Developer: Sumo Digital
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
No. of Players: up to 12 players
Release Date: May 21, 2019 (Worldwide)
Price: $39.99 USD
Back in 2008, Sega released a fun little game called Sega Superstars Tennis, the sequel to an obscure and mostly unrelated EyeToy game, it was an excellent tennis game and an even better Sega crossover. Little did fans know that this was only the beginning of a long partnership between Sega and the fine developers at Sumo Digital.
The follow-up to this game was Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, a fantastic kart racer that brought together the worlds of Sonic, Super Monkey Ball, ChuChu Rocket, and more. Later came Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, a sequel that blew the previous game out of the water – literally, as you could transform into a boat or plane to race across land, sea, or air.
After this, fans were sure that a third racing game was inevitable, but seven years passed with no word of a threequel. Instead, we were given Team Sonic Racing, a racer that looks and plays like the previous games but ditches the Sega fanservice for a Sonic-only focus and trades transforming vehicles for some seemingly gimmicky new mechanics.
Fans were skeptical of this new direction, and the game was even delayed six months from its original Winter 2018 release date in response to the lukewarm reception of early demos, but here we are with the final product. Does it manage to live up to the lofty expectations of a Sumo Digital-developed kart racer? Let’s blast through to the review with Sonic speed! (OK! Alright!)
In contrast to All-Stars Racing and Transformed, Team Sonic Racing actually has a story mode! That’s right, you get to follow a totally original story, with visual novel style cutscenes fully voice acted by the Sonic cast.
There are no fully animated cinematics here, unfortunately (there is a fantastic opening FMV that plays upon booting up the game in the other versions that’s been cut here due to Switch cartridge size limits, but you can always check it out on YouTube).
In TSR, Sonic and friends are contacted by a mysterious tanuki named Dodon Pa, who offers them the chance to race across numerous courses in slick vehicles designed by him. Whoever manages to win the tournament will get to keep their car as the prize. I’d like to say this is just the setup to something more interesting, but… it isn’t.
The “story” in this story mode basically consists of everyone repeatedly voicing their suspicions of Dodon Pa until an incredibly uninteresting reveal occurs near the end of the second-to-last chapter. It’s not riveting stuff, and if the story mode consisted solely of this plot I would be deeply disappointed.
Where this boring tale redeems itself is in the character interactions. I’ve long been disgruntled at the direction the writing in the Sonic series has gone, but Team Sonic Racing finally offers some enjoyable and entertaining dialogues between characters who haven’t really gotten much chance to speak to each other in recent games.
Silver ruins Sonic’s attempts at friendly trash talking by being too naive to understand his insults, Vector and Tails do some secret detective work much to Knuckles’ chagrin, and Amy does her best to stay as sane as you can be when your partners are a giant dim-witted cat and a robot who loves to spout exposition.
The only weak spot is the bizarre inclusion of Zavok, who has no reason to be working with Eggman given that he was literally enslaved by the doctor in Lost World, yet gladly serves as his willing lackey with no explanation.
Unfortunately, there is one unforgivable design decision in the story mode that makes it hard to enjoy these cutscenes. To watch the story sequence before playing a stage, you have to press Y. If you press A to select the stage, it will skip the cutscene entirely.
WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS? I get that there’s probably a sizeable contingent of players who will just want to get to the gameplay, but people who actually enjoy the voice acting and characters will surely skip the dialogue several times on accident, or worse – never even know it’s there!
If you’ve ever played Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, then you probably know exactly how this game feels to play. It’s a little more OutRun 2 than Mario Kart, with cars that have more weight to them, wide tracks designed for drifting around long curves, and plenty of opportunities to get big air and perform flips to nail that boost when you land.
These games have always been arcade racing at its finest, and Team Sonic Racing is no different. Well, it is different in one way. The first thing to know about Team Sonic Racing is that it’s not Mario Kart 8, it’s not Crash Team Racing, and thank the lord, it’s certainly not Nickelodeon Kart Racers. If you play this like a typical kart racer, you will lose. The secret is in the name – TEAM Sonic Racing.
You’re racing as a team of three, and if you don’t act like one, expect to see yourself come in first place only to lose the race overall as your teammates who you never helped limp their way into 9th and 11th. Some may see this forced camaraderie in a genre well known for its competitive nature as an instant turn off, but read on and you may just change your mind.
First off, you have the option of picking between three racer types. Fans of Sonic Riders will probably remember a similar system in that game, but it’s been much refined here. There are 15 characters in the roster (including a group of cute little Chao all riding together in a buggy, which is probably the greatest thing to ever exist in a kart racer).
The characters fall into the Speed, Technique, or Power categories with the Speed types having the highest top speed and can execute a Radial Burst when they boost, which can block attacks from behind. Technique types have great acceleration and handling, can attract rings from a distance, and can drive off-road without losing speed to take shortcuts the other characters can’t.
Whereas Power types have an excellent boost stat, can destroy obstacles on the course without spinning out, and take less damage from attacks. These racer types allow for some nice variety in races and let each teammate bring something different to the table. I found that Technique types were the most versatile and easy to use, but Speed and Power characters are no slouches either.
Once you’ve chosen your character type, there are three ways to help out your teammates in a race. First is the Slingshot, which functions similarly to a slipstream in other racing games. Whichever racer in your team is ahead of the others will always leave behind a yellow trail as they drive.
Follow it and you’ll get a slight speed boost, but you’ll also charge up a secondary boost just like when you drift. Exit the trail once your boost has reached full power to unleash the speed, then get back in the trail to do it again. It’s very exhilarating to pull off, and it works nicely as a constant way for the player in first to help out the others.
Keep a steady line and your teammates will have a much easier time getting those boosts. Next there’s the Skimboost, which lets one teammate give a slower one a burst of speed if they pass by. In practice, this is basically a way to get someone who’s been hit by an item back up to speed immediately.
Lastly there’s Item Transfer, which is such a genius idea that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before. Kart racing fans who often find themselves in first know of the boredom that comes with getting items you don’t really need. Oh boy, a shell. Oh boy, a banana.
Can’t wait to hold them behind me forever to block red shells. In TSR, you instead have the option of giving your items to your teammates who need them. Have no use for that Rocket Wisp in first? Pass it back to help your slower teammates, and it has a chance of becoming two or three rockets, or even a different item entirely.
These three mechanics in tandem mean that there’s almost always something you can be doing to improve your position or help others do the same. Doing all of these things will also fill a Team Ultimate meter, and once it’s full, you can unleash it to become invincible as you zoom past opponents and bust through any obstacles.
Activating the ultimate at the same time as your teammates and hitting enemy racers will make it last even longer. This move is basically the evolution of the All-Star move from the All-Stars Racing games, and it’s a much better mechanic. It’s not remotely as flashy or devastating as they were, but it feels fairer when you know everyone had to earn their comeback through skillful team play rather than being randomly gifted a win button.
Wisps (first introduced as power-ups in Sonic Colors) serve as the items in this game. Contrary to past appearances in games like Sonic Lost World and Sonic Forces where they felt somewhat tacked on, Team Sonic Racing feels like the role they were born for. Every kart racer has to have a few obligatory items – you need a boost, a projectile, something to drop behind you to get people off your tail, the works.
Coincidentally, there’s a preexisting Wisp that logically corresponds to nearly every kart racing trope you can think of. The Boost Wisp gives a burst of speed without needing to munch a mushroom. The Rocket Wisp fires an unguided orange rocket ahead of you, while the Eagle Wisp does much the same but with the ability to home in on foes. The Cube Wisp creates a hazardous cube, perfect for littering the course with.
There are 15 items in all, and they all feel fun to use. The way many of them function is almost identical to the way Mario Kart 8 items work, but there are a few wholly original ideas too, such as the Void Wisp which sucks in nearby rings and item boxes while slowing down opponents near you, or the Quake Wisp which creates numerous stone pillars in front of the player in first to trip them up.
This new balance between items and mechanics makes for a far more consistent experience than Sumo’s previous racer. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a blast, but the lackluster items mean that it’s easy for one person to get ahead and stay there forever, and a bad start can ensure you never make up for lost time.
With TSR’s powerful items that can actually keep a runaway first-place racer in check, it’s harder for one person to get so far ahead of the competition that the race is practically over before it started, and the team mechanic means that a player in the back always has a clear way to gain speed and make a comeback.
This brings us to what many have asked for: a solo racing mode. In this mode you race alone like a typical kart racer, the team mechanics are removed, and you cannot perform a Team Ultimate.
There’s nothing wrong with this mode, per se, but the gameplay feels a little hollow without the team mechanics. It’s like playing Mario Kart without items, or playing Sekiro without an inferiority complex. Still, it’s a fun mode all the same and the option to play alone is always there for those who reject their fellow man and embrace anarchy.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
Team Sonic Racing offers 21 tracks across seven level themes, nine of which have been taken from the previous All-Stars Racing games. The returning tracks from the first ASR have been given quite the visual overhaul. Seaside Hill has become notorious for its overuse in Sonic spin-offs since Heroes, but it’s never looked as good as it does here.
Ocean Ruin from Transformed looks a little better than its last-gen counterpart and has had its water sections removed, which arguably makes it more fun to play. The Final Fortress courses have also seen some great visual improvement. The real winners here however, are the remade Casino Park tracks, which look insanely good with their new coat of neon-infused paint.
But what of the 12 new tracks? They’re split into four themes: Planet Wisp from Sonic Colors, Rooftop Run from Sonic Unleashed, Sandopolis from Sonic & Knuckles, and Glacierland, an original ice and lava-themed area that includes nods to games like Sonic Advance and Sonic Forces.
These tracks may reuse assets within their individual level themes, but they manage to create some very original areas within each one. For example, Sandopolis includes a sunny daytime desert track in the form of Sand Road, only to then take you inside a spooky pyramid haunted by King Boom Boo from Sonic Adventure 2 for the Boo’s House course.
Rooftop Run’s Market Street is a pretty standard take on Spagonia that has you racing through the colorful streets (and yes, its rooftops), but Haunted Castle is instead set at night and has you driving in and about the city’s clock tower while avoiding hazardous slime and sentient suits of armor.
These courses are an absolute blast to race around, and will likely evoke memories of Mario Kart 8 with their many gravity-defying twists and turns. Expect to speed through loops, drive on the sides of walls, and even go completely upside down in tunnels. They also do a nice job of catering to all racer types.
Speed characters can have fun blasting along the track and Technique characters have plenty of spots to try and cut corners, but they both have their fair share of obstacles to avoid that Power characters can punch right through. A few returning courses from the past games that lacked enough of these gimmicks to take advantage of have even had some new elements added as a result.
You can play these courses in the obligatory Grand Prix cups, but you’ll likely spend the meat of your offline play in Team Adventure, the game’s story mode. Similar to the Career Mode in Transformed, you race in a series of events that range from straight races to ring-collecting challenges to missions where you have to destroy endless quantities of Eggpawns.
Transformed veterans will likely experience PTSD when they realize that the infamous Traffic Attack missions have also made a comeback, but the new nightmare for TSR players is sure to be the Daredevil missions that require you to drive next to star posts to get points. It’s far easier said than done.
In most of the stages, you’re given the option between Normal and Hard, with Expert difficulty unlocking upon completing Hard. There’s a ton of content here, so fans of offline play will definitely not go disappointed.
If you’re looking for multiplayer, you’ll find it here too of course. There’s local play for up to four players along with an online mode that offers Ranked and Casual options for both team and solo racing. Ranked has you entering standard races while Casual allows for more varied game types like King of the Hill and Vampire Races.
Online play is fun, but there are a few negative points. Finishing a race and getting into a new one takes quite some time, as the game slowly tallies up everyone’s points and makes you take part in a hilariously useless ripoff of Overwatch’s commendation system.
Giving someone kudos for doing the most healing or damage in Overwatch makes sense, doing the same because someone collected the most rings or hit the highest top speed in TSR is absurd. The lobbies can be a bit sparsely populated as well – I was always able to find someone online, and there have been times where I raced in packed rooms, but often there would be just three or four people racing alongside me.
Oh, and did I mention the customization? Racing in any mode will earn you credits that you can spend on randomized new parts for your vehicles. Some change the physical appearance of your cars and give your characters different stats, while others are cosmetic and let you change the paint job or add decals. It’s a surprising amount of fun to tinker with your cars and make them look unique.
Sonic games have always had amazing music, but the past several entries have been sorely missing one crucial player: Jun Senoue, composer of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Heroes, Sonic Generations and plenty of other Sonic games. His crunchy rock tunes defined an era of Sonic, and while he’s never really left the series, it’s been a while since his distinctive sound was prominent.
Thankfully Sega has righted this wrong and brought Senoue back as the lead composer, and the wait was worth it. From the moment you do a time trial and hear Crush 40 doing a Sonic theme song for the first time in a decade to the godlike take on Can You Feel the Sunshine heard when opening a Mod Pod, you know you’re in for one heck of a soundtrack.
Each track has unique intro and outro themes, as well as a faster-paced remix when you’re on the third lap. Senoue has even taken the team focus of the game to heart, and rather than compose the entire thing himself, he’s enlisted a whole host of musicians to add their own musical flairs to certain tracks.
Richard Jacques (composer of Sonic R and Transformed) adds his trademark synths to the Ocean View track and some of the cutscene music, Tyler Smyth (Theme of Infinite from Sonic Forces) brings some edge to the Frozen Junkyard track, and Sonic newcomer TORIENA infuses Bingo Party with her chiptune style.
The standout collaborator is without a doubt the beloved Tee Lopes, composer of Sonic Mania. Every tune he touches is absolute gold, from the remix of Sand Hill from Sonic Adventure to the race results theme first heard in Sonic Mania’s competition mode. He even gets to flex his musical chops with an original track for the Haunted Castle stage, which sounds like something straight out of Castlevania.
The rest of the audio may be a bit more divisive. Sonic & friends are fully voiced and will compliment teammates while trash talking others during races. You can turn the voices off, but personally, I greatly enjoyed them.
Zavok, in particular, has some great lines where he belittles the other racers, and Sonic spouts plenty of corny one-liners that you can’t help but snicker at. The omnipresent voice from past Sonic games that yells out Wisp powers is also here to do the same when you use an item, though he’s apparently also gotten an extra gig making random comments as you play certain missions in Team Adventure.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Team Sonic Racing is, in a word, gorgeous. While the framerate has been cut from 60 FPS on other platforms to 30 FPS on Switch, there are no other visual downgrades to be found. Every track is just as lush and beautiful as they are on the more powerful consoles.
The game looks just as good in handheld mode as it does in docked, which makes this the definitive version to get if you have any interested at all in portable play. In split-screen, the game does take a bit of a hit to the framerate at times, but it’s nothing unplayable. Overall, this is easily one of the better looking third-party Switch games I’ve played.
I suppose at this point we come to the inevitable question – is Team Sonic Racing better than its predecessor? In my opinion… yes and no. If you absolutely loved the transforming vehicles, zany tracks that could change mid race, and massive crossover aspect of the previous game, then obviously you’re not going to get any of that here.
That said, the focus on team mechanics more than makes up for these losses, and allows the game to offer a truly unique experience that doesn’t feel like anything before it. If you’re looking for something new and different, look no further.
Thanks to its clever and gratifying new co-op mechanics, Team Sonic Racing is a gem of a game that shouldn’t be missed by kart racing fans.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*A download key was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
To check out more reviews by the Miketendo64 Review Team, feel free to click here.
This post was written by Camjo-Z