It’s easy to question why Sonic the Hedgehog would bother kart racing when he’s faster by foot. We certainly have. But the answer’s simple – it’s so that he and his mates all have an even playing field. Team Sonic Racing is (almost) all about team racing with others – but how does this new twist play out?
It’s all to do with that fairness thing. Rather than one person obliterating the field and leaving everybody else miserable or hurling expensive controllers around the room, teams of three players can participate with an eye to helping each other out. Share power-ups, give slipstream boosts, drive closely by to get crashed teammates back on track and so-on. The team gets points for being teamy, and the aim is to win the championship. As a team. Team, team, team – g-o-o-o-o-o-o-o team!
Yes, caring is sharing, and all that stuff.
Before those of you who dig the classic style of kart racing turn up your noses and run for the exit, however, old school all-for-one and, erm, all-for-one racing is an option. It just isn’t the main focus here.
As for the game, the utterly brilliant Super Mario Kart set the template back in 1992, and really little has changed since, even here so many years later. Well, beyond that team stuff.
You have a series of tracks – all based on various Sonic worlds from through the decades – a bunch of Sonic universe characters to choose from, and several types of races to participate in. Racers have any of three types of kart to select from – speed, technique and power. Each has its own advantage – as the equivalents in other kart racers always have.
Modes abound – ‘Team Adventure’ is the closest we get to a story mode, playable solo or with up to three extra bodies in split-screen, and presents a tree of various challenges ranging from single races and grand prix seasons, to ring collecting challenges, last kart standing, drifting through points targets and so on. ‘Local Play’ is where you can go old school or new, again solo or with others. Go GP, pick a track, or even do time trials. Then there’s ‘Online Multiplayer’ if you wish to show off your prowess to the world… or get totally owned by a human rather than the AI.
Ah, the AI. Gameplay is what you’d expect for the team at Sumo Digital, who have always had a very good way with racing games. It’s smooth, it’s solid and, intriguingly considering the aim to keep all players happy, even on the most basic level of play the AI is punishing. It’s seriously cruel at times, hammering and hammering and hammering the poor player relentlessly into blubbering submission via the usual array of weaponised power-ups. With the kids we tested it with, there were tears – and tanties. Hopefully SEGA will wisely tweak it – or add an ‘Easy’ difficulty level – in an update.
Beyond racing, a special ‘Stats’ page is handy for the narcissistic racer, the ‘Garage’ allows the usual parts and paint upgrades (once gradually unlocked) and then there are ‘Mod Pods’. These are your ticket to various kart modifications, and the best thing is that they use currency that’s accrued in-game – there are no microtransactions to see here, folks.
As for those of you who, like us, who were craving a sequel to the absolutely superb Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, this isn’t it. The karts remain karts – the closest they get to soaring through the air is over jumps (or hurtling off a break in a track). Then there’s SEGA’s intriguing choice to keep this purely Sonic. Part of the wonder of S&ASRT – and it’s predecessor, SEGA & Sonic All-Stars Racing – was diving into the worlds of myriad classic (and obscure) SEGA characters. Team Sonic Racing just isn’t as, well, interesting.
Ah, but the gameplay is what will matter to most and, save for that sometimes punishing AI, it’s butter-smooth. That original Nintendo template is a hard habit to break, simply as it was just so perfect to begin with, and SEGA’s attempt at changing it up slightly with team play is a good one. It says something that we’ve waited years for a major PS4 kart racer, and ultimately Team Sonic Racing is a winner.
Team Sonic Racing is available May 21 for PS4, Xbox One and Switch.