Team Sonic Racing
For over 25 years, Sonic the Hedgehog has been featured in racing games – and now the core Sonic crew is back with their own dedicated kart racer for the first time since Sonic Drift 2 on the Game Gear. Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing gave kart racing fans the first true competition since the original Crash Team Racing nearly 20 years ago. With a diverse roster across many Sega franchises and even some guest characters, it showed that a new challenger was in the mix. Its sequel refined things and added in transformations to both the tracks and the vehicles to keep every lap interesting. Now, things have shifted back to being a pure kart racer – but one that still manages to do things differently.
The team structure is somewhat similar to what was seen in OnRush in 2018, only far more organized. You’re given two clear teammates with a graphic on the top left of the HUD showing your allies and enemies alongside overall track position. As long as one person is doing very well, the team can excel. If anyone is falling behind, you have a wide variety of ways to help one another out. Not only can you just throw out words of encouragement, but you can also donate an item box to an ally in need. The biggest help you’ll get from an ally is probably the slipstream boost that also lets you slingshot past them.
Many games have a slipstream component where you’ll race behind someone to gain some ground on them thanks to them absorbing all of the wind and you being able to catch up as a result. Now, you not only have regular slipstreaming against rivals, but can also get a boost whenever you need it by following the slipstream trail left by an enemy. It’s a bit like a sim racer giving you a racing line, only purely focused on getting you ahead in the race. It makes this a very user-friendly game and allows even newcomers to come in right away and do well.
The core game feels a lot like the Sega All-Stars games, but with a bit more refinement in the core controls. Drifting with the left trigger feels pretty natural and the end result makes this feel a bit like Outrun 2. They’re easy to get into and makes this feel a bit like Mario Kart 8 as well, but with a bit more maneuverability. Being able to thread the needle between two rival racers is awesome, and if you’re really lucky, you will be able to not only go between two rivals, but also get into a slipstream boost as well. Beyond then getting better positioning on the track, you will be able to thrust yourself ahead of others.
Team Sonic Racing’s roster is split up into three core styles – technique, power, and speed. Speed-type characters don’t accelerate as quickly nor do they take damage well, but they’re quick around the track. Power-type characters can absorb a blow or two and bully their way around the track at the expense of core control. Technique-type characters have a good blend of power and speed while also giving you the best control on the track – so you can always go where you want to. Generally speaking, I found the technique-type to be the best overall. Speed works pretty well too, but the handling issues got in the way a bit when you also couldn’t take much damage before getting slowed up a ton.
As a comparison to Transformed, TSR does suffer a bit from “only” having karts. It feels like it’s a bit behind the times compared to Transformed and Mario Kart 8 by only having kart races. However, because it focuses in on that one thing and does it quite well, it’s hard to really knock it. On the game’s own merits, it’s fantastic and a top-shelf entry in the genre. The only downside is that other games do exist that do more and do things a bit better overall.
One important thing to consider with TSR is the team aspect making it a safer bet to stick with kart racing only – at least for the first entry, to ensure that things play smoothly. Having karts, planes, and then watercraft variants alongside a team-based aspect would be a bit unruly to start things off. Because the team-centric nature of things is so ingrained in the game’s core, it does make sense to ground it to kart racing and ensure that part is done well – and that job was accomplished here.
Visually, Team Sonic Racing looks fantastic – with a plethora of details adorning the vehicles, drivers, and environments alike. The exaggerated art style fits in with not only the genre norm, but also the Sonic series. There have certainly been some massive redesigns to the characters over the years, but the looks shown off here are exactly what the character should look like when you think about them – and they’re pretty expressive with their voice work too. Karts have a color scheme that fits the characters and also usually stands in some kind of contrast to the tracks, which is a great way to prevent tracks and vehicles from blending together. Tracks themselves have a lot of impressive lighting and reflection effects alongside a lot of detail in the backgrounds that helps make them all seem like lived-in areas.
Musically, Team Sonic Racing has a familiar mix of rock and easy-listening that fits the earlier days of the series nicely along with some of the Dreamcast-era rock songs. While nothing is quite as catchy as Sonic Adventure 2’s city escape song, every song is at least good and enjoyable to listen to in the game. Some of the songs are also pretty hummable after the fact, which hasn’t been the case in quite some time – even including Sonic Mania.
Overall, Team Sonic Racing is hurt ever-so-slightly by not keeping the transformative aspects of the last Sonic racing game – but that is largely offset by the team-based nature of things. Unlike OnRush, the team-based side of things is pretty seamless and feels like a natural extension of the single character-centric style from before. The tracks are outstanding and feature a slew of new environments for a Sega-based racer, while the controls are great for the relative car class. The game plays like a dream, looks great, and sounds fantastic. No matter what platform you get it on, you’re in for a fun time.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Team Sonic Racing for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sega.