Sonic is once again giving his feet a break and hopping into a car. This occurrence isn't wholly uncommon for our favorite hedgehog throughout his career, but it still feels noteworthy. In his latest driving experience, he actually got some sleeper hit cred. Team Sonic Racing strips away the transformations and extra SEGA properties to try to let the blue blur and his pals stand on their own.
In Team Sonic Racing you can group up with friends and take to any of the twenty-one tracks in the game. If you've played an arcade racer before you know most of what to expect from Team Sonic Racing. Get around the track as fast as possible, take out your enemies, avoid retaliation, and win big. While you can play the game as a solo racer, Team Sonic Racing really tries to get ahead of the crowd in its Team gameplay elements.
This isn't developer Sumo Digital's first time around the track. Using the same engine as previous SEGA racing games they were able to take what they had and improve upon it. The cars handle really well, even when boosting or moving through course obstacles you never feel out of control. While there's a number of characters it will only take you a race or two to settle into one's driving style. A lot of this ease of control though also comes from the speed at which you're racing. While picking up rings increase your max speed you still never feel like you're going that fast. It's not common that the racing spin-off is the slower format. Unlike other kart games, you can alter the AI difficulty in Team Sonic Racing but not the power of your engine.
Putting the Team in Team Sonic Racing
The items that you get are usual fare for a racing game; Boosts, ricochet missiles, boxes to drop behind you. The Grey Wisp Quake item is one that really stands out from the rest even if you won't see it as much. The wisp will make its way to the front of the pack and create rock pillars in a random formation. It's an amazing hazard to watch appear. You feel extremely skillful if you manage to get through it, and that's a big if. It takes the cheap shot at the first place that is Mario Kart's Battle Shell and gives players a fighting chance.
As a team of three racers can work together to give themselves the competitive edge. If a team member is ahead of you you'll see a yellow draft trail, driving in it will not only allow you to get a speed boost but can also give you an extra slingshot boost. Used well, it can allow for quick swaps giving you an edge over the competition. Team members driving past can help you recover in case of a screwup. Depending on the difference in the speed you'll gain an instant boost allowing little to now acceleration time.
When you've got items you don't want, they can be passed around the team. While you can't specify the item or who it comes from being able to receive them allows you to constantly be aggressive throughout the race. Team maneuvers build up the Teams Ultimate Boost, giving you a team boost and temporary invulnerability. In a standard race, you'll only find the time to call upon this once or twice to make sure it counts.
Team Sonic Racing winners podium
The Team abilities work really well, they keep you in the action constantly. They allow you to help your friends if you're in a safe position or attain new speeds. Where a lot of kart racers use rubber banding to keep the pack together this turns it into an integral mechanic. For those that don't know, rubber banding is what you call giving players in the back an advantage. You normally see this as the person in last getting the better items.
In Team Sonic Racing, not only do you get killer pickups, it's impossible to lag behind as you work with your team. This leads to a really tightly packed race, it's very rare you'll feel like you're safely ahead of the pack. This tight group creates a more intense experience. You're constantly on the lookout for opportunities to get ahead. If you don't, you can store an upgrade like a Team Ultimate and use it to take the lead in the last moment. It leads to cheap wins as well as cheap losses.
Punishing team scores in Team Sonic Racing
At the end of each race, you get an individual score that combines with your team's placement. Your final team score is what decides the victor. If all of your team is close together in position then the outcome is predictable, but nothing is worse than a widespread. Numerous times in the campaign did I end up coming in first in a race but second or even third overall. While the games main mechanic is the different Team Abilities outside of story mode it's possible to play individual races. No longer can you pass items, draft off other players, or get friendly boosts. Without these team features, it sadly leaves Team Sonic Racing to be a pretty average racing game.
Each of the 15 racers and their cars has a certain type associated with them. They are; Speed, Technique, and Power. The names cover what you can expect in each of these vehicle types. Speed helps you go fast, Technique for tight corners with improved handling, and power to bully your opponents. It's not just stats either. Your type can also influence possible shortcuts and item usage. Tails as a Technique racer might not be able to reach the blazing Sonic speeds but will lose less speed going over hazardous terrain and can get the Magenta Wisp item. It's not just knowing how you want to race that can also influence your choice as each racers car can be further customized to tweak stats. As well as unlocking these new car parts you can also get decals and horn sounds to pimp your ride just to your liking.
Trick our your car in Team Sonic Racing
Sonic and his friends receive a mysterious letter from a Tanuki called Dodon Pa. He invites them all to participate in a series of races for a chance at winning an unknown prize. While Sonic is skeptical that this is one of Eggman's plots he goes along with it to get to the bottom of things. What starts as a friendly competition begins to get a bit more heated as characters like Blaze, Silver, and Shadow show up. Series antagonists Eggman, Metal Sonic, and Zavok also compete for the prize. As for why or how a lot of these characters are there, there's a quick explanation. For the baddies, it's because the good guys are there. For Silver, it's literally "I time traveled after receiving a letter 200 years in the future."
The story unfolds as events on an overworld. While they are mostly races or Grand Prix there are also some mini-game races. Each event has special conditions you can complete for stars and keys. Stars give you access to more levels and earning all keys in a chapter will net you cosmetic gear. The mini-game races each have their own objective. Some examples include drifting around star poles, destroying Eggman's minions, and collecting rings. You race against the clock, regaining some of your time for each ring collected or Eggbot destroyed.
While the normal races are easy to complete some of these events are rough. You need to understand your car's handling as well as the course layout and how to optimize your run. The worse event is by far drifting around the star pole. Introduced as the first event it is a humbling surprise for players starting their journey. On the overworld, the events normally block access to side paths but there are one or two mandatory events.
Team Sonic Racing Story Overworld
As the story progresses you'll get to travel to a variety of different locations, gain access to more events, and uncover the true purpose behind Dodon Pa's races. Don't expect the story to do much for you though. It's extremely basic and only seems included for the sake of being a feature. There is no character development, shallow interactions, and all played out through text boxes. Spread out over 7 chapters it's quite a short story experience. The real purpose behind the story mode is to unlock racers and tracks for multiplayer usage.
The story is also completely missable for those who don't pay attention to what they're doing. At this point, we're all accustomed to the bottom face button being select, X for PlayStation and A for Xbox. The bottom face button for the Sonic story mode is to "Start Race - Skip Story", whereas the left face button is to "Start Race - Watch Story." After having to backtrack through half of the story because I didn't realize it was being missed I even had to leave the final race of the game halfway through because I realized I had absentmindedly selected to skip the story.
Team Sonic Racing's Online Lobby already sparse
If you want to take your Team Sonic Racing skills to the net you can participate in team and single races online. You can head online with local players or attempt to find people online. You can quickly match into a casual game, or choose between casual or ranked team and standard races. From here there are no major upsets or surprises in turns of gameplay, though a human player might not be as willing to take or receive items as the AI characters are. From my experience playing even shortly after launch is that I wasn't able to find a full lobby to play a race with on a Thursday afternoon. It might not have been the right time for others to be on but a worrying sign nonetheless.
Playing through the story and each of the courses there's a lot of good songs new and old. If you're familiar with the history of the franchise you'll find all kinds of references to past titles. Crush 40, of 'Live and Learn' fame is back at it again. They perform the main theme and a remix of the Sonic Colors theme for Team Ultimate Boosts. Throwing back to past themes is nice, but with so many of the remixes sounding so similar, it can be a bit repetitive.
Team Sonic Racing's Co-Op Gameplay
The sound effects throughout Team Sonic Racing also have some hit and miss moments. During play, as you collect more and more rings, the sound effects don't seem to register as much. It's always a great feeling in a Sonic game to run through 20 rings and hear them all chime at you. Here, drifting through 20 and only hearing one or two chimes is a little bit offputting and also doesn't indicate to the player that you're even getting them. Certainly not a dealbreaker in the grand scheme of things but an odd occurrence.
As a kart racer, Team Sonic Racing seems to hit all of the standard marks as well as implement a new team-based system. On paper, it's like the merging of SEGA All-Stars Racing and Sonic Heroes but your team members are more independent. While this mechanic is the one that sets it apart from similar games on the market it's also the thing that holds it back. Using your team for items and boosts takes away from the need to know the courses and strategy. With a group of friends, online, or offline, it is a fun experience. However, it's unlikely that Team Sonic Racing will become the go-to arcade racing game for any household.
TechRaptor reviewed Team Sonic Racing on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the publisher. This version of the game is also available on Xbox One.
Team Sonic Racing uses an interesting team mechanic to shake up what is otherwise a pretty average arcade racing title. If you're really into the genre or have two dedicated friends to play with it might be a fun experience but you aren't going to get anything here you don't already have from somewhere else.(Review Policy)
- Tight Racing Controls
- Team Mechanics...
- Easily Avoidable Story
- ...Too Much Rubberbanding
- Quiet Online