Gotta go fast… in a car. Yes, Sonic and friends race around the track in Team Sonic Racing. Sonic games always work best when the blue hedgehog is moving, and while I’m sad to see Sonic restricted to a car, solid racing mechanics hold up a mediocre story and a questionable unlock model in Team Sonic Racing.
The theme of the game is teamwork. In Team Sonic Racing, each character is accompanied by their corresponding team (Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails, for instance) where you all work together to get first place in a race. If you don’t place first, that’s ok; you can still win if one of your other team members crosses the finish line. The team mechanic doesn’t stop there, when you pick up an item, you can choose to offer it to another one of your team members, and vice-versa. Fall behind? Follow your teammate and earn some boost to slingshot your way to the front. Every team interaction you perform builds an Ultimate Meter up that makes you and your team invincible for a short amount of time, and can be the difference between winning and losing.
I loved the racing and the team mechanic. I can’t help but compare any kart racer to Mario Kart, so it’s awesome to see Sonic find a way to best his rival. Developers Sumo Digital made the teamwork such an integral part of the racing, that it feels natural and a necessity to win a race. I loved being able to offer an unwanted item to my friends, instead of blindly using it, and when I kept missing item boxes, asking for one almost always resulted in me getting one, sometimes improved as well. I never lost a race because of faulty controls, and it was easy to learn the physics for a drift. I’ve played plenty of kart racers that struggle with this most basic part of the game, and Team Sonic Racing executes it like a dream.
Characters in Team Sonic Racing fall into one of three classes of speed, technique, or power. The classes each have their own ability, such as power characters being able to plow through obstacles without losing speed. Once you learn each course, you can switch to a character that is better suited for the level, but there’s no need to think too deep about this, every character can easily score you a W. This gives your choice of a racer a bit more depth than choosing your favorite character, and I appreciated being able to try new classes and experiment with new routes. I just wish there would have been more character choices, especially since Sumo Digital made a Sonic Racing title that featured Sega characters just a few years ago.
The courses you’ll be racing through are inspired by a variety of fan-favorite locals from previous games. Drifting through the Lost Palace or boosting through Casino Park made each location feel unique and special. Each course is highly detailed, easy to navigate, and feature shortcuts to find. Twenty-one tracks are featured, and each track has a mirrored option as well. I rarely grew bored of the tracks, that is until I got to the final chapter of the story, which features designs inspired by Eggman’s ship. It’s not that the tracks are bad, they’re just not as colorful or interesting.
Speaking of the story, Team Sonic Racing features one that let’s player get accustomed to the controls and mechanics, as well as features new types of races to experience. Sonic and his friends are invited by the mysterious Dodon Pa to race against one another. Along the way, more of Sonic’s friends join the racing including Shadow, Rogue, Big the Cat, and Silver. Of course, no Sonic game is complete without an appearance from the dastardly Eggman.
While I appreciate the fact that there is a story mode, unfortunately, it isn’t anything to sing praises about. In fact, it’s a pretty simple affair and feels focused towards kids rather than any Sonic fan. Certain characters, such as Sonic and Shadow, seem more interested in racing rather than finding out what is going on. If Big the Cat turns out to be one of the smartest characters, you know you’ve got a problem. The voice acting is cheesy and the cutscenes are static images with dialogue boxes in front. Worse yet, it almost feels as though Sumo Digital recognizes how bad the story is. When picking a mission, there are two buttons that confirm which race you are choosing, X and Square. For some reason, the Square button is the one that starts the story “cutscene.” For an entire chapter, I wasn’t paying attention and missed a large chunk of what was going on because of this. When the story was playing out though, again it’s predictable and doesn’t have any stakes in action, I actually grew bored of it.
Of course, I was fine with zoning out on the story because I was enjoying the racing so much, though when you play on medium difficulty, the game is shockingly easy. The only challenge I had on this difficulty was during the final race, and even then I cruised to the finish line well ahead of the competition (and my team) during the final lap. There is a hard mode option that ups the challenge and gives you a multiplier for your end score. At the end of each race, you are scored on your performance, which earns you race credits to buy new equipment for your kart.
Well, it really earns you the ability to buy a random item from the store, known as Mod Pods. One of the most frustrating aspects of Team Sonic Racing is the progression for customizing karts. It’s all random. Worse yet, you can end up buying a one-time boost to use during a race. Each kart can be customized with new bodies, engines, tires, paint jobs, horns, and vinyls. Different parts change the stats of your kart, so if you feel like you’re falling behind or take damage too easily, you can make the necessary changes.
But like I said, the progression at which you earn them can be frustrating. I choose Sonic throughout the campaign, and after spending a good chunk of my race credits, I’m glad I did. After about 10 or 15 purchases, I didn’t unlock anything for Knuckles or Tails, and only a few items for any other character like Vector or Silver. It wasn’t until I went on a huge spending spree, after I finished the campaign, did I unlock anything for a majority of the characters. I much rather prefer being able to just buy or unlock new kart options in a more traditional sense. Progression feels ripped straight out of a gacha game.
In addition to the single-player content, there is multiplayer, both off and online. Online play has been mostly smooth, I haven’t had any disconnections and only a few stutters here and there. The biggest problem I’ve run into is that certain modes or parameters, such as casual play, lead to empty lobbies. Hopefully, this doesn’t become an issue further down the road. If you don’t want to race as a team, there is a single driver option, though I didn’t enjoy this mode as much. In between matches, you can change your character and vote on the next race. If you play a casual race, instead of a ranked match, there are options such as a boosted race or King of the Hill, that help change the variety up.
I probably seem more down on Team Sonic Racing than I actually am. I enjoyed the core racing, the powers were fun to use, and the team mechanic helps distinguish this kart racer from the rest of the pack. It’s just unfortunate that a bad story and a frustratingly random kart store hold Team Sonic Racing from getting a victory lap.