Multi-platform kart racer Team Sonic Racing is out! The team at Sumo Digital has released their latest in the series on Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC and Nintendo Switch. Time to take Sonic’s first racer in over six years for a spin.
This is probably going to rub a few Sonic fans the wrong way, but Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (and its sequel Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed) are quite possible my favorite Sonic games ever made. I always enjoyed the platformers, but prefer the carefully timed experiences of (for example) the recent Rayman titles over the sometimes hectic nature of most Sonic titles. The kart racers, on the other hand, are games I prefer even over the likes of Mario Kart. Okay, I’ll stop offending fans now.
Part of what I enjoyed about Sonic’s first two racers was that they weren’t platform-exclusive, bringing the game to a wide audience. I started out on PC, later played on X360 and I still have Transformed installed on my Vita. It’s no wonder I was eagerly looking forward to Team Sonic Racing, and jumped at the chance to do a hands-on preview last year. That session was limited to team-based racing, and – not surprisingly – that’s the focus of the full game as well.
Old-fashioned single player (or head to head multiplayer) racing is also available in the game, but this eschews all the team mechanics that have been implemented and gives you the idea that not much has changed since Sonic’s last outing back in 2012. The controls are incredibly similar (making the game super accessible to existing/previous players), as is the cast of characters. It’s still great fun in multiplayer, but without that competition (or Team’s cooperative features) the experience can be underwhelming. After all, Transformed introduced the ability to switch between land, air and sea-based vehicles mid-race – and traditional racing here means you’re essentially returning to the first game in feel rather than having something new added to the mix.
Part of that is that, visually, the leap forward isn’t too great – although, surprisingly, the frame rate can still suffer at times. The previous games were stunning examples of colorful cartoon-like kart racers for their time, and because Team Sonic sticks with the same visual style the differences are mostly in the smaller details and nuances. In an era where we have games like Forza Horizon 4, Sonic doesn’t stick out from the crowd. Having said that, the game looks very colorful and is a great fit for what is one of the 16 bit gaming era’s biggest heroes.
Track design is excellent, although some of them were clearly designed with team play in mind and can feel oddly wide when played solo. Playing with a team, you can use this width to slingshot around your teammates (your team’s leader leaves a ‘turbo trail’ that enables this) as long as you stay close together. This also helps when one of you gets caught by an opposing team’s weapons, as brushing by your teammate instantly pulls them back into the race at full speed – saving precious time. This can make all the difference in achieving the biggest goal in a team race – to make sure your team scores a bigger amount of combined points than the opposing team. First place is worth the most, but finishing there when your teammates are dead last will still lose you the race as a team.
Combat still plays a part too, with plenty of pickups to give you temporary boosts, weapons and capabilities – both offensive and defensive in nature. Team Sonic Racing’s twist on this familiar formula is that you can also shoot one of your pickups over to a teammate, who can then instantly use it. It’s a so-so mechanic when playing with AI teammates, but a great way to help out a less skilled human teammate and boost your team’s potential.
There is a team-based campaign mode included as well, which features a narrative that centers around Sonic, some of his familiar friends and a few not so friendly adversaries. It’s mostly straight up (team-based) racing, but there are also a few additional side objectives that help diversify things with skill-based challenges that can yield nice rewards. This includes performance-boosting car parts, but if you enjoy cosmetic changes then Team Sonic Racing has plenty of those as well.
Team Sonic Racing is a brave attempt to change things up for the series, with its emphasis on cooperative play. It’s not an entirely new as Trailblazers offered up a similar experience, but Sumo Digital’s offering blends this with classic kart racing. It’s not an experience that’s for everyone, and existing fans might not consider it a step forward, but it’s great fun nonetheless.