Ironically, the Sonic The Hedgehog series is no stranger to the racing genre, particularly kart racing games, considering Sonic is mostly about running on your feet with lots of speed to that goal post in spectacular fashion. And yet somehow, kart racing games in the sonic universe fits in quite well. This is no exception to the brilliant Team Sonic Racing, following the previous entry in the kart racer genre Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed which manages to pull off another fun and exciting entry.
Created by British video game developer Sumo Digital who had made the previous two kart racer entries over the years; Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, which featured a mixture of characters from the Sonic series and characters from various Sega IP’s such as Jet Set Radio and Space Channel 5, Team Sonic Racing is purely set in the Sonic The Hedgehog universe. This makes some changes in terms of locations, the playable characters and gameplay, with the biggest and most obvious change being cooperative gameplay; team-based races.
Taking similar cues and an obvious influence from 2003’s Sonic Heroes team-based gameplay, Team Sonic Racing puts you in the race as a team of three up against other teams of three, structuring the players to help one another reach the finish line for victory instead of just simply racing for themselves with various team-based mechanics. The current leader in-front of the team leaves behind a yellow boost line that teammates can drive on to gain boosts in speed. Skimming past teammates that are in a spot of trouble can also help team members with a burst of speed and transferring items found on the course, helping one another with useful items such as bombs and rockets to attack enemies for revenge and tactics against other competitors to get back in the front of the line. Doing any of these mechanics with your teammates and working together helps slow fill in the ‘ultimate meter’ on the screen, which once filled allows a major burst of speed and can be extended slightly if hitting any of the competition in your way.
As you will be the only one controlling your character of choice before each race, your teammates are AI-controlled and luckily, they respond very well in races, which is a relief as this can make or break the game. If you’re falling behind or get hit by an opposing team member with an item, your AI-controlled teammates are quite reliable to help come to your aid quite frequently by skimming past for a boost or trading items with you when you request for one. But it’s not just about simply crossing that finish line to win. The end of each race tallies points depending on the places you and your members reach, as well as collecting rings on the field and team play bonuses. If you and your teammates manage to reach 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectably and help each other out frequently for example, you can easily rack up the most amount of points and defeat the competition. Teamwork is key and making sure you help out one another to snag plenty of points at the end of each race determines your overall place.
If the co-op feature isn’t for you, single player mode is available both online and locally as your normal standard kart racer. To be quite honest though, the game doesn’t feel anywhere near as satisfying without anyone to help you in races. It’s clear Sumo Digital had team-based mechanics in mind at the start of production and the single player mode feels like a last-minute addition. It’s not terrible, just nowhere close to as fun when it’s just you racing for victory on your own.
Aside from online multiplayer and local play, TSR offers an adventure mode as the main source of gameplay and plot for single players. It’s nothing special in terms of story and what you would expect from your average kart racer, standard stuff. Don’t expect anything deep. Adventure mode consists of 7 zones, each zone with multiple stages to complete while meeting certain requirements in order to continue ahead. Stages vary from simply winning a team race, winning the grand prix of 4 courses in total or completing mini-game challenges. I won’t lie, some of these challenges require a LOT out of you with precision and patience in your driving, such as collecting rings as consecutively as you can to earn points and help delay your time limit from ending or driving in between goal posts to earn points under a time limit.
I absolutely dislike the ring challenge as it almost seems you cannot make a single mistake in order to pass the requirement the game wants from you if you want to continue going ahead in story mode. All the challenges posed to you aren’t terribly thrilling but the ring challenge is a special kind of hell. I would have preferred these stages either be made much easier (especially for newcomers to kart racers) or ditch them altogether. They’re not the best compared to the fun grand prix courses or races.
There are a total of 15 playable characters to choose from and mostly feature familiar characters such as Sonic, Tails the Fox, Knuckles the Echidna, Amy Rose and more. While most are great, some fan-favourites such as Espio the Chameleon and Cream the Rabbit were missing entirely. This seems strange to me as Zavok from 2013’s Sonic Lost World was instead favoured as a playable character and it makes me question why. It’s no surprise to sonic fans and critics that Zavok is not a well-received character and is quite frankly, boring and not-all intimidating despite his appearance. There are plenty of others that could have filled his spot, along with the fact that some more characters to pick from would also have been appreciated. It’s not a massive big deal as there are still plenty of great sonic characters to choose from, it’s just a little odd.
Each character is also categorised in one of three type of classes; Speed, Power and Technique. Each class is unique and has an advantage and disadvantage. For example, Sonic is a speed type and this allows him to be faster than his fellow racers, however he has weaker defense and more likely to spin out for longer when hit by projectiles. Power type are able to smash through obstacles other players will simply spin out of control from is coming into contact with, however power types has slow acceleration and tight controls. Technique types allows driving over all kinds of terrain without losing any speed, making for neat shortcuts and cutting corners, however technique players lack in speed on the course. Luckily for you if you want to improve the stats of each characters’ vehicle and make them faster or sturdier, you earn credit at the end of each race (depending on how well you do in each race depends on how much you will receive) and can spend them on things called mod pods to earn better car parts, paint to recolour the car, new car horns, etc. It’s a neat little customisable feature that I had fun with and does make quite the difference in gameplay especially the further you get in adventure mode. Experimentation on customisation with the cars is highly advised.
The biggest praise I need to give this game, however, is the soundtrack… oh my goodness. WHAT A SOUNDTRACK! You can tell an awful lot of love and dedication went into making this one. Not only are there remixes of classic tunes from older sonic games like the aforementioned Sonic Heroes and also Sonic 3 and Sonic Unleashed, Team Sonic Racing is choc-full of new tunes that are positively brilliant and instantly hum-worthy. I’m astounded at the quality and high production value on a soundtrack for a simple kart racer game. As a long-time sonic fan, I can easily say TSR’s soundtrack easily earns a spot in being among the best in the franchise to date already. It’s that good.
Despite some questionable choices, Team Sonic Racing is a very solid game. Not just as a kart racer but also as a sonic game in this long-running series. I highly recommend this game for everyone to give a try, whether it be long-time sonic fans or casual players, all will find something great out of this.