After the surprise success of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed back in 2012, it was always going to be interesting to see where they’d go next. I mean, as long as it wasn’t backwards to Sonic Riders levels, we’ll be alright.
Seven years later, we’ve got Team Sonic Racing (because take that, people who alphabetise their games), bringing a new take on the team racing format.
For the most part, it works. Think less Mario Kart: Double Dash, and more towards point-based overall results, and for the most part you’ve got a strong racing game. That is, if you can tolerate the same bloody quips over and over again.
It may come as a surprise to some of you, but this game does actually have a plot. For what reason, I have absolutely no idea. But bare with me, because things are going to get weird. A mysterious Tanuki by the name of Dodon Pa (and he is definitely a Tanuki, as every character is quick to remind you) invites Sonic and pals to test out some race tracks and karts, for reasons initially unknown. Including, and not limited to, Silver… who is two hundred years in the future, and Robotnik, who is in another dimension? It’s all a very contrived way of getting everyone together, but we’re here for the ride so let’s roll with it…(Yes, I am making car puns.)
Right from the start, everyone is suspicious of Dodon Pa and his motives. It does seem odd that he would challenge the already fastest creature alive to test some karts out, but the rest of the crew are reluctantly happy to come along.
The Adventure Mode, where the story lies, is laid out on a world map extremely reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3’s. The bulk of the adventure is laid out in single-race events, broken up by an end-of-zone grand prix (usually consisting of four or so races), with a smattering of different race and bonus events.
Survival, for example, is as it sounds: survive a lap by lap elimination until your team is the last one racing. There’s a drift-based, score attack time trial, as well as a ring-collecting single player trial too.
Each event earns you stars, with a cumulative score needed to unlock the next tracks/story event. The first zone of races has you going up against one team, so only six racers will be on the track. By zone two, another team will be joining the fray, so you’ll have nine racers on the track.Which, by this stage, you might think will be an absolute free for all. But alas, this is not the case, as Team Sonic Racing showcases it’s new take on team racing.
The team mechanic is a big deal, as you’ll not only be judged on your racing ability, but where your teammates place on the grid too. Much like modern, real world racing, points are accumulated based on final position. So if you’re doing well, and your team comes in all podium positions: brill-o.
However, if you’re second and they’re way back in the higher numbers, your overall score is going to suffer. It’ll also effect your star rating, as they’re usually rewarded for certain criteria like hitting pole position, or your whole team reaching podium. I wasn’t really having any issues on Normal (the default setting), but there is a greyed out option for Expert, which presumably unlocks at a later time.
It also means that despite having between three and nine extra racers on screen, you can only target your enemies. Standard fare, right? But without friendly fire (accidental or otherwise), it means that your team can sometimes get in your way and you waste items on them. Or even worse, occasionally nudge them off the track and affect your overall score(s).
Conversely, your teammates can also prove to be useful in a pinch, too. You can both give and receive items between your trio, so if you’ve missed an item box you may be offered something by one of your AI cohorts. It also means that that if you’ve picked up a Wisp you don’t want (TSR’s living creature-based items), you can offer it up and hope for something better on your next attempt.
As far as actual racing goes, the sense of speed in TSR reminds me a lot of F-Zero on the GameCube, in a good way. Playing on a base Xbox One, on a 4K TV, I didn’t experience any lag or screen tears when boosting and powersliding my way about the tracks. Unleashing my Team Ultimate, which makes you and your team glow gold as you tear through tracks and opponents with speed and ease, was quite refreshing – if a little deflating on sharper corners.
Racers themselves are broken up into three categories: Speed, Technique and Power. Whilst sounding pretty self explanatory, there are some neat differences between Technique and Power classes. Technical racers, like Tails, can drive over rougher surfaces without any risk of slowdown. This makes up for the shortfall in speed by allowing more corner cutting, skimming over shallow water and such. Power class racers, like the appropriately named Big, play akin to Bowser and Donkey Kong from Mario Kart: they lack speed and finesse, but you can shunt aside the smaller opponents. Doesn’t sound too special, but it never hurts to “accidentally” nudge one of them off track as they try and overtake.
Besides the Adventure Mode, there isn’t really a lot of other meaty modes to get into. Standard local and online variants are available (though I could never get online at time of writing), which lets you test your skills against others.
Then there’s the mod pods, items in pods reminiscent of the bonus level pods from Sonic 3, that you can purchase with in-game coinage. These feature not only cosmetic but performance enhancing modifications for all racers, all at random chances. There are no top or bottom, common or legacy style tiers. They cost ten coins apiece, and I haven’t (touch wood) had any duplicate items.
Even better, you can use these additional bits of custom kart kit in adventure mode, too. I say this like it’s a big deal, and it kind of is. Compared to say, Mortal Kombat, where everything customisable is left to additional modes. It’s nice to able to fully utilise what you’ve unlocked, to help you fine tune your karts to get the best times and unlock all the stars.
Although, when I say fine tune, it’s not the wealth of tweaking like Gran Turismo. It’s more, “this bumper will add X to acceleration, at the cost of Y on speed”, which is a fun little game to play.As far as cosmetic goes, there’s a whole wealth of paint options, as well as whole bunch of novelty horns to honk, toot and parp your way through the throng.
You also don’t need to play as Sonic in Adventure Mode either. Whilst the teams are preset: Sonic, Tails and Knuckles make one team, whilst Amy is backed up by Big the Cat and four Chao’s in one kart. As you progress, you’ll unlock a ragtag team of Silver, Blaze and weirdly enough, Vector (Charmy and Espio conveniently not available), with familiar faces in Shadow, Rouge and Eggman popping up as you progress.
Given that each racer has different attributes, combined with the manipulation of customisation, it means that there’s plenty of scope to go back and best some of the times or harder difficulties as your skills get better.
Couldn’t do a pesky drift-centric bonus track as standard Sonic? Come back later as a souped-up Shadow and nail it then. Feel like you’re not getting enough challenge on Normal difficulty? Come back and try it on Hard or Expert with Eggman’s squad.
It’s got that Trials-esque quality of repetition, in that you can cruise through the game at your own leisure with a modicum of skill, or come back and really smash those times.
But at the end of the day, that’s all there really is to TSR. The Adventure mode is the majority of the game, playing out a typical story affair of Eggman sticking his nose in, Sonic and co doing the hero thing. Outside of that, it’s really just playing with friends or taking your skills online. Bar some neat little tweaks like being able to change the race rules, there isn’t really a great deal else outside of that.
Is that necessarily a bad thing, though? Mario Kart, Street Racer, Stunt Race FX back in the day were just racing games. Can a game be faulted for adding in a generic story/adventure to justify the price tag? Gamers are far too contrary nowadays: add a story, it’s seen as bulk, yet don’t add one and people complain of “lack of content”.
So kudos, then, to Team Sonic Racing for actually trying something a bit different to the wacky kart racer. It’s shiny, it’s got a great sense of speed, and whilst the cast wavers between all the top tier and Z listers that have popped up through the years, it’s certainly an eclectic mix. If you are a fan of couch play with friends, then why not add one more game to the mix? I wouldn’t suggest it’s a strong enough game to stand up on its online play alone, but if you have far-reaching friends, there’s definitely worse games to pick up.
As a full title, I would recommend Team Sonic Racing as a suitable counterpart to the Mario Kart games. It may not have the same pedigree as that series, but remember: Sonic and Mario are always going to be competitive.
So, it’s a yes from me. I just wish they’d got more money’s worth from the voice actors, because I am sick of hearing Sonic saying, “Whoa, don’t text and drive!”…
Team Sonic Racing is available now on PS4, Xbox One (reviewed on base Xbox One), Switch and PC.
Developer: Sumo Digital
In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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Hi Ross you’re amazing please add the bumf – (I’m leaving this here because you couldn’t do this without me and I want everyone to know it – Ross)