Team Sonic Racing Review: Really, You Gotta Go Fast
Both of Sumo Digital's previous Sonic the Hedgehog kart racers are among my favorite racing games, particularly Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. My qualms with both titles have always been minimal, so I had high hopes for the new Team Sonic Racing. Sumo treats Sonic well.
Team Sonic Racing is a far cry from those first two Sonic racing games, and probably in just the way the series needed. It casts off its traditional kart racer roots, tosses tight turns to the wayside, and screams "GOTTA GO FAST" because the name of the game here is pure speed.
In a manner more fitting the Sonic series than traditional kart racers, Team Sonic Racing's whole focus is on speed. The tracks are wide, the driving is loose, and the speeds, once you know what you're doing and your way around the tracks, are about on par with Wipeout HD. Just without the tilting and dealing with antigravity.
This change isn't the easiest to swallow, though. If you've played both of Sumo's previous Sonic racing titles, you may come into Team Sonic Racing expecting a more traditional experience. I know I did, and it took a little while to accept that this was a new, different game.
Transformed went its own way with the airplane and boat segments; where else was the series to go if each game was to be unique? How about making it feel like you're playing 3D Sonic... but you're actually racing?
That's exactly what Team Racing Sonic feels like.
I appreciate you, too, game.
Everybody Super Sonic Racing!
Anyone who played Transformed can agree that S rank is pretty dang fast, but even normal mode in Team can get faster than that in a split second with a lucky boost of one form or another.
Part of what pushes this sense of speed is this iteration's new focus on teamplay, which does a lot more than give your younger sibling a chance to win.
Team racing is the main focus in Team Sonic Racing. A team consists of three racers — in campaign mode, all players must be on the same canonical team, in local play mode it can be any combination or even a non-team race.
Team racing itself is handled in a tactful and creative way.
While racing, those behind others in their team can follow the trail of one of their teammates ahead of them. Following the trail is an instant boost of speed, and it charges a special boost called a Slingshot that can and will be stacked on top of every other source of speed at a given time.
The trail system is a huge boon compared to most kart racers' hidden and innate rubberbanding. In this, it's up to the skill and judgment of the driver (with a little help from a yellow line) to make their way back up.
The trail isn't the only unique feature to the game's team system. Teammates can also pass items to one another, which may transform mid-toss to either have more charges or turn into another item completely. If you're in first and don't feel like tossing out more cubes, just pass your item to your teammates.
Passing items is done with a single button press with a dialogue box at the top of a player's view to let them know they can receive an item from a teammate. It sounds complicated, but it's actually easy as pie and doesn't impede the racing even one bit.
Using items — which are actually Wisps from Sonic Colors — doesn't feel as impactful as in most kart racers. Perhaps it's because of the item tossing system or perhaps because it's so Wipeout-like, but using them in most situations just isn't satisfying. Wisps are more Team Ultimate fodder than anything else.
Performing team actions like riding on a teammate's trail to get Slingshot boosts and tossing items back and forth charges up your Team Ultimate meter, meaning it's in all three of your interests' to Slingshot and pass items around as often as possible. The Team Ultimate itself can be done by all three in a team at once for a longer ult, or it can be done individually.
Unfortunately, Ultimates still aren't as unique as they were in the first Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (I miss you, Chu Chu Rocket cat), but they get the job done. You'll go faster than you can deal with, and at times it may not be in your best interest for all three of you to use it at the same time. Making your teammates listen to the Chao theme when you ult is priceless, though.
Throughout all of this, your teammates and rival racers are running their mouths nearly incessantly. Everyone has something to say so often it all just sort of blends together. The English VAs are the same ones from Sonic Boom, and there's a variety of audio language choices.
Campaign and Unlocks
You may remember how unlocks were handled in the last two Sonic racing games from Sumo. In Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, you purchased new songs, tracks, and characters using the currency you obtained racing. In Transformed, you unlocked these things via challenges in the campaign.
In Team Sonic Racing, you obtain currency from each race and use them at the Mod Pod, a gacha machine. Ten Credits and you get one pod, which can be anything from a vehicle part, paint, or decal, to power-ups you can apply before a race at character select.
I'm not a big fan of the Mod Pod system, but the customization system it comes with is quite nice.
You can choose a paint set to decorate vehicles with, as well as the sort of material certain parts of the vehicle are made of and which decal you would like. This doesn't have any bearing on your performance in-game, but you can pull off a surprising amount of customization within this system.
We got sprawling stat-modifying mods to alter vehicle stats in Transformed, but in Team, we can change parts on three sections of each vehicle. The stat changes are significant and the system is quite flexible, giving you more control over your favorite character's stats than in Team's predecessors. AKA there's nothing like speed-modded Ages to slap the time trial leaderboards stupid as seen in Transformed.
If there was a way this series needed to go, this is it. There is no other Sonic the Hedgehog racing game that meets this level of speed, that gives you this feeling of freedom. I didn't even touch on the three character types; it's notable since Technique and Power characters have totally different routes open to them. The character you play as has a bigger impact on your racing than ever.
As my husband says, Team Sonic Racing is basically podracing with Sonic characters. It's true. It works wonderfully.
It took a few hours for me to accept that this was the successor to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed because I've been playing that game on and off for so many years, but I've come to accept this is the direction Team Sonic Racing needed to go to remain fresh and relevant.
It's an absolute joy to play, and the team racing aspect is so cleverly implemented you just sink into it and be one with the team. There's no other racing title I can compare that aspect to.
- Basically like playing a 3D Sonic game, but you're racing! The closest we're going to get to a good 3D Sonic in a long time, probably
- The team racing mechanics are intuitive, unintrusive, and most importantly are incredibly fun
- A fair amount of vehicle customization
- Seriously, you go crazy fast
- It seems every track has side or hidden routes, they're fun to find and rewarding to master
- Said busy tracks can cause some slowdown on PS4 in specific areas, and it's very noticeable
- The music is mostly a big "Meh"
Team Sonic Racing is different from its predecessors, but this is a fresh evolution of the series that surprises and exhilarates in a brand new way. Sonic has seen a lot of changes over the years, and this is one of the best yet whether you just want a new kart racer or are in need of a 3D Sonic title because it's pretty dang close.
[Note: A copy of Team Sonic Racing was provided by Sumo Digital for the purpose of this review.]