Team Sonic Racing Review

Sonic the Road Hog
Developer: Sumo Digital Publisher: SEGA Platforms: PS4/Xbox One/Switch

The risk pays off as Sumo take their cult hit racing series in a new direction that looks great, sounds great and plays like a dream

Though it might seem from the outside that Mario Kart is the king of the arcade/kart racer genre, the portly plumber’s long-time rival has been quietly carving out his own place in the market. Sonic has had a toe in the racing scene since way back in 1994 with Sonic Drift for the Game Gear. It’s not until developer Sumo Digital got involved and crafted the excellent Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing though that the blue blur has shown he might have what it takes to knock Mario off the first place podium. Following that success, a sequel in the form of Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed came along and quickly made a case for being my favourite arcade racer of all time. Cue my excitement then, when Sumo came to the party once again with a new, current-gen title: Team Sonic Racing.

Kudos to the team for not simply retreading the same ground and making another Sonic racer in the same vein as their last two successes, but boy was I nervous when I first saw Team Sonic Racing’s new team-based mechanics. In my mind, Transformed’s racing action and track designs were damned near perfect and to replace them with the whole ‘on-trend’ team/class play thing was a mistake. Onrush tried to do that and who’s playing Onrush right now? Nobody. I’m always happy to be proven wrong about these things though, and after sinking serious time into Team Sonic Racing I can say that I was very wrong and I am now very happy. I should never have doubted that Sumo care about this franchise as much as its fans do and, more than any of us, know exactly how to take it to the next level every time.

nobody:                                                                                            
gamers: “wHy DoEs SoNiC nEeD a CaR iF hE iS sUpEr FaSt?!”

Though it might seem from the outside that Mario Kart is the king of the arcade/kart racer genre, the portly plumber’s long-time rival has been quietly carving out his own place in the market. Sonic has had a toe in the racing scene since way back in 1994 with Sonic Drift for the Game Gear. It’s not until developer Sumo Digital got involved and crafted the excellent Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing though that the blue blur has shown he might have what it takes to knock Mario off the first place podium. Following that success, a sequel in the form of Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed came along and quickly made a case for being my favourite arcade racer of all time. Cue my excitement then, when Sumo came to the party once again with a new, current-gen title: Team Sonic Racing.

Kudos to the team for not simply retreading the same ground and making another Sonic racer in the same vein as their last two successes, but boy was I nervous when I first saw Team Sonic Racing’s new team-based mechanics. In my mind, Transformed’s racing action and track designs were damned near perfect and to replace them with the whole ‘on-trend’ team/class play thing was a mistake. Onrush tried to do that and who’s playing Onrush right now? Nobody. I’m always happy to be proven wrong about these things though, and after sinking serious time into Team Sonic Racing I can say that I was very wrong and I am now very happy. I should never have doubted that Sumo care about this franchise as much as its fans do and, more than any of us, know exactly how to take it to the next level every time.

If this is what the casino is spending all of my money on then I’m here for it

If there’s one slightly disappointing aspect to the racing, it’s those power-ups. Say what you will about some of Mario Kart’s more questionable weapons, but they’re at least all memorable. The last two Sonic racer’s items weren’t iconic by any stretch, but they made sense. Team Sonic Racing’s ‘Wisps’ though, are unclear at best, confusing at worst. It mostly comes down to the fact that they’re all so visually (and sometimes even mechanically) similar that it’s easy to forget which is which until you get a good few hours under your belt. Even then some of them are just not fun to use. They do make up a fun part of the team strategy though, as you offer up items you don’t need to a friend or gently beg for an item as you tail a rival and get given exactly what you need to mess their ride right up. What’s there is still fun in the end, but some more memorable designs would have made a world of difference. The track designs on the other hand, are amazing. Probably some of, if not the best tracks in the genre. There’s not a single course in the mix that I don’t love to drive on.

Outside of the racing itself, Team Sonic Racing has a lot of other excellent stuff going on. There’s a full single player story mode with seven chapters of easily 100+ races and challenge events to sink your teeth into, for starters. The story itself is, well, pure tripe in the most ‘Sonic’ way imaginable, and the voice acting is horrendous, but what’s there is still a cut above what we normally get from these types of games. Making your way through the map screen, completing events and checking off goals is satisfying and provides a decent amount of content. The challenges make for a nice break from the team stuff too, offering similar diversions to the previous games like speeding through moving ‘traffic’ or going for huge drift combos. Seriously though, the static cutscenes and voiceovers are not even worth sitting through. It’s handy (and telling) then that the default option for starting a new race event is to skip the cutscenes altogether.

Ah, a two-tailed fox in its natural habitat: a superpowered racing car

There’s also a pretty thorough vehicle customisation system in place in Team Sonic Racing. As you make your way through the story mode, or take on single races either alone or in multiplayer, you’ll earn tokens that you can then spend on a Gacha-style machine for prizes. Yep, this game has random loot now too. The rate at which the better prizes like new vehicle parts or colour schemes come out though is fairly generous, and you’ll earn coins very quickly. They’re not monetised either, which is a huge relief. Once you’ve got some new parts you’ll be able to head into the game’s garage and apply them to each character’s vehicles. Parts are character-specific and alter a vehicle’s stats in the kinds of ways that you’d expect, and they’re all quite visually appealing. Colour schemes are universal though, and can be saved as presets to apply to whichever character you want, and both can be saved into loadouts to choose from right before a race. There’s a lot of fun to be had tinkering around with this stuff, and it’s very satisfying to pull a bunch of golden, legendary car parts in one session.

One massive, important improvement in Team Sonic Racing from the previous games is the bump up from a very shaky 20-30fps framerate to a butter-smooth 60fps this time around. It makes a world of difference in a game like this, and was always a sore spot that held the other games back from true greatness. The only concession made is that, similarly to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the framerate drops to a 30fps lock in four-player splitscreen mode. The game is still a real looker, too, with some gorgeous tracks and very nice looking vehicles. The music though is pure heaven for Sonic fans with the cheesy and eclectic mix of rock and electronic influences that you’ll be ashamed to forever have stuck in your brain. The whole package is garish and chaotic in the best way possible.

Final Thoughts

Team Sonic Racing is the franchise at its very best. Fast, fun racing with a great team-based twist, awesome track designs and presentation, and a healthy amount of content to get stuck into. It’s still early days so it’s hard to know if the online community will take off, and the power-ups are a tad disappointing, but the rest of the package is so strong that it hardly matters. All I’m saying is Mario had better keep a firm gaze on his rear views.

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X // Review code supplied by publisher

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Good

  • Tight racing action
  • Well-implemented team play
  • Fantastic tracks
  • Gorgeous, smooth visuals
  • Absolutely banging soundtrack

Bad

  • Weapons are a tad 'meh'
  • The voice acting...
9

Bloody Ripper

Kieron started gaming on the SEGA Master System, with Sonic the Hedgehog, Alex Kidd and Wonder Boy. The 20-odd years of his life since have not seen his love for platformers falter even slightly. A separate love affair, this time with JRPGs, developed soon after being introduced to Final Fantasy VIII (ie, the best in the series). Further romantic subplots soon blossomed with quirky Japanese games, the occasional flashy AAA action adventure, and an unhealthy number of indie gems. To say that Kieron lies at the center of a tangled, labyrinthine web of sexy video game love would be an understatement.
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