Kart racing is traditionally a solo sport. And quite a vicious one, too. Anthropomorphic apes and polar bears with opposable thumbs are often more than willing to maim others with explosive projectiles for that place on the podium. Mario, Sackboy, Crash: all nasty bastards. The people of Sega don’t want to champion the individual anymore; they believe the collective’s triumphs are far greater. Team Sonic Racing needs its Rouges, its Blazes, and its stupid large cats with unimaginative names, just as much as it needs its titular fast lad.
In Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Sega celebrated solo efforts, but Team Sonic Racing – as the name suggests – takes an approach more akin to motorsports like F1. Races pit four teams of three against one another, with each participant picking up a set number of points depending on their position once they’ve crossed the finish line. The tally of each trio is made up of its racers’ given points, and the team with the highest score wins. Your success in the totting-up phase is dependant on your togetherness during the three laps prior.
By interacting with your teammates during the race, you’ll be in a better position to finish first when all is said and done. The best-positioned driver in a team leaves a gold racing line behind them, and allies can use that to fling themselves forward by driving along it for a bit; you can give teammates a boost by skimming past them whilst overtaking; and unwanted power-ups can be magically handed off to your friends if you think they’re more in need of the homing missile you have in the bank. If you’re a friendly squad of colourful irritants you’ll be able to perform an Ultimate move that will propel you forward at blistering speed. The Fuck You move: you’ll obliterate anyone or anything in your path. This unity pushes Team Sonic Racing above your average kart racer. I always feel compelled to check where my two buddies are, and if they’re in need of help I’ll chuck some rockets or a few bombs their way. A simple, delightful departure from the selfish norm.
My first power-up was a blue box. I dropped it behind me, the VO guy shouted ‘CUBE!,’ and I knew I’d unleashed a six-sided solid of mass destruction. And then everyone breezed past it. His enthusiasm was the most exciting part of that whirlwind four seconds. Apart from a couple of pick-ups that embrace the silliness of it all – such as one that obscures the vision of others with huge musical notes – they’re all quite uninspired. And, like the speed boost that’s just a speed boost and the other speed boost that also shoots some fire out of your exhaust, they’re usually very similar. There are many aspects of these characters that could’ve been utilised for far cooler power-ups: Tails and his planes, Shadow and his firearms, Knuckles and his burrowing. Comparisons to what Mario Kart offers are only natural, so more pick-ups that pull on Sonic’s goofy bullshit would’ve been appreciated. Team Sonic Racing does differentiate itself from its biggest rival in the genre in how its different classes behave on the course, though.
There are three different racing types in each team: Speed, Technique, and Power. The speedy ones can defend themselves against projectiles, the technical types won’t suffer slowdown over rougher terrain, and the powerful units can plow through track barricades with ease. If you’re competent, your chosen racer type shouldn’t matter as much as is first made out; you can nab first on any of the courses, regardless of what type of kart you’re driving. Although, the difference between classes is noticeable, so you may have an easier time getting that gold with a specific type on a specific course. Cars are customisable too, so if you want the Goldie Lookin Chain-looking Vector (the most powerful of all Beats By Dre-wearing crocodiles) to be as nippy as Amy in her coupé convertible, you can fiddle about with the three fiddleaboutable parts of his vehicle to make it so. Buffing one stat, such as speed, might degrade your defence or acceleration, meaning vehicle alterations have a nice weight to them. All performance parts, as well as cosmetics, are acquired through loot boxes, which can be opened using the in-game currency that’s doled out at the end of races. It’s an unnecessary middleman system, but you can at least take solace in the fact that you’re never asked for your card details.
The narrative in the game’s single player Team Adventure mode isn’t only unnecessary; it’s absolutely dreadful. So, while the blue hedgehog and his pals are having a nice picnic, a mustachioed tanuki, in one of Kat Slater’s finest shawls, rocks up and invites them to battle it out in a series of races for… eh… some reason? Eggman comes in later. And then Silver feels a bit dodgy about it all. Big the Cat says some moronic things, if I remember correctly, and I’m positive I do. Conversations are painfully awkward, and occur in what appear to be quickly whipped-up Photoshops rather than in-game or pre-rendered cutscenes. Look, I can’t completely bash it, because you’re able to skip these woeful exchanges very easily, which is a wonderful mercy provided by developer Sumo Digital. Thanks, gang!
Don’t skip on the variety in Team Adventure, though. On top of the racing, there are plenty of timed sprints to break it up. These revolve around you getting as high a score as possible by shooting down targets or collecting rings before the timer runs out. These distractions provide some of Team Sonic Racing’s tastier single player challenges, especially in the earlier chapters. They’re not all winners: the ones where you must slalom you’re way around star posts are unforgiving to the point they feel unfair.
The tracks themselves contain the right amount of challenge, putting forth an array of obstacles for you to contend with, such as giant caterpillars, rolling rocks, and pipes that spew toxic goo. Y’know... Sonic stuff. And that’s in amongst all the gravity-defying loop-the-loops, divergent paths, and barrier-breaking bursts of speed. And joy. Sonic’s third kart racer doesn’t have the wealth of franchises to pull from, like his previous outing behind the wheel, making some courses look a tad samey in Team Sonic Racing. Still, Sumo Digital has still done a great job in making this feel oh so very Sonic, with oodles of lovely, vibrant, cartoonish joy.
The framerate issues you encounter when the action gets too manic for the game are also quite Sonic. It never hindered me to the point of frustration, but it happened enough to warrant a mention. Hopefully it’s addressed in an early patch, because Team Sonic Racing glistens when its running at full speed. Like the cars in the game, y’see. It has its faults – what Sonic game in the last 25 years doesn’t? – but the team-focussed spin on karting is a terrific new direction for the series.
Developer: Sumo Digital
Available on: PlayStation 4 [reviewed on], PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release date: May 21, 2019
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