Team Sonic Racing Review — Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
I can definitely feel the sunshine.
I didn’t grow up during the peak of the kart racing genre’s popularity. Sure, I played a couple of rounds of Mario Kart 64 on the Nintendo 64 here and there but I was never totally invested in these games. It’s hard for me to imagine anything toppling Nintendo’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Nintendo Switch as the Mario Kart games have practically owned the kart racing space for years and years. But now we have Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled coming down the pipeline, and of course, Sega’s blue blur himself is throwing his hat in the ring again with Team Sonic Racing. So how does Sonic’s kart racing entry compare to the competition this time around?
While it’s not without its fair share of rough edges, longtime fans of Mario’s rival are sure to get a kick out of Team Sonic Racing. It’s very clear from the getgo that developer Sumo Digital has a keen eye for Sonic the Hedgehog lore, as there are so many design decisions that are absolute throwbacks to his modern history. Even the opening cutscene is super cheesy, but in the best way. Sonic fans are sure to eat it up. And thankfully, none of that weird movie Sonic is involved.
If you’re jumping in alone, you’ll likely be starting with the game’s Adventure Mode. It’s about what you’d expect and the story in it is pretty throwaway. Each chapter is divided into seven separate boards that are filled with races and special minigames for you to overcome. It acts as a starting lane of sorts where you’ll be able to get a grip on the more unique karts and weights of every character. Here, I was able to really discover my preferred playstyle while connecting with the characters that I’d be using in other modes and later chapters.
The conventional race missions do have some merit to them as each has three challenges you can go for, with an additional special challenge that’s a bit tougher. When I really do enjoy a game, I’m obviously drawn to complete as much of it as possible, so once I beat the main path I went back to diverging paths to complete all of these challenges on the normal difficulty setting. I’m happy to report that I absolutely plan on going back to complete them all again on hard.
Team Sonic Racing’s roster mostly consists of characters from Sonic Adventure and beyond, with what I assume to be the least popular character being Zavok from Sonic Lost World. Tons of fan favorites are here like Shadow, Big the Cat, Vector, Silver, and even a kart driven by four Chao. Due to the nature of team racing, it’s easy to see why there were some omissions like Chaos and Cream the Rabbit.
The actual team aspect of Team Sonic Racing works as its greatest strength and its biggest detriment. It seems that the game works more favorably when you’re racing as a team of three. Solo races are a bit dull when a lot of the special abilities you can use with a team are stripped away. During these team races, Team Sonic Racing feels like a totally different game from the competition. Each character is set to one of three classes, varying in stats and the items acquired during races.
Actual strategy becomes involved as you can send items to your teammates trailing behind you and vice versa. Additionally, the teammate that is ahead will give off a special trail that allies can follow, causing them to gain a sort of slingshot boost that’ll shoot them ahead at high speed. All of this amounts to a team meter that fills up, which can eventually be used and result in all three of you picking up a ton of speed and shooting past the competition with full immunity. It probably sounds a bit broken but it never hampered any race or made the game too easy as everybody has access to it at least once during a race. Timing it correctly could totally change the end result of each race.
One weaker quality of Team Sonic Racing is the item variety. I think the fact that the Wisps from Sonic Colors make a return is really cool, however, all of the best ones are simply ripoffs of things already in Mario Kart. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but the problem is that all of the unique items are absolutely awful. One of these is just a strange beam that looks like it was implemented last minute, it’s utterly useless and difficult to aim.
The other is something that’s thrown ahead of 1st place and places a bunch of columns randomly on the track that you’ll have to avoid. That sounds kind of cool but due to the nature of the item, it can spring up at the strangest locations on the track, giving racers little to no chance of avoiding it, while making the track look absolutely ridiculous in the process. I had one instance where I was going through a loop only to be met with a wall of rocks right at the bottom. This admittedly made me laugh pretty hard but I had absolutely no way of reacting to it.
I’m also a bit confused by how items work in the game. With 150+ races under my belt at the time of writing this review, I still haven’t used all of them. That column one, in particular, is still really confusing to me since I’ve never had the chance to use it to see how it works myself. I’d say that the heavier characters are the ones I opt for least, so I can only assume it’s available to them, but still, it feels incredibly strange that I haven’t had the satisfaction of forcing my rivals into a complete wall.
Tracks themselves are an immeasurable part of any kart racer. Thankfully, that keen eye for design is applied in a large variety of the 21 tracks available at launch. There are a couple of outliers that can feel a bit samey in the later parts of the game. Specifically, the three tracks that are based on Sonic casino stages and three based on Eggman’s fortress. It’s easy for me to look past this though as there’s really so much going on with every track. Dynamic visuals and colors pop as you move at high speeds through every single one. I wanted to occasionally stop and examine each of them for myself. There are also some fantastic standouts that give even the best Mario Kart courses a run for their money.
These tracks are accompanied by a stellar soundtrack that’s ever present throughout the entire game. I’d say that each song lacks the cheesiness fans might expect from the Sonic Adventure era, but honestly, this loss is a good thing in this regard as it gives this game an identity of its own as Sonic and friends have begun moving onto bigger and much better games. Sonic Mania had a more retro-inspired sound that I really dug, but Team Sonic Racing moves things along with a soundtrack that’s modern, upbeat, and just absolutely wonderful to listen to.
Team Sonic Racing offers a decent amount of content outside of its Adventure Mode. Players will be able to jump into Grand Prix races by themselves or with up to four friends. It’s worth mentioning that the framerate on PS4 Pro took a considerable hit with four players, whereas playing alone provided a far superior experience in that regard. There are also Time Trials to take on, and while I’ve never been a huge fan of them myself, it’s a nice distraction. Finally, there’s the online mode which offers all the bells and whistles you’d expect in a modern game with online functionality. If this is where you end up spending most of your time, there’s a ranking system that you can try climbing.
Customization is also a big part of Team Sonic Racing. All of the currency you collect from challenges and races will be used to buy little capsules that give you random drops. These do give the illusion of loot boxes but it’s important to note that they’re not. In fact, they’re actually very easy to acquire. Customization goes a step further than the competition as you can really change the overall visuals of your cars along with the stats. Additionally, there’s a wide variety of color schemes to collect as well as sounds that can adjust your horn noise.
When you’re not getting car parts, sounds, or colors, you can get special attachments that can increase your chances of getting specific items throughout a race. These are one-time-use attachments that must be applied before a race. Ultimately, customization is a bit more of a process in Team Sonic Racing and that’s not my cup of tea, personally. I’m just more akin to the fast snappy nature of something like Mario Kart 8’s customization, and not super interested in adjusting all the other additions. However, I’m sure many others will like it.
Team Sonic Racing is one of Sonic’s best spinoff games to date. For the handful of problems I had with the game, I found I was easily able to overlook them because of the pure fun I had with the game. Team Sonic Racing is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for your next kart racing craze. Sonic fans can finally throw their copies of Sonic R in the firepits where they belong.