Team Sonic Racing Redefines Kart Racers – Hands-on Preview (and a Victory Lap)

The kart racing genre of games is one that is sorely underappreciated. For these games, the market isn’t necessarily flooded with them, and there a few mainstay staples that come up time and again in conversation. In fact, for the last long while, Nintendo has dominated the conversation on kart racers with Mario Kart. There have been a few attempts here and there to enter the space, including the moderately successful ModNation Racers, but nothing really stuck as much as those iconic mascot-based kart racing games of old. When Sega decided to pull the car cover off of Sonic, the goal wasn’t to make a game that would simply compete in that space. Instead, Sumo Digital sought to redefine the kart racing genre as we know it through deep and intuitive team-based gameplay.

The name Team Sonic Racing is no mere suggestion. It’s a definition that is baked into the game at its core. This isn’t your standard kart racing gaming with teams layered over the top of it. The teams aren’t some silly gimmick. Team synergy is essential to victory, and playing into the deep team mechanics makes everything about Team Sonic Racing simply more fun and more rewarding.

Team Sonic Racing Preview – Racing With the Sonic IP

Before I talk more about the team mechanics, however, I have to address the blue hedgehog in the room. Sonic has a storied history of providing both amazing and timeless games as well as being a part of some very forgettable duds. It’d be all too easy to think that slapping Sonic and friends into a bunch of cars is a great way to send the character out to pasture. But there’s precedent. Crash Bandicoot. Jak and Daxter. Even Sonic himself has already graced us with a kart racing presence. Crash Team Racing, Jak X Combat Racing, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed set the bar high for putting gaming icons into vehicles and sending them off to the races.

Fortunately, Team Sonic Racing is faithful to the IP, pulling the best parts of Sonic together for this experience. The levels feel authentic to Sonic, complete with music that has some really interesting and catch takes on recognizable tunes. The characters are all Sonic classics. And the banter between them is as equally cheesy as it captures that Sonic experience perfectly. There’s even a loose story mode in the single-player campaign for the game (which still implements those team mechanics I’ll talk about shortly) that should delight Sonic fans, but can very easily be skipped if you couldn’t care less.

Team Sonic Racing Preview

The 15 characters span five teams of three characters each, with each team having a Speed, Technique, and Power character. Keep in mind that your team isn’t limited by class or even the preset thematic teams in the game. While Team Sonic may consist of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, you could feasibly have a team of Sonic and Shadow (both Speed characters) along with Eggman. You could even have three Sonics if you wanted (or 12 Sonics in an entire race). While there’s definitely some benefit to coordinating team composition, there’s nothing wrong with breaking the rules and playing how you want to play.

Each character also has slightly different stats, along with customizable cars that can change up their numbers too, at least in a small way. Sonic and Shadow, while both Speed characters, do have some differences in areas like acceleration and defense. Speed characters primarily focus on acceleration and top speed. Technique type characters are a bit slower, but they have the ability to drive over any surface without losing speed, so if you’re the type to take those corners too sharp, you might want to look into a technique character. Power characters are the slowest of the bunch, but they have a high defense and can barrel through obstacles without slowing down.

Team Sonic Racing Preview – How Team Mechanics Lead to the Victory Lap

When I first sat down with my two teammates, a competitive spirit took over and we were determined to win. As we created our team composition, we initially left the Power characters out of it. “Too slow,” we thought, and apparently so did everyone else. Very few other people chose any of the power characters, most opting either for all-out speed, or the safety of a technique character. On playing a few stages, this felt like the right choice. There didn’t seem to be many obvious opportunities where a Power character could succeed via a shortcut that other players couldn’t get through. With the clear speed difference, this entire class just felt lacking. But that was when we were thinking about it from an individual racer standpoint. We have to remember, Team Sonic Racing is a team based game with mechanics that really play differently from other kart racers.

There are a few core pieces at play. First is the golden trail left behind by the player on the team that is in the lead. While following this trail, a boost meter will build charges, and ducking out of the trail gives a huge burst of speed. Using this mechanic alone efficiently, a team of three can consistently slingshot and play off of each other, keeping a quick pace to stay ahead of the pack. The other teams have these same tools to use though, so watch out!

Team Sonic Racing Preview

The next thing is the ability to pass items back and forth. Leading the pack and you pick up a rocket or other item you can really use? A quick tap of circle offers it up to the other members of your team, where it is re-rolled as a new item for them. Also drafting by a player who is slowed will give them a big burst of speed, so you can help your teammates get back in the race after spinouts and other disasters on the track.

Performing any team-based actions will fill up a meter just below your car which activates an ultimate and invincible speed boost. Knocking into rival players extends the time of the boost, and triggering it all at once as a team will also provide that benefit. Using this can be a game changer, completely upsetting the predicted outcome of any race. But it’s not enough just to come in first. The team mechanics are all about helping each other reach the finish line, and those that lean into them will prosper. It’s far better to place in 3rd, 5th, and 6th than to come in 1st while your teammates are trailing in last place. Even if you won, your team didn’t.

What’s great about Team Sonic Racing is that the team mechanics make sure that no match ever feels decided early on. There’s a lot of action happening in the middle of the pack and constant overtakes. The team mechanics are intuitive enough that you can perform them without ever muttering a word to your team, but complex enough that coherent teams will benefit from strong strategy and communication. Back to that seemingly pointless Power class? My team discovered a use for them. Using the golden trail, they can slingshot and stay relatively close with the pack. With a high defense, they can also take a brunt of the attacks from other players. The Technique and Speed types then play off of one another, slingshotting forward. There’s quite a bit of synergy that happens.

That’s not to say that a two Technique/one Speed team is bad. Or that you can’t dominate with a three Speed team. But there’s a definite benefit to taking along the class that doesn’t seem like it would be the smart choice. Courses can also determine class selection depending on the challenges you’ll be facing, and again, customizing the cars can alter very slight little stat nuances that can change how a character feels in a big way.

Team Sonic Racing Preview – A Place on the Podium

When we figured all of this out, everything just clicked for my team. That’s not to say that racing was easy. We still had mistakes, including an early lead in the Grand Prix finals that was thwarted by our Technique character guiding me (a Speed character) through some mud/sand that slowed my down enough to fall back two positions right at the finish line. We still scored high though, and our comeback of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place win ensured that our team took home the trophies. Our win didn’t feel like a fluke. It felt like we had connected with the mechanics of the game and each other in a way that made our win possible. After some early losses that actually eliminated us from the Grand Prix after some of the first matches, it was nice to get the opportunity for a comeback in the finals to prove ourselves.

Team Sonic Racing Preview

And it didn’t much matter which of us grabbed those top positions. We had all contributed, so our win felt fully deserved. There was never any real sense of “I came in first” or “you fell back to sixth.” In the end it was about seeing the overall team rankings as we each contributed our part to that win. Our first place player even apologized for not picking a better path for the rest of us to bring it home in top positions during our first Finals race. Engaging with the team aspects of Team Sonic Racing keeps things interesting, and most of all it opens up the game to those who aren’t normally “first place podium finish” type of racers. Being able to contribute and win as a team feels really good no matter what position you fall back to.

With Team Sonic Racing, Sumo Digital went above and beyond in staying true to the Sonic IP, but also rebuilding the engine of the kart racing genre. While there might be another mascot kart racing game headed our way in a couple of months, Team Sonic Racing doesn’t even feel like it’s racing on the same track. The team-centered mechanics completely overhaul what I thought I knew about kart racers and how I play them. Perhaps most importantly, it puts a whole new lease on interest in the game. Along with the classic kart racing ideas of mastering tracks, items, and drifts, the team mechanics provide a whole new gameplay wrinkle that can turn any race on its head—or as I found out, can be the assured key to your victory.

Coming away from playing Team Sonic Racing as a champion of the Grand Prix finals wasn’t about the sense of racing well and achieving first place. It was about the camaraderie, communication, and synergy that my team felt as we fell in step with each of Team Sonic Racing’s team mechanics, finding ways to best utilize them to improve our situation. Before we knew it, we were standing on the podium, trophies in hand. There was no hogging the limelight. None of us could have done it without the other two. Even though we eventually had to shut the consoles off and walk away, our team bond far outlasted the end of that event. Team Sonic Racing does something special, and I think that everyone will be pleasantly surprised at how different it makes a familiar gaming staple feel.


Team Sonic Racing preview held at an event by Sega. Travel and accommodations were provided by Sega.