraction, and is fairly satisfying, offering online or split-screen games, and proves a good laugh with friends.
Unfortunately, the game feels limited in vehicle customisation, and we could have done with a wider choice of courses (despite how spectacular-looking some are). From a technical point of view, Transformed's offers beautiful graphics, engaging sound, and solid arcade gameplay. There's little to fault in those departments.
But even with that, we have to admit the worlds and characters can't quite capture the same charm as that in Nintendo's offerings. The many course settings and designs make the overall structure seem somewhat uneven, even if that's not a problem directly attributable to the game, but rather the heterogeneous nature of the title.
Still, with a Mario Kart for Nintendo Wii U still non-existent, Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed is a good compromise: a fun, accessible and well-crafted racer that deserves your attention.