Every time SEGA reveal a racing game that has Sonic driving a vehicle, the question of ‘why does Sonic need a car when he’s the fastest creature on the planet?’ always comes up. Maybe he just wants to level the playing field a bit, maybe he’s a petrol-head, or maybe he just wants to have some fun – who knows? Either way, whenever he does get into a vehicle it always makes for a good time. I was a big fan of both of the previous Sonic and SEGA-themed racing titles (Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing and its follow up Transformed), so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the most recent (and solely Sonic-focused) entry Team Sonic Racing. Thankfully, it delivers exactly what I’d hoped for from the game too: more fun, exciting, and super-fast racing.
Team Sonic Racing actually has a bit of a narrative going on in the background – I mean, you didn’t think Sonic and pals would race without any incentive, right? Sonic gets invited by a strange alien named Dodon Pa to partake in a racing tournament, so alongside his friends he heads out across a multitude of courses to win races whilst working as a team. With Dodon Pa’s intentions not entirely clear though and the devious Dr Robotnik (yep, I still refuse to call him Eggman) lurking in the background, it seems that there’s a lot more going on than just some friendly ‘racing’.
So yeah, you’re probably not going to be too blown away by the game’s story and it’s mostly told through static illustrations, but it’s still something that fans of the Sonic franchise will come to appreciate. You can skip through it all if you just want to get down to some racing, but those who enjoy a tale to go along with their racing campaign will find it to be a bit of silly fun.
The racing itself will feel familiar to just about anyone who has played a kart-style racer. You’ve got twenty-one different tracks to race across that each offer different routes, a multitude of weapons that can launch attacks on your foes or give yourself a speedy boost, whilst there’s also a big dependence on skidding around corners with a well-timed drift in order to launch yourself forward after releasing it. Each of the available racers offer different stats and abilities with their vehicles too, so you’re able to pick and choose one that best suits your racing style. It’s all run-of-the-mill stuff really, but it’s executed in an enjoyable way that makes it easy to get right into the racing action.
Of course, this is called Team Sonic Racing, and there’s a big emphasis in place on team-work in the game. Whilst it is possible to play individually and without working with others, most races will see you split into teams of three that have to work together to succeed. For example, the leading racer of each team will leave a trail behind them which when driven in can launch teammates ahead with the ‘Slingshot’ ability, which is a good way to steal a few positions away from your rivals or even send you in front of your previously leading teammate. You can also swap items with teammates, with a quick press of the circle button offering any held item out for your allies to use – this works both ways though, so if you’re after a boost or a rocket to take out a rival just ahead of you, you’ve just got to ask. If you work together as team efficiently you’ll eventually unlock your ultimate ability too, which when activated grants you a temporary speed boost and invulnerability.
It all comes together nicely to make the whole team-work aspect of Team Sonic Racing a nice mechanic, with the way players are able to assist each other often making the difference between a victory or loss in a race. However, there were a few instances where it could prove problematic instead.
There were occasions where I’d be following an AI teammate’s racing line in order to get the ‘Slingshot’ bonus, only for them to drive into a wall or onto an off-road piece of terrain that slowed me down. Whilst this is naturally just a part of the game (not everyone drives perfectly after all), it did leave me wondering whether it was worth taking advantage of the bonus at times – you definitely can’t switch off from keeping an eye of the track ahead of you whilst following a racing line. It’s not something that occurs every time, of course, but it’ll happen enough for you to be a bit warier.
Then there’s the fact that the victor of a race is based upon points earned: the higher your position in a race, the more points you earn. There were times where I’d finish in first place, but my team mates would be all the way back close to last place. What this meant was that the other teams would accumulate more points than us, which would leave me in a position where despite doing well I had no real say in the final outcome of the race. Now this sort of thing is easy to accept when playing with real-life players (Team Sonic Racing offers both online and local multiplayer), but when it’s the AI that has let you down it’s hard not to feel a bit frustrated. Again, it’s not a massively common occurrence, but it happened enough to me that I thought it’d be worth bringing up.
Whilst you can take on single events, GPs, or multiplayer showdowns in Team Sonic Racing, it’s in the Team Adventure that the most fun can be had. This acts as the game’s main campaign, with it offering a multitude of events that offer different side-objectives along with the main goal of simply coming first. Whilst the aforementioned single events and GPs show up here too, there are also a selection of mini-games on offer – you might be tasked with the likes of collecting rings, drifting between the iconic Star Posts, taking out robots, or just partaking in an elimination race to name a few, with each one adding a bit more enjoyable variety to the standard racing experience. Overall, it was just a fun campaign to play through, with the additional story tid-bits and the fact you can play through it in local multiplayer making it all the more entertaining.
Outside of the racing, players are able to customise each character’s vehicle, with all new parts and colours unlocked as you work through the game. Don’t like Sonic’s traditionally blue vehicle? Change its colour. Want Dr. Robotnik to focus more on speed in order to defeat his arch nemesis? You can do that too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the deepest customisation system you’ll find in a racer whilst unlocking everything can feel a bit grindey too, but those who like to add a personal touch to their racing will enjoy playing around with each vehicle’s look and feel.
Presentation-wise, Team Sonic Racing delivered exactly what I expected: a colourful racing experience that feels fast and is full of personality. Everything in the game manages to look pretty throughout, whilst the abundance of familiar sights based upon previous Sonic levels will bring more than a few nostalgic smiles to most player’s face. Best of all, the banging soundtrack is based upon pieces found in the series previously too, and it really stands out as one of the highlights of the whole experience. Everything manages to perform well in-game for the most part too, with the only noticeable frame drops only really coming in local multiplayer – thankfully, it was nothing game-breaking though, so it’s hard to complain about it too much.
Team Sonic Racing offers an enjoyable take on arcade-style racing showdowns with its focus on team-work, whilst the lovable series cast and the iconic locales you race across all manage to look great in-game. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the Team Adventure campaign too, with the variety of events you’re tasked with completing doing more than enough to keep you hooked to the game for hours on end.
It does have a few flaws with the team mechanics proving a little frustrating at times whilst local play can have a few performance issues, but for the most part Team Sonic Racing proves to be another racing success for Sonic and friends.
Developer: Sumo Digital
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC