Team Sonic Racing Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
It's been a long time since Sega took a swing at the racing genre they were once so deeply a part of back when the likes of Sega Rally and Daytona USA were draining pocket money in arcades. It's even been a whopping seven years since Sonic and All Star Racing Transformed surprised many with it's mix of refined racing, nostalgia inducing characters and multi-discipline tracks. After so long, the blue blur is back on the track, this time with a pure kart racing game filled to the brim with things long time Sonic fans are likely to love on top of some solid racing.
Team Sonic Racing hits you hard and fast with fan service as the sounds of Sonic-centric rockers Crush 40 play over a bright and flashy intro sequence, kicking out the early 2000's style jams. Perhaps it's the result of having grown up on Sonic and witnessing the franchise's ups and downs, or maybe it's a world full of stressful current events, but the bright visuals and upbeat soundtrack immediately pulled me in and put a smile on my face, even in spite of some cynical part of my soul wanting to turn it's figurative nose up at the almost unrelentingly cheery tone being set. While it might have been nice to have seen Sega make a new All Star focused racing game, it's also a pleasure to see Sonic given the limelight a company mascot deserves, even if he's bringing obscure characters like Vector with him instead of more iconic Sega characters like Vyse, Beat or Gilius Thunderhead.
Team Sonic Racing takes a unique approach to the kart racing genre by adding teamwork to the gameplay mix. Racers group in teams of three, with each of the trio being specialized toward speed, technique or power. These classes dictate basic abilities and which power ups and weapons can potentially spawn for you as you play. Speedsters like Sonic have stats gears toward, well, speed and a unique fire trail power up, while Technique racers like Tails can travel over rough terrain without losing speed and attract max speed boosting rings as the race past them. Power focused racers can smash through course hazards and don't spin out when attacked but are the slowest when it comes to acceleration. Course design allows each of these racer types to take differing routes based on their strengths without punishing those with lower top speeds or looser turning.
Teamwork comes into play in your ability to use the racing line of the leading team mate to provide yourself a speed boost, giving huge speed boosts when passing crashed team mates as well as in the ability to gift power ups to needy team mates or be provided for in turn. Perform these helpful actions enough times and your whole team will get to use their team special to speed ahead, invulnerable and almost unstoppable. In practice, these ideas require a slightly more tactical approach to racing as a whole, forcing you to use a bit of strategy when it comes to picking racing lines that your whole team can follow or giving up items you really don't need.
While it's a novel addition to the mostly solidified and standardized kart racing genre, being reliant on team mates to get ahead has all the ups and downs you might expect when considering the potential for one person to hold back the pack or for one solid racer to get ahead and provide endless items to those behind. In multiplayer it's possible to race alone and forego this element of the game, but in single player campaign mode there's a good chance that a bad team mate will ruin a GP race series by placing poorly while you've little to no ability to truly help them catch up. It's a frustration that really only comes into focus in the late game of the story mode and it can be mitigated by playing the campaign with someone, but it's also something that's likely to stifle the online modes that are focused on team play. It's one thing being able to blame the computer for a loss and letting go where some might find themselves grabbing their microphone to let a lacking online partner know how much that loss stung.
When it comes to game modes and options, Team Sonic Racing isn't lacking. The aforementioned story mode is a series of races and driving challenges linked by a simple narrative that fans of Sega's classic racing games are likely to relish. Beyond the team focused racing, there are slalom tracks focused on drifting around signposts as tightly as possible, ring collecting challenges where each shiny circle adds time to your clock and badnik smashing challenges barring progress and provoking you to refine specific skills in order to advance. Best of all, you can play with other local players in this mode and it makes a nice change being able to work together instead of compete in this kind of game, progressing and unlocking content together.
Local multiplayer offers up the expected team and solo race modes as well as grand prix, exhibition and time trial options, so Team Sonic Racing fits the bill for those looking to fuel a few game nights with something new. Personally, I know a couple of people who bounced off of Sonic and All Star Racing Transformed because they couldn't get to grips with the boating and flying sections, so some potential party go-ers are likely to be very pleased with the pure kart racing on offer here. That said, there's a minor negative to note in that there is some noticeable slowdown in split screen multiplayer, even when it's just two people playing on a PS4 Pro, though nothing that will stop any but the most performance focused stickler of a player from finding the fun.
Online multiplayer mixes things up further with twists on regular races such as boost and vampire races. These variants change the way you play, adding extra mechanics to the races and adding some nice variation to the mix when regular rushes to the finish line have worn thin.
While it's not likely to be treasured as a groundbreaking classic, Team Sonic Racing is above all else a fun game and one that's offering a solid package for it's asking price. With twenty one tracks to master, mirror variants of each and numerous characters to try out, there's enough on offer here to fill many an hour with race based fun. It'll be interesting to see how Crash Team Racing does on arrival as these two classic mascots go head to head across the multi-platform universe while Mario remains trapped on Nintendo consoles. One thing's for sure right now - Sega and Sonic have taken a solid swing at being crowned kart racing king for the non-Nintendo set.
- Playstation 4
- Nintendo Switch
- Xbox One