Shaun Munro reviews Team Sonic Racing…
It seems that kart racers are like buses; you wait ages for one, and then two come along at the same time, with both this Sonic-themed romp and the upcoming Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled releasing within a mere month of one another.
And while this fairly bare-bones effort can’t help but pale in comparison to genre heavyweight Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Team Sonic Racing is nevertheless a fundamentally decent outing, especially for its budget price tag.
The game is effectively a follow-up to developer Sumo Digital’s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and as is customary for most entries into the genre, the whiff of a Mario Kart clone is strong. However, this latest effort does present one genuinely neat wrinkle; co-operation is the key to success, namely ensuring that your two teammates place almost as well as you do.
This is governed by a nifty slingshot mechanic, which allows players to obtain a significant boost from a teammate’s slipstream, and similarly, struggling pals can steer into your own glowing trail in order to speed up.
And of course, there are weapons and power-ups to level the playing field, such as rockets, boosts and even the ability to place a series of infuriating stone pillars in the middle of the track. Again, the emphasis on strategic teamplay is considerable, as power-ups can be gifted to other racers calling for an assist, and you’re free to beg for some help yourself. Furthermore, spend enough time being selfless and you’ll be rewarded with an Ultimate move, which blesses all team members with an Earth-scorching boost.
As for the driving fundamentals, Team Sonic Racing also does a solid job; vehicles handle responsively, and drifting feels as fluid as you’d hope for. This is aided by some smart track design throughout, even if there is an undeniable saminess across the 21 courses; it doesn’t take long for them to start blurring together.
Talking of blurs, let’s get to the graphics. Visually, the game is a fairly mixed bag on the whole, especially when played in handheld mode (as I spent the bulk of my time with the game). Textures often look blocky and compressed – especially some of the boost animations – though thankfully the game’s sheer visual diversity helps to overcome this much of the time.
As for the music, it’s absolutely teeming with the cheeseball buttrock the Sonic franchise is known for, in what must surely be an act of self-awareness at this point. Let’s be honest, you’d miss it if it wasn’t there.
For those playing alone, the main appeal will surely be the Team Adventure mode, a “story driven” racing campaign that’s completely feckless as a narrative, but moderately enjoyable as a racer.
Due to what one must assume are budget constraints, Team Adventure’s story unfolds over a series of embarrasingly cheap slideshow-style dialogues between characters – the only saving grace being that these chit-chats are at least fully voiced. Yet given the howlingly naff, Flash-style graphics and text, you’ll miss nothing by skipping the plot entirely.
One suspects Sumo Digital themselves could sense the perfunctoriness, as the story “scenes” can only be viewed by pressing the “Y” button on a given level, a fact likely to be missed by most playing the game in handheld mode (where the prompt is tiny). I got half-way through Team Adventure before I even realised the option existed, and given its ultimately poor presentation, I felt like I missed absolutely nothing.
Team Adventure starts players off with Sonic, Tales and Knuckles and sees them working their way through seven chapters, each packed with races and challenge levels before culminating in a four-track Grand Prix.
If the repetition of the core racing here doesn’t really lend itself to lengthy solo play sessions, the potential monotony is thankfully broken up by the challenges, of which there are 15. These mini-games tend to task the player with drifting while performing a set task, such as collecting coins, passing through gates, destroying targets and so on.
Meanwhile, the overall goal of Team Adventure is to unlock customisables, characters and tracks, and though players cutting through the middle should be able to clock it in around four hours, hoovering up all the stars will take considerably longer. Given the fairly disinteresting nature of the rewards, though, most will surely struggle to find the motivation.
Accompanying the story mode is a garage where the player can customise performance and cosmetic parts (front, rear and wheels), using the game’s Mod Pod currency to upgrade their favoured rides. It’s simple enough, and will surely activate the OCD tendencies in some, but it’s largely charmless and feels like it was only added because Sumo Digital had a few free days before the game went gold.
And finally, we come to the multiplayer suite. Team Sonic Racing of course offers up the expected online mayhem, with up to 12 players able to race together across four teams. In my post-launch play tests, matchmaking proved a wildly mixed bag, and whenever the Switch’s infamous “communication error” abounded, the game would throw me back into the matchmaking search immediately with no option to cancel, requiring the game to be restarted.
When online play works, however, it appears as slick and breezy as CPU racing, even if the downtime between matches can be a tad on the sluggish side. The game also offers plenty of local options, both on the same Switch and through local connectivity, allowing up to four players to compete in exhibition races, a Grand Prix and Time Trials.
Above all else, there’s little denying that Sumo Digital could’ve done so much more with gameplay this fundamentally sound. The Adventure Mode has a lacklustre framework and the roster is pitiably malnourished, just for starters, but as a goofy party game sure to bring people together around the TV – or the Switch – Team Sonic Racing is an enjoyable meat-and-potatoes kart racer. It’s no Mario Kart 8, but was it ever going to be?
+ Solid fundamental racing mechanics.
+ Inventive team-based elements.
+ Decent track design.
– The “story” is embarrassingly bad.
– Rather light on content.
– Online multiplayer is hit-and-miss.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch (also available for PS4, Xbox One and PC).
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling.