Sonic the Hedgehog has a rather interesting history with the racing genre. From the mediocre Sonic R, the chaotic Sonic Riders, and to the genuinely fun Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, the hedgehog raced on a variety of vehicles over the years. The latter finally received a sequel seven years later in Team Sonic Racing. Instead of utilizing Sega’s prolific history, Sumo Digital opted to focus only on Sonic and his immediate universe. Thankfully, despite the alleged downgrade, Team Sonic Racing is a fun kart racer, but not without its flaws.
The main gimmick behind Sega’s new racer is its team mechanic. Each of the 15 playable characters are a part of a 3-character team. Each member is assigned their own class. For example, Tails and Silver are technical racers, meaning they can drive better on rougher terrain like sand. Power characters like Knuckles or Big the Cat, can bust through some obstacles without slowing down. Speed characters like Sonic and Shadow are capable of the highest top speeds in the game.
The team mechanic goes a lot further than just assigning each character a class. Each team has their own “Team Ultimate” meter that fills up by performing a variety of action throughout the race. Trailing a leading teammate that leaves a yellow streak will allow a slingshot action. The longer one stays within the streak, the more power built into the boost. Characters can also skim by one another or attacking rival racers to increase the meter as well.
Speaking of attacking, the items in the game are now symbolized by the series’ Wisps, the vibrant aliens from Sonic Colors. Despite their extraterrestrial visage, each one functions similarly to how a regular item does. Extra boosts, straight shooting missiles, bombs and more are at your disposal. What makes their inclusion noteworthy is the ability to hand out an item to a teammate. By pushing a button, a prompt will notify allies to claim the item. Not only can it help someone further in the back, but they can also gain three slots for said item instead of just a single use. Giving and receiving items from allies also adds energy to the team meter. Activating the Team Ultimate will grant the whole team increased speed and invincibility. By triggering the Team Ultimate in perfect synergy or shunting other racers, the duration of the maneuver will last longer.
Items as a whole don’t have much of a tactile feel to them. They don’t have much of an aural impact when they hit an enemy, and a lot of them fly too fast on the screen to the point they are nearly impossible to avoid. This is even more of an issue with the more powerful items that help characters bringing up the rear. The electric bolt will shock all racers in front of its user, causing them to stop in place for a considerable amount of time, which breaks the flow of the race. The worse are the rock pillars that show up in front. Not only are they hard to dodge, but because they are tall, they hide a significant portion of the track causing racers to run into them.
Team Sonic Racing plays very similarly to how its predecessor did despite the significant time gap. Cars have a respectful heft to them, meaning they don’t float uncontrollably while jumping. Some of the immediate changes are how air tricks are handled. Moving the right analog stick used to perform horizontal spins, but now they make the racer barrel-roll to the direction of the stick, often helping with collecting rings. Drifting is also a major component of the game. Not only are there three drift stages for charging extra boost power, but players can change the direction of their drift without losing charge. This means players can maintain a much longer drifting period, as well as finer control around sharper turns. Considering how hectic and precise some of the later challenges are, knowing how to perform the drifting mechanic is vital.
There are 21 tracks in total, but only 18 are available from the start. It’s still a respectable number. Each area has three tracks associated with them. For example, Rooftop Run features three unique tracks: Market Street, Sky Road and Haunted Castle. While all those tracks differ significantly in design, they all feature similar motifs that makes the entire game more cohesive, such as Sonic and Shadow balloons floating in the background.
Team Adventure is the main single player portion of the game. It’s presented by a world map filled with a variety of missions in accordance to a story. A mysterious and punitive tanuki, Dodon Pa, summons Sonic and friends to race one another in team-based challenges. The story mainly presents itself via static images with voice-overs from the cast. The script itself is surprisingly funny with some pretty clever jokes. Many lines are delivered impeccably, like by veteran Eggman actor, Mike Pollock. That being said, some of the cast seems not as enthused while reciting their lines. Knuckles especially seems off, which is to be expected since he has a new actor that tries harder to sound like his predecessor than doing his own take on the character.
Also the game makes a baffling decision with its implementation of cutscenes. Before each mission, players can press the bottom face button (X, B, A) to start immediately. Pressing the left face button will show bits of the story before the mission. Considering how most gamers have been conditioned for years to press the bottom or right face button to confirm, a lot of the story can be accidentally bypassed. This is especially confounded since the game puts the button prompt to watch cutscenes with a very small font on the bottom of the screen.
Missions in Team Adventure often revolve around finishing a race with your team in first place. That doesn’t mean that the player must be in first place, but the total of each racer must be the highest among other teams. A lot of those missions can have hidden objectives that can grant extra stars, such as reaching first place as an individual in a race. More importantly, players can also find keys with more challenging requirements to unlock. Challenges like having a specific total of rings or not falling off the track. Stars and keys can unlock hidden paths on the map, as well as progress further in the story.
Thankfully, besides traditional racing, there are a variety of different challenges that break the monotony. Daredevil challenges require players to skim a starpost on the left or right side to gain the most points. Destruction requires blowing up different egg pawns on the track. Traffic Attack tasks players to weave through traffic and so forth. Challenges can be quite difficult, especially traffic attack, but thankfully only a Silver medal is necessary to advance through. Those specialty challenges go upwards to Platinum, and while they can be frustrating on occasion, if players use the right vehicle, accomplishing the lofty goals can be satisfying.
Each event rewards players with credits that can be used to purchase mod pods. These capsules are randomized and each contain either a vehicle part or a bonus item box that can affect the race. Buying them is a tedious process since you can only buy one mod pod at a time. It would have been more efficient to be able to purchase multiple in a single go.
As mentioned, parts can be won via the mod pods that can be used to customize vehicles at the garage. Parts are divided to three sections: front, rear and wheels. Each effect stats in various ways, some might increase handling whereas others offer better acceleration. Ther’s also legendary parts to obtain, albeit they’re just shiny gold versions of regular parts. While it is a nifty feature in theory, vehicles don’t look all that different than one another and the changes aren’t exactly significant. There are also vinyl paints and horns to unlock, but those extras seem rather tacky and a waste of credits.
Online play works well for the most part. It offers traditional racing as well as other options such as Lightning Race, Boost Race or even King of the Hill. Creating a personal lobby allows for a variety of said modes, and even allows AI bots to play alongside players. Casual and ranked matches are far more limited, but at least connection is solid throughout the mode. In fact, the only real drag is the unskippable result screen. It takes a couple of minutes for the game to display the results of a race, and in a fast paced racer, not being able to sift through it is a chore.
Graphically Team Sonic Racing doesn’t improve much from it’s last-gen predecessor, but at least it boasts a higher framerate… on the stronger consoles. The Nintendo Switch runs at 30fps whereas PS4 Pro and Xbox One X run at a more locked 60fps. However, there are several occasions where the number drops, especially at Haunted Castle.
The soundtrack deserves props as longtime Sonic composer, Jun Senoue, returns to the franchise alongside other composers of series past such as Tee Lopes. The result is an energetic soundtrack that remixes a lot of familiar tracks from games like Sonic Adventure and Sonic & Knuckles in exciting ways. Hearing a lot of the new compositions is perhaps one of the biggest highlights of the entire game. Not to mention this is the first Sonic game in nearly a decade to feature a song by the band “Crush 40”, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
It’s worth mentioning that the Switch and PC versions lack the ability to play with friends. It’s rather disappointing and makes for a weird oversight for a release like this. Hopefully Sumo Digital patches in the feature, though early adopters may want to stick with the PS4 or Xbox One versions. In another odd decision, the Switch version is also missing the introduction video, citing Switch card size as the reason. Apparently there aren’t any plans for a patch to add it into the game, but only time will tell. That being said, the Switch version, despite the lower frame rate, looks rather impressive in comparison.
Despite dropping Sega from its lineup, Team Sonic Racing is an entertaining kart racer. It features an innovative team mechanic, colorful graphics, a fantastic soundtrack and engaging multiplayer. Team Sonic Racing isn’t without its minor blemishes, but when it comes to entertaining kart racing experiences, it’s no wonder why this hedgehog manages to cross the finish line with flying colors.