Once one of the more prominent sub-genres in gaming, there aren’t too many Kart racers of import around anymore. Of course the big daddy of them all, Mario Kart is alive and kicking, and Crash Bandicoot’s set for an imminent kart-racing revival. The only other series that’s endured is the series of games featuring Sega’s blue blitz, Sonic. Naturally, it’s all a little silly; Sonic could probably outrun the vehicles he races in, but that’s the sort of thing that’s best ignored. For the most part, the Sonic and Sega racing games have been excellent, with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed standing as one of my favourite kart-racing games.
Sonic and his friends are back in a new kart racer that changes the dynamic considerably, turning everything into a team effort. Team Sonic Racing puts Sonic and pals back into souped-up vehicles around twisting, unfathomable tracks once more but here, individual performance isn’t the sole marker for success. It’s also a game that sees the nostalgic highs of the last game whittled away to a roster that includes only characters from Sonic’s universe. For me, that’s a misstep, because the stages themed around classic games from Sega’s library were one of the highlights from Sumo Digital’s last Sonic racer.
Thankfully, the core racing is solid. Drifting is key to turning around tight corners, and they’re rewarded with a necessary boost when you’ve drifted for long enough. You’ll still collect coins, skim around corners and fly over boost pads as you try to make your way through the course. It would be pretty standard stuff, if not for the unique team mechanics that make the game a little more interesting than it ought to be. Here, you’re racing in teams of three so your final position at the end of a race is determined by how well the other racers in your team have done. There are some interesting additions to make this team-based play a little more dynamic. For starters, the leader in your trio leaves behind a yellow trail. The other two members of the team can slipstream in this trail, gathering speed and eventually sling-shot past the leader. It’s a neat mechanic that means you never feel like there’s no way of catching up with the pack.
Team members can also transfer items between each other, offering them up or receiving transfers from teammates to help level the playing field. It makes the team racing feel like a co-ordinated affair, instead of a free-for-all. Lastly, there’s the Team Ultimate boost. By racing around the track, players build up their Ultimate meters. When the thing’s full, they’re able to use an extended boost that sends them hurtling around the track at breakneck speeds. If this is done in tandem with team members, the boost is extended – and it can often be the difference between winning and losing.
When playing the game alone, your team is filled in with AI, and it can become frustrating to rely on them to win. This is especially annoying when you’re trying to do a specific challenge that requires all three of you to have a podium finish. The whole game takes on a new dimension when you play it with two human beings in the same room though. It ends up being fast, frantic and fun – but it’s still missing the bit of magic that would turn it from a hood racer into a great one.
There’s a nice adventure mode that tries to give a narrative spin to the proceedings, explaining why Sonic, his friends and his rivals are all sitting in vehicles going around a track. Narratively, it’s a load of ignorable rubbish, but the increasing challenge and variety of race types as you work your way through the mode is welcome. It’s bolstered by standard local team-based multiplayer modes, along with an online racing option. As with many games of its ilk, these modes work best when you’re playing with people in relative proximity, as there’s a little too much latency introduced when trying to play with people on other continents. Unless you organise sessions, it does mean that the online multiplayer is a wash for those of us at the Southern tip of Africa.
An in-game currency lets you buy pods with randomised mods for cars, which I suppose helps with longevity if you’re a collector. I didn’t find them to add very much to the game beyond the aesthetic, though you can use mods to tune handling, boost and acceleration to your liking – if you get the right mods for the right cars, that is.
It’s hard not to feel disappointed by the lacklustre roster of racers though, with just 15 characters available. While the 21 available tracks offer a fair bit of variety, they’re sometimes a little too busy, jarring hodgepodges of light, colour and effects that are distracting enough to make them hard to navigate. I suppose much of my disappointment about the tracks and the roster itself is that by ditching the Sega bits, they’re not quite as inspired as they could be.
While the game’s undoubtedly fun, especially in short bursts, there’s nothing about it that’s making me – or my family – want to play this more than we already have. Considering we spent weeks playing All-Stars, I think it’s safe to say that things have gone backwards this time around.
Last Updated: June 3, 2019