Team Sonic Racing Review
Gotta go fast in this team-based arcade racer.
Boosted by its inventive new team-based system, Team Sonic Racing is a gorgeous arcade racer full of blistering races, mind-bending tracks, and new ideas that make cooperation fun. While the story of its Adventure mode certainly leaves plenty to be desired, the focus is exactly where it should be: the pure, unadulterated speed that makes Sonic so iconic. Sumo Digital’s follow-up to 2012’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed ditches the extra vehicles and transformations in favor of an innovative team dynamic.
Whether you’re drifting around corners to build up your boost meter, hitting pads as you rocket around tracks, or gliding through a teammate’s slipstream, Team Sonic Racing is constantly pushing the speed limit. Every race is a non-stop search for ways to go even faster and the entire team system is built around keeping your group traveling as a single fast-moving unit.
For example, all standard team-based races divide up to 12 racers into teams of three, and whoever is in the lead among team members will produce a yellow slipstream along the track that teammates can drive in to quickly build up boost, then slide out of to initiate a slingshot maneuver. It’s a clever and addictive system that incentivizes sticking together to boost one another. And when you pass a teammate, if they’re struggling from a hazard or just got hit by a rival, you’ll initiate a Skim Boost to send them rocketing back into the action; if they then pass you, that can create a new slipstream to boost you back in front of them, and so on. It’s a continuous leapfrog loop that really makes the team system feel like it matters rather than just being tacked on. Since your team can either win or lose based on total performance you have a strong incentive to stick together instead of just trying to win first place on your own. Plus, you can knock out rivals who are hounding teammates and transfer items back and forth within your team, which can really be a lifesaver if you’re in need or want to contribute excess items like boosts and rockets to help buddies catch up.
It’s a continuous leapfrog loop that really makes the team system feel like it matters.
The items themselves, though, aren’t quite as inspired as the team system. There isn’t much else going on that we haven’t seen in every game of this genre since Mario Kart – just the standard boost items, projectiles, homing projectiles, and traps like blocks or bombs. Being able to transfer items between teammates does help keep things a little more interesting – especially because if someone sends you something while you’re already carrying an item lets you carry both at once and carry one in reserve but it would’ve been nice to see at least one outside-the-box idea here.
All of these cooperative actions feed into your team’s Ultimate meter which, when activated, supercharges all three of you, and anyone that gets in the way gets trampled. It’s a cool effect that can turn the tide of a race, but everyone having the same exact Ultimate ability feels like a missed opportunity to give characters more individuality beyond mere stats advantages in Speed, Acceleration, Handling, or Boost.
I also discovered the Ultimate system can be exploited by simply swapping the exact same item back and forth all race long to rapidly build your meter. Doing this let me nearly trigger the Ultimate four times in a single race, whereas triggering it twice felt like a pretty good accomplishment with AI allies. That feels a bit cheap, but once everybody figures this out you’ll have to do it just to keep up.
This and Onrush are easily two of the most creative racing games I’ve seen in quite some time.
That hopefully patchable issue aside, Team Sonic Racing’s cooperative elements work great and feel unique, creating an almost game-within-a-game system of sticking together as a squad and driving with precision to maximize speed as much as possible. This and Onrush are easily two of the most creative racing games I’ve seen in quite some time.
All 15 characters are split into three types: Speed, Technique, and Power. There are minor differences in how each controls – for example, Technique characters are immune to the slowing effects of driving over rough terrain like water or dirt patches, and Power characters can break through some obstacles with no problem. To be honest, sticking with the Speed characters is what appealed to me the most since they all have higher top speeds at the cost of worse handling and defense, but it generally felt like the best strategy for winning anyway. I won most races in Adventure mode on Normal on my first try, but not always. Cranking it up to Hard made things a lot more interesting.
You can take each character’s car into the garage for a surprising amount of customization. You spend the points you earn from every race on a randomized loot machine that can dish out cosmetics like paint styles and vinyls, augment items to take into individual races (such as increased chance of finding triple boosts in item boxes,) or actual performance upgrade parts. All of that can be saved into specific presets for each character and be tweaked on the fly before each race. Even though I can’t race as Alex Kidd anymore, at least I can drive a fully upgraded golden Sonic car.
The quick pace and smoothly increasing difficulty curve are great.
Team Sonic Racing includes a full Adventure mode as well. Set on a map that’s similar to the overworld from Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, each stage has an extremely varied list of goals, such as finishing with your team in first or collecting 100 rings, that will award stars which you need to unlock later stages. Coin collections are frantic, drift challenges really test your precision, and there are even combat-focused modes that load you up with rockets. The quick pace and smoothly increasing difficulty curve are great, but the story segments that bookend each race are atrocious. Voice acting falls somewhere between laughable and painful to listen to as most voices sound more like parodies than actual characters. Luckily, you can skip all the cutscenes and just do the races.
And let’s be perfectly honest: you’re probably gonna skip all the cutscenes because no one cares about anybody other than the core group: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Eggman. All the others (looking at you, Amy and Big the Cat) have grating personalities, annoying voices, and are a pain to tolerate for more than a few seconds at a time.
This becomes a bigger problem in Adventure mode because you can’t mix and match your team. So if you really like racing as Amy because of her extremely balanced base stats, you’re forced to have Big the Cat with you in every Adventure mode race because they’re technically on the same team. That means listening to his voice make callouts during races and seeing his stupid face pop up frequently, which can get super annoying if some of these characters really get on your nerves as much as they do mine. It was in these moments that I missed the larger roster of Sega characters from Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
Each and every one of the 21 stages is expertly crafted with tight turns, dizzying loops, and stage-specific hazards.
The levels themselves are a real spectacle. Team Sonic Racing has, without a doubt, some of the best stages of any arcade racer, period. Each and every one of the 21 stages is expertly crafted with tight turns, dizzying loops, and stage-specific hazards. Dodging stacks of poker chips and pinballs across casino stages or drifting around sky bridges and loops through cascading hills is exhilarating and visually captivating to speed through. They’ve all got shortcuts and layers as well, helping to ensure that no two laps ever feel the same.
Most races are basic three-lap team races or Grand Prix matches of four team races, but there is lots of variety beyond that, too. Some bonus stages are all about collecting rings or drifting around totems and through gates, and sometimes you’re loaded up with rockets to shoot Eggman’s robots. These bonus levels reach almost mini-game levels of creativity and do a great job of injecting that signature Sonic flair into everything.
Multiplayer has all the options you’d expect, from custom friend lobbies to matchmaking and even ranked matches. Local multiplayer is just as flexible. Coordinating a team of three racers online is extremely satisfying to pull off, but introduces brand new challenges most arcade racing fans haven’t dealt with before in terms of communication, bringing much-needed shake-up to the genre as a whole.