Team Sonic Racing is a game that I’ve been looking forward to. Of course it is, it’s a new Sonic title, right? When it comes to racing games, I’m pretty picky though. I tend not to like realism, as I’m not a huge fan of real-life racing. Arcade style games and titles that get a little over the top though, they’re more my thing. Team Sonic Racing definitely falls into that end of things.
In terms of gameplay, it’s really simple at its core. You have an accelerator, a drift button, a wisp button, and a transfer wisp button. When you’re airborne, you can also use the right stick to perform stunts. Oh, and there’s an ultimate move. With so few basic controls, the game is really easy to pick up and start playing without any issues. If anything, if you’re used to kart racers, it’ll all feel very familiar. Where things get interesting is the use of wisps and the team mechanics. I’ll start with the wisps because they’re broadly similar to the power-ups you get Mario Kart. Basically, they allow you to do things like getting a speed boost, launch a projectile at opponents, or set up obstacles. In total, there are fourteen that you can grab, with some appearing in boxes around the tracks, and others only being available using the transfer system. Once you get used to what each wisp does, it’s fairly easy to figure out whether to keep it or pass it to a teammate. On top of that, the designs are all very different, so it’s really easy to tell them apart.
The teamwork part of the game is what’s being used as the unique selling point, and it actually works really well. Basically, when you’re playing the story mode (Team Adventure), or a straight-up team race, the finishing positions for each member of your team matters. As such, keeping an eye on their positions in the race is a must, as simply sending them a power-up can alter the race drastically. Teammates can also help each other with speed boosts in two ways: If a team member spins out, skimming past them will cause them to speed up once they right themselves. The member of the team that’s furthest ahead will also leave a trail behind them, and if another member of the team rides through that for a few seconds, they can use it to slingshot themselves into another short boost.
All of these team-based actions, as well as successfully using wisps yourself, also builds up your ultimate bar. When you activate this, you essentially get the equivalent of the team up move in Sonic Forces. So basically, you all speed forward, completely invulnerable for a short period of time. If you happen to bash an enemy on the way, it adds a little time to the burst too. It’s a simple move, but again, if you use it at the right time, it can really change how you finish the race.
If it sounds like speed plays an important part here, that’s because it does. On top of the teamwork boosts and the wisp boosts, there are other ways to get quick bursts too. Speed pads on the course are an obvious one. If you land your mid-air stunts, you also get a burst, and the same thing happens if you drift for long enough. While there are multiple routes through each course, and timing your moves is important, make no mistake: this is a sprint. I like that focus on speed though, it feels like a throwback to what Sonic was always supposed to be; a high-speed hero.
There are more game modes than I expected. Team Adventure, Single Player races (including both team and solo), local multiplayer, and online multiplayer make up the core of these. There are challenge races too though, where you need to collect rings, skim past star posts, drive through barriers, or destroy egg pawns for points and time. Honestly, this was a nice surprise for me, as it makes things a little more in depth than I thought it would be. Throw in that there are twenty-one racetracks split over seven zones, fifteen playable characters, and the fact that all the vehicles can be customized, and there’s plenty to get to grips with. The best thing with that, in my eyes at least, is that the characters do actually play differently, and the customizations change their stats slightly. For example, I get on well with Tails and Blaze but struggle with Knuckles due to his lower handling rating. At the same time, because of his power character type, Knuckles has abilities that neither Tails (technical type) or Blaze (speed type) do.
In terms of visuals, the tracks themselves are really nice. Everything looks crisp, they’re all instantly recognizable from one another, and there are plenty of moving parts spread over the different routes you can take through each. The car designs are all very different and fit with their respective drivers well. The animation on the cars and the drivers is fairly simplistic in comparison to the rest of the game, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. They’re better than functional but aren’t likely to win any awards for best visuals.
Audio-wise, the music is excellent. From the Crush 40 theme to the different course songs, everything feels very Sonic. On top of that, the characters interact throughout the races, taunting each other and responding to different things that are happening. I think my favourite is when Tails uses a wisp on Shadow and says, “Who’s your daddy, Shadow?” That cracks me up every time.
While a lot of fun, the game does have some issues for me though. For one, the Team Adventure mode cutscenes are portrayed by still images and voice clips. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them, but I’m a fan of the fully animated cut scenes in the modern Sonic games, so it was a real shame not to see them here. On a similar note, three of the characters – Shadow, Rouge, and Blaze, sound slightly different than normal in the way their lines are delivered. What made that odd is that Blaze is the only one of the three using a different VA to normal. The game also suffers from a little slowdown when moving between racers on the character select screen, resulting in you having to wait a few seconds while the game cycles through the others that you highlighted. The same applies to loading up races, where the game takes a little longer than some much larger games (a point I’m attributing to there being twelve characters in each race). It’s not insurmountable, but it’s a shame when everything else works so well.
So, overall, how do I rate this? Well, simply put, the game is fun. The races themselves are exciting, the roster features plenty of fan favourites, and there’s enough variety to give the game some longevity. The flaws with the game aren’t enough to ruin the experience, and while it’s not as polished as Mario Kart 8, it does enough to differentiate itself and push beyond this. In all, it’s a solid game and a fun outing for the Blue Blur and company. 4 out of 5.