Watch out Mario!
Fun Fact: While Mario Kart may arguably be the most popular, it is not the first kart racer. That honor goes to Power Drift, an arcade racer Sega released in 1988 and available on Amiga, Atari, and even Dreamcast. For the non-Nintendo crowd, Crash Team Racing was the goto kart game (which is also making a return nearly 14 years later). Sonic was just that blue hedgehog (so disappointed as a child when I figured out hedgehogs are not fast – not even remotely) who collected coins on loops and played pinball with his body.
Sonic is no stranger to the racing game though. Prior to Sonic Team Racing, Sonic starred in not one but two racers: 2010s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and 2012s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. This year’s game also happens to be brought to us by Sumo Digital.
Similar to Mario Kart games, Team Sonic pulls characters from the Sonic “universe” and pits them in kart races on tracks that will make you say, “I remember this level in Sonic (the Hedgehog – circa Genesis days).” Kart racing has always had a simple formula: race around a relatively short track conveniently providing plenty of curves for those sweet, sweet power slides, all the while littering said track with coins to pick-up and power-ups to help defeat your foes. Team Sonic Racing does most of this extremely well. Driving feels really good – the controls are responsive and intuitive. Maybe it is my long and storied “career” of kart racing but drifting just feels natural and easy to pull off. The coins are almost lined up in a way that screams, “start drifting here.” While racing, you do get a sense of your speed (it is Sonic after all) but not to the point where you feel like you have no control.
Then, there are the power-ups. Like those others games, they appear periodically; lined up across the track, impossible to miss their presence but possible to miss getting if you are driving Miss Daisy (the worst feeling when another racer sneaks in at the last second to grab that exact one you are aiming to grab). The problem with the power-ups lies in what they do. Their appearance gives no real clues. Once used, all makes sense though: rockets, speed boost, laser beam attack, invisibility, auto drive, etc. They are represented by different colored wisps but have no clear indication of their purpose. You could always trade them away but more on that shortly. Like other racers, the power-ups are completely random but your place in the race does affect what you get – speed boosts are more commonplace for the karts in the rear and not the pack leaders.
The team aspect is really what sets apart Team Sonic Racing from other racers. All races, whether you play online or offline, with friends or without them, places you in teams of 3 racers. This serves multiple functions. First and foremost, race winners are determined not only by actual placing but by total team points. The higher the placing, the more points you earn. The catch is that those points are totaled among you and your two teammates. You can place first and still lose if your teammates place too low. You could also place second but win the race because your teammates beat out the team of the first place racer.
Team play also has its place during the race. There are two types of speed boosts that can occur when you work as a team. The first one is a slingshot boost which is the more common of the two boosts as it will automatically happen and only requires the player to activate the boost. The teammate that is in the lead will leave a yellow trail behind them. Any teammate that enters the trail or “slipstream” will start building up a meter. All the other racers need to do is exit the stream to get an instant boost, its power determined by the amount of time in the trail. The other type of boost is a skimboost and requires a little more thinking to utilize properly. Whenever you pass a slower teammate, whether they spun out offroad or got hit by a rocket or another drive, you can give them a little pick-me-up by “skimming” right next to them. This will give them enough speed to just get back in the race. Crafty drivers will use the slingshot boost to get ahead and “skim” past that teammate to give them a quick boost. The third team function players can use is the swapping of power-ups between teammates. Whenever you grab a power-up, instead of using it, players can press circle and offer it to a teammate. The same can be done when you do not have a power-up. By pressing circle, you will request a power-up.
All of these team abilities will fill your Team Ultimate ability. When activated, the entire team is granted brief invincibility and extra speed. When playing with actual people, the share feature can even be abused by constantly swapping items back and forth.
Teams are not the only cool features players get to play around with in this game. Fancy upgrading your racers? As you race, credits are earned which in turn can be used to buy Mod Pods. These pods contain performance parts as well as cosmetic parts and also, Boost Boxes. The performance parts increase each car’s speed, boost, handling and defense but they are specific to the racers. A Sonic part will not work with a Tails car and a Tails part will not work on a Knuckles car. The cosmetic parts serve to “dress up” your vehicle but have no affect on gameplay. If you plan on playing on harder difficulties or going for the Platinum Trophy, performance upgrades are a must. The Boost Boxes I previously mention act as pre-race bonuses and vary from increasing the rate your ultimate meter fills to having a chance of a power-up containing three of an item as opposed to the standard one.
Rings! How can I forget about rings in a Sonic game? Collecting rings in a race will add to your point total at the end of the race but they also give a minor speed boost the more you collect. If you crash or are crashed into, you lose your rings – just like when Sonic hit spikes in Green Hill Zone Act 1.
Players have the opportunity to race in several game modes as three different classes of characters. Adventure mode serves as the game’s story mode. Story mode in a racer? Weird, right? There are cut scenes between each of the races which can be skipped as you please to get right to the action. Each chapter has single races, grand prix races (4 races in total) and challenge events like drifting for points or collecting the most coins. Events will have bonuses for completing a certain task and they generally reward a key or go towards the three stars that can be earned. Other modes of play include online multiplayer and local multiplayer where you can create custom events choosing track, difficulty, total racers, etc. Players have the choice of twelve characters separated by three classes: speed, technique and power. Speed characters are the fastest at the expense of handling and defense but gain a special ability that can grant a temporary shield. Technique drivers can drive over terrain that would otherwise slow down the other racers and power drivers can take more of a beating before spinning out.
Team Sonic Racing may just seem like another kart racer in a crowded field. The new team features really set this game apart. I typically play games like this for a few hours and then get bored with them. Like most games, racers are repetitive in nature. Sure, the track changes but a track can only go so far. There is always that part of me that just wants to win (actually finish first) every race but knowing how the team points work, it is a nice relief finishing second but winning and moving on instead of getting burnt out on each race until I win. The ability to switch to a different class of racers adds a nice change of pace when tackling different events. I rarely ever buy games on multiple systems (cross-buy obviously is not included in this). Team Sonic Racing is one of the few games I have given serious thought of purchasing on my Switch. I just simply enjoy playing this game. Available now digitally and in stores for $39.99, this definitely should be on your radar.
I tell Dad jokes much to my wife’s chagrin. Sometimes, I write movie reviews. I love all video games. I am really bad at fighting games. I co-host Nerds Gone Platinum every Tuesday night at 9PM EST at http://www.youtube.com/nerdsgoneplatinum. You can e-mail the show at email@example.com, tweet us at NG_Platinum or call into the show at (929) 333-5762. Check out our instagram page at http://www.instagram.com/nerdsgoneplatinum and join our Discord channel at https://discord.gg/UXYfVtE. I can be found on PSN, Twitter and Instagram at Gimpyjayy and emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.