Sonic is all about speed, so it makes good sense that we’ve seen the iconic blue speedster in two classic racing games in recent times. These titles have oozed with fan service, by including popular characters from SEGA’s extensive universe. Team Sonic Racing brings that mould to the current generation, but it’s missing the charm that made All-Stars and Transformed so beloved.
Time to team up
Unless you’re a fan of Sonic and his world, you’re going to be left feeling a little empty. Team Sonic Racing takes place exclusively in the Sonic universe. Sonic and his buddies, including Knuckles, Amy, Tails and a few characters you won’t really have taken note of until now, have received an invitation from an alien tanuki named Dodon Pa to take part in team races. In return, they’ll receive cars he’s built with advanced technologies. Though sceptical, Sonic and his various buddies agree and sign up to take part. Yes, Doctor Eggman plays a part. Yes, the story will make you cringe. Not just because a racing game doesn’t really need a story, but the dialogue is horrific. If you can make your way past the shocking writing, you’re already halfway to enjoying the game more.
As with previous games in the series, the focus is placed on the included Team Adventure mode. It’s where most of your single-player gaming will take place and is where the story will progress. It keeps to tradition with its world-like formula where your aim is to get to the exit of each zone. To do so you’ll require a certain number of stars, which are unlocked when completing races and challenges (ring collecting, drifting and more) with objectives within each one. Team Sonic Racing, as a racer, is not traditional at all. Whereas most other racing games will have you focus on your own race, here you’ll constantly be on the lookout for your teammates too. Teams are divided up into three racers per team, with a total of four teams that amounts to twelve players in total per race.
The ultimate team game
The idea is that you’ll be assisting your teammates to cross the finish line higher up the grid, as at the end of each race the point tally is accumulated based on each drivers finishing position. So, for example, if you come first in your race, but your two racing buddies are last and second last, you’ll still lose the race as a team. It’s the cause of a lot of frustration, as you’re only as good as those around you… and sometimes the AI can get real moronic. This is where good use of your power-ups, Wisps, come into play.
The similarities to Mario Kart 8 are scattered throughout the game.
Scattered around each track are canisters with a random Wisp inside it for you to fire at the opposition or defend yourself. These include speed boosts, rockets, homing missiles, earthquakes and more. Seeing that you’re a team player, you can offer your item to a team-mate in need. It’s also up to you to keep an eye on item offers coming your way and accepting them. Doing so won’t only aid your team in winning, but it also helps build the ultimate meter. Once filled and activating your team’s ultimate, all three of you will gain speed and invincibility. Hitting other opponents on your way to the front will increase the duration it lasts for, so approaching this with evil intentions has its reward.
When in front you’ll leave a trail behind your vehicle for your team to follow. Should you or your team remain on that line for long enough it’ll build three stages of a ‘sling-shot’ effect as soon as move alongside the trail. Work that well and your team will dominate events, as you’re constantly boosting each other. As with Mario Kart 8, collecting rings will gain you a slight, but permanent speed increase. If you’re struck by a weapon or hit an obstacle on the track, you’ll lose each and every ring. The similarities to Mario Kart 8 are scattered throughout the game.
As a single-player experience, the Team Adventure will last you around six hours
Sumo Digital must have taken a liking to what Nintendo did as tracks now defy gravity, some track obstacles (like a giant fire beast punching down with his fist on a split track, as we’ve seen with Bowser) and vehicle customisation all makes a showing. At the end of each race, you’ll earn credits that can be spent on Mod Pods, which are essentially loot boxes that work off in-game currency. In them, you’ll unlock vehicle parts that affect the handling, boost, acceleration, defence and top speed for each car, as well as different paint sets, horns and bonus items that can be applied before a race. These bonus items are crucial to win some events as it’ll provide you with improved weapons or abilities to gain you an advantage, such as faster drifting or immunity to slowdown track surfaces. My biggest problem is that these customisation improvements don’t seem to alter the car classes (speed, technique and power) as much as I’d hope. Heavier cars with a lower speed still move at a speed that will have you crossing the finish line first without too much fuss.
Green Hill Zone, Act 2.0
The tracks, whereof there are 21 in total, are also nothing to write home about. Featured in it you’ll find tracks with Sonic themes, but don’t expect House of the Dead, Jet Set Radio, Panzer Dragoon or Skies of Arcadia to make a showing. Instead, you’ll get to race around upgraded Sonic-themed tracks you’ve already played on before, along with new tracks that aren’t memorable at all. If you had to ask me which track I enjoyed most, I would not have a single circuit that stood out for me. The tracks are in no way terrible, but it’s just so unforgettable. To top it they’ve completely ignored HDR support, which is a shame, as there are some extremely bright and vivid coloured tracks that might have captured the various themes so much better.
As a single-player experience, the Team Adventure will last you around six hours, but where Team Sonic Racing speeds back into contention is with its multiplayer offering. There is support for up to four players with local split-screen that barely sees the frame rate dropping, which is essential for this type of racer. You’ll also find the online lobby filled with players, where 12 players are divided at random into four teams. You can take your local friends online with you, but each player requires their own PSN account to login. Signing your friends in as a guest won’t work, which is really silly for a quick game that’s perfect for ‘a quick go’.
It’s a bit of a step back for the series in terms of a single-player experience, as it’s been developed with groups of people in mind. If you can gather friends around your television or create a close group online, then this is going to run on your PS4 for months to come. But, if you’re expecting the thrill of a classic single player Sonic game you’re left with a spin dash into a pit of spikes.