Sonic and racing are like peanut butter and jelly; they go together perfectly. This is why I was excited to pick up the PC version of Sonic R when I was in college. The less said about that game the better, though I retain my stance that the soundtrack in that game is awesome. Beyond that I never played much of any other Sonic racing game. I had dabbled a bit in Sonic Drift 2 on the Game Gear and played a bit of Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, and that’s it, but I mostly enjoyed what I played of them. Recently I was offered the chance to check out the latest Sonic racing game on the PS4, so let’s jump in to Team Sonic Racing and see how it stacks up against the previous games.
Team Sonic Racing can be played from one to four players and has several online and offline modes. Offline you can play in exhibition races, Grand Prix, Time Trials, and Adventure Mode, while online you can play ranked or casual races. For most of these modes you can play as a team (more on those below) or just as a stand-alone racer where it’s every racer for themselves. There are fifteen racers in the game from the Sonic universe which is less than previous games. Each racer belongs to a “team” and when you choose a racer to do a team race, you’ll have the other two members be your teammates. Each racer belongs to one of three categories and each category has their own unique trait. Speed characters can expel a radial burst that can destroy projectiles that threaten their lead, Technique racers can race over any surface without losing speed, and Power racers, while not the fastest, can drive through barricades without spinning out.
In a Team Race there are several things you can do to help out your team no matter what place you’re currently in during the race. Teammates can slingshot around other racers by following a golden trail left behind by a teammate and following it long enough will give you a bigger boost once you move away from it. You can also skim by a teammate to gain speed, or even request an item from a teammate or offer your own if you don’t need it. Doing these Team Actions will fill a gauge that once full you can activate a Team Ultimate where you and your teammates will gain a temporary speed boost and become invincible for a few moments. This can definitely help turn the tide in a tight race…for both you or your opponent. It’s not uncommon to almost win a race only to have an opposing team fly right past you at the finish line.
Adventure Mode is where you’ll want to start to get your feet wet with the new team mechanics. Basically someone named Dodon Pa sends Sonic an invite to race on Planet Wisp and the entire crew of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big, and a few Chaos decide to join in. The mode is made up of multiple worlds, each with several stages. The stages are a mix of team races and other events such as Destruction where you break targets to earn points, and Ring Challenge where you have to collect as many rings as possible. There are a lot of different events you’ll come across throughout the game. There’s not really much to it. However, you only start with Team Sonic at the beginning of the mode and as you complete each world, you’ll gain another team you can use, but that also adds more competition to each race as the number of race participants increases.
Each stage has certain goals to meet to earn stars and you have to obtain a certain number of stars to progress through the game. Most of the time the goals aren’t that difficult such as your racer coming in first or having your entire team be the first three racers to finish. There are also keys you can obtain in certain stages. This is usually done by completing a standard objective and then doing something else, such as collecting at least 100 rings across the entirety of a Grand Prix. You can unlock various parts and aesthetics for the different racers and their cars as you progress through Adventure Mode, but it’s going to take a lot of skill to do it. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t have that much skill.
For someone who didn’t do a lot with the previous Sonic racing games, I did enjoy a lot of what Team Sonic Racing had to offer, but like with a lot of modern Sonic games, this one isn’t perfect. For starters the difficulty can be pretty tough for a racer, at least for something akin to a Mario Kart game. For instance, on the easiest difficulty in any Mario Kart game (50cc), it doesn’t take a whole lot of skill to win a race barring someone screwing you over with items (that’s going to happen in just about any kart racer) and the difference between first and last place can be pretty big. Team Sonic Racing has three difficulties; Normal, Hard, and Expert (Expert is initially locked in Adventure Mode) and they’re basically what CCs are in Mario Kart. However, even on Normal difficulty I didn’t see any gap between first and last place bigger than ten seconds. It’s also pretty easy to spin out when you take a hit and doing so will cause you to lose all of your rings (the more rings you collect, the faster your top speed is), and depending on how far along in the race you are it can be pretty difficult to regain your top spot unless you have a Team Ultimate available.
But there’s one thing that really got on my nerves with the difficulty and I’ll get it out of the way now: barricades, specifically rock pillars that spring up on the track without warning during later laps. I get that Mario Kart had similar obstacles that would activate during later laps, but you could easily see them and you had plenty of time to maneuver around them. With the rock pillars here, they can completely block your path and unless you’re a power character, you might have no choice but to crash into them, spin out, lose your rings, and possibly lose the race. I actually had a race where, on the final lap, the rock pillars popped up right before the finish line in a way that I had no choice but to plow through them. Thanks to that I dropped from first to fifth right at the finish line and it prevented me from completing an objective to get a key.
You can earn points in various ways during a race and after each race those points tokens that you can use in the garage to purchase pods. The pods will randomly contain either a part for a specific racer that you can use to customize their car, or a bonus box that you can use at the start of the race to grant you a one time bonus (the boxes are used up once you use one in a race) such as duplicating an item when offering to give it to a teammate so you both have one. I do like how you can customize each specific racer and give them presets to choose from instead of everyone getting to use every part; it makes each racer more unique. However, while the parts are unlockable the racers aren’t as you’ll have access to every racer at the start outside of Adventure Mode. For the most part I’m okay with this as you have their parts to unlock as well as several race tracks not available at the start.
As stated earlier Team Sonic Racing has online play and I was able to do a few races to check it out. After going into a lobby you can choose your racer and then select one of four random maps, each with a random event type or a standard team race. You can have up to twelve players in a race and multiple people can choose the same racer, so you might end up with a team of all Sonics. Once everyone is ready the race will begin. You can earn tokens just like you can in the offline modes to purchase pods for new parts. The event races I did were King of the Hill where the team in the lead will earn points if they keep the lead, and Team Lightning Race where lightning strikes periodically and you’ll spin out if you’re not using invincibility that you can recharge during the race. While I didn’t do many online races, the ones I did seemed to flow well with no connection issues, but we’ll have to wait and see how it is on launch day.
Overall, Team Sonic Racing is enjoyable, but the difficulty can be high at times. I wouldn’t say it’s as hard as Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, but it can be very easy to fall behind in a race when the racers are typically very close to each other, so there’s not much room for error. I am a little disappointed though that the events outside of Team and Single Racer races aren’t available in Local Play, such as the aforementioned Lightning and Vampire races unless I somehow missed them, though you can change how many racers/teams are in each race, how many laps (from three to five), and if the track is mirrored or not. The customization options are fun to play with as well and it’s not too difficult to rack up credits to spend on pods to get new parts. I also enjoyed the music, quite a bit of it I recognized from prior Sonic games as far back as the Sega CD and Game Gear. While it’s not perfect and has some annoyances here and there, Team Sonic Racing is still an enjoyable trip around the Sonic universe.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.