Last gen, there was a kart-based series which I played constantly, two games which ate hours of my life every week as I became absorbed by their replayability and wide array of characters and tracks. No, I’m not talking about Mario Kart, it was the Sonic Racing franchise, better known as ‘Sonic and SEGA All-Star Racing’ and its sequel, ‘Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed’. Finally, SEGA has decided to heed our call and release a new game within the series, although under the moniker of ‘Team Sonic Racing’ and with a few rather substantial changes in the gameplay mechanics.
Hitting the number one spot in the UK sales chart upon its launch week, Team Sonic Racing is clearly a hit with the fans out there who, like myself, have been waiting for a great kart racing arcade game which we can play solo, with friends, and with strangers. The question is, does it live up to the hype and dreams of this SEGA racing fan, or does it crash and burn? Let’s find out…
The first thing which jumped out at me, in regards to the single-player part of Team Sonic Racing, is the fact that there is a story that has been laid out on a map not that different to something like Mario Bros 3! As an arcade racing game, I wasn’t expecting a story, I was expecting the game to simply be a list of eight cups, each increasing in difficulty, with a number of tracks for you to race around on as you aim to become the victor – but no, we actually have a narrative!
Now, is the narrative that good? To be honest, I haven’t really been following it too much, not because I don’t want too but because I didn’t even realise it was there until I was about eight races in. You see, when you select to play a track/event, you can press Cross to ‘play without the story’ or Square to ‘Play with the story’. So, I was instinctively pressing Cross to start the races. Sumo Digital, if you’re reading this – patch the game so Cross starts with the story and Square does it without, as a lot of people will miss out on the fun narrative otherwise!
So, after starting a new game and reading the story, it appears the narrative is about an alien who has sent out invitations to Sonic and his friends to compete within some team-based races (more on this later). This new character into the Sonic Lore is named Dodon Pa, a creature who builds vehicles for teams of racers to use in order to compete against each other whilst offering new parts as rewards to those who win the various events. There are a few twists and surprises throughout the narrative, so I won’t get into it any further. Just remember, Press Square when picking a new event to play, otherwise, you’ll miss out on the narrative!
Does anyone remember Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube? I loved that game, swapping between the front and back driver as you stored items and used each characters unique abilities to win the race… Team Sonic Racing is nothing like that game (although I’ve seen a few people liken the two together). If I was to compare this game to any other, which has come out in the last few years, I would honestly say that it reminded me of OnRush, in a world where OnRush had an actual race-mode instead of the endless loops.
Team Sonic Racing is all about teamwork, you must always compete in teams of three (just like Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid), with the narrative of the story explaining ‘why’ as you progress through the various stages. Although, it’s a bit of a strange way the mechanic works, however, it does just that – it ‘works’… Throughout the race, there are three people on each team, if one of your colleagues is in front of you then you can benefit by using their slipstream (indicated by yellow tire-tracks) in order to get a boost so you can catapult yourself around and in front of them once you catch up. Similarly, they can also use yours to do the same to you.
If you pick up an item you don’t need, as you’re in first place or far back in last (depending on how brutal the AI is at that point), you can ‘offer’ the item to your teammates (human or CPU). They can then opt to take it off you and use it for themselves. Again, they will also do the same, offering you various items as you race around which you can either accept or ignore. Finally, once you finish the race and everyone else’s times are placed upon the scoreboard, you’re all given points based on your position. As you play as a team, you rank as one also – the winner is the one whose ‘team’ has the most combined points. This means if you come first but your buddies come in the final two positions, you’re most likely going to lose!
As I said, the main emphasis of Team Sonic Racing is teamwork and ensuring all three of you work together in order to rank higher than the other teams who are out for your prize!
How does it feel?
There have been a number of kart racing games this generation, we reviewed the Nickelodeon Kart Racers and All-star Fruit Racing, both of which are fun games but came with their own flaws and issues. Team Sonic Racing is the first non-Mario Kart racing game which I feel has absolutely nailed it this generation. The handling of the cars is great, with the customary drift mechanic to build up your boost, performing tricks as you jump to also build up boost, and extremely tight controls which feel solid during gameplay. Once you’ve played for a few hours, you’ll be sliding and using the slipstreams to your advantage without even realising that you’re doing it!
However, not everything is peachy within this Furries Heaven. The AI CPU racers are dirtier than Dick Dastardly and Muttley! The first few levels, containing a number of stages, play out okay – you’ll probably come first in most of them, but then the AI will start to get more aggressive. Once you begin to have four teams playing at once, so twelve of you in the race at a time, you’ll find that you can be in first place and then within a blink of an eye, you’re in fifth or lower. It’s not a glitch or a bug, the AI will share their weapons (which we can all do) and then pretty much slaughter you with no warning.
Despite the AI brutality during the main story mode, I stuck with the game and rose to the challenge of my rivals. I was the last known survivor, stalking my prey in the night; watching them all with the eye of a Hedgehog!
A racing game is only as good as its game modes and vehicles/characters, right?! Thankfully, Team Sonic Racing has a nice variety of both of these for you to play around with.
Within the ‘story mode’, you’ll come across the aforementioned team-based races, either as a single race or as part of a cup where you’ll play multiple races and hope your team’s scores cumulatively adds up to more than your opponents by the end of the tournament. There are also a few mini-game style events which I absolutely suck at. First, we have one which requires you to basically slalom around poles where each side grants either a multiplier boost or rewards points, an event where you have to destroy Dr Robotnik’s egg-robots as you race around, smash through a number of targets, collect a number of rings, and there’s even an elimination race where the person in last gets wiped out.
If you opt to play locally against friends (up to four people can play locally in split-screen) or on your own, you can play either the single race, a tournament or perform time trials in each of the races. You can also play standard free-for-all races where the team mechanic is disabled and it’s your standard race mode! If you don’t have anyone locally you wish to play, you can go online and join a friend privately, set up a new private or open lobby, or jump into anyone’s lobby in quickplay. Neither option allows you to play the mini-games and the online mode doesn’t have the time trials.
Characters and Vehicles
If I said I wasn’t disappointed that we lost all the iconic SEGA characters and reverted back to Sonic-only franchise characters, I’d be lying. However, I feel there’s a decent variety and something for everyone. Each of the teams has a Speed, Technique and Power ‘type’ character, all with varying stats based on Acceleration, Boost, Defense, Handling and Speed. Not only that, you can unlock a bunch of car parts in order to create the perfect karts as each component alters your stats based on the part you use.
Here’s the second similarity to OnRush, all of the car parts are obtained randomly via in-game Loot Crates. Everyone loves those words, right?! Basically, upon completing events you get rewarded with ‘credits’ which can be used to purchase ‘Mod Pods’. These can contain a part of any character’s kart within the game, not just the ones you’re currently using. So, just like OnRush, you could end up getting all the upgrades for people you don’t want to play as. But, it’s all in-game so it’s not really that big of an issue, especially when you consider that you’ll have pretty much every upgrade long before you finish the main story.
So, what do these Mods in the ‘Mod Pods’ do? At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking you have eighteen mods per car, but you don’t – you have nine. Each mod has a standard and a ‘gold plated’ version, so you can pimp out your vehicle either with your own custom paint job or go with the ‘bling bling’ option and pimp it out spectacularly (if slightly tacky). Each upgrade will increase AND lower a stat mentioned above, so it’s up to you to adjust and adapt to each upgrade in order to create your perfect kart.
I’ve been playing the game on my PS4 Pro and it runs like a dream. However, I have noticed a few framerate dips here and there when the action on-screen gets pretty intense (usually when the AI decides to throw everything at me because I’m in the lead!). I’ve heard the base PS4 runs just as well but with a few more dips when the action picks up. It’s not perfect but there have been a few patches and I’m sure there will be a few more to stabilise the overall experience – nothing was so drastic it put me off from playing the game for many hours. Both systems run at 60fps in one or two-player mode, with a 30fps lock in three and four-player split-screen mode.
In terms of the visuals, the base PS4 is 1080p and the PS4 Pro is 1512p, both looking absolutely beautiful and colourful on my TV. There are even a few race tracks from previous games included within Team Sonic Racing, only more detailed and refined than they were previously. This game looks like what I’d imagine Mario Kart would look like if it was ported over to a more powerful console, it’s full of personality and charm which oozes through its unique environments and varied locations. All of the characters, as well as the karts, look amazing as well. Sumo Digital have done a brilliant job with the creation of their third Sonic Racing game.
In terms of the audio, Team Sonic Racing really gets you in the mood for racing really fast! The menus have a short looped track, which is very repetitive, but once you get into the action, the music gets much more pumped up and exciting. Not only that, I’ve just found out (like right this second) that you can change the in-game audio to English, French, German, Italian, Spanish or Japanese! I’ve just checked and the entire story, along with the mid-race chatter the racers have, are all fully recorded within each of the languages. The Japanese voices sound so emotional and really into the performance – not that the English voices are bad, because they aren’t, but the Japanese VAs seem much more passionate about it all!
Overall then – Team Sonic Racing is simply the best Kart-based racing you can get outside of Mario Kart – Which is debatable, as I actually prefer Sonic Racing over Mario if I’m being honest…
With its twenty-one tracks, multiple voice-over languages, interesting gameplay mechanics, and colourful locations, Team Sonic Racing is by far one of, if not THE best Kart-based racing game of the generation. When you’re not playing the long story mode, which is fully voiced with an actual story, you’ll be spending your hard-earned Credits on car upgrades or racing friends and strangers for street cred. The only issue I had was the aggressive butt-hurt AI who can’t stand it when I’m way out in front, launching lots of offensive abilities my way and trying to knock me out of the competition. However, I don’t give in to losers, I picked myself up and showed them who’s boss!
If you’re looking for a great game to play with your kids, family, friends, or even just to play on your own when you have a few minutes to kill; Team Sonic Racing is perfect for everyone and sits up there as one of my favourite racing games of the generation so far.
Team Sonic Racing£34.99
- - Very colourful and vivid environments
- - A nice selection of customisations on top of the individual karts with their own stats
- - Great music as well as a fully-voiced narrative in six languages
- - Runs at an almost flawless 60fps on the PS4 Pro and great on the base PS4
- - Lots of various modes, including standard free-for-all races both online and offline
- - The AI can get a bit butt-hurt and aggressive when you're in first place
- - The menu music is a short loop, unlike the great in-game music
- - The mini-games are quite hard to beat