We all love Mario Kart. At the same time, we all hate Mario Kart. This love/hate relationship is fueled by every stinking moment spent watching helplessly as our karts spin out of control, eating shell after shell as the rubber-banding AI catches up and knocks a top racer to the end of the line. Meanwhile, that one friend in the group who manages to pull ahead early enough gets to keep that spot as they cruise so far ahead nobody has a chance to ever catch up. Mario Kart is a fun experience marred by the ruthless zero sum game that is competition. But what if the pressure to fight for first place was alleviated a little? What if players could work together, and do well without necessarily having to be the best on the track? Team Sonic Racing seeks to answer that question, taking the tried and true mascot kart racer formula and looking at the goal from a different perspective.
Team Sonic Racing Review – Everybody’s Super Sonic Racing
That perspective, of course, is teamwork. The core of Team Sonic Racing is built around teams of three competing in races, rather than every racer looking out for themselves. Each racer works independently in terms of gameplay, so if you’re familiar with kart racers the moment to moment play is familiar enough. However, there are little bits and pieces throughout a race that see team members interacting with each other in ways that have a direct impact on the players’ focus.
For example, much like in Mario Kart, or another kart racer we’re looking forward to, racing behind another racer for a few seconds will get you a draft boost. But in Team Sonic Racing, you only get that boost from teammates. As a tradeoff, there’s a visual indication of where you need to be for that boost, and you even sort of slightly snap into that area when your car touches it, so you can tangibly finagle with it in addition to your normal steering. You build up multiple levels of the boost much like drifting, then slingshot past your teammate once you exit the boost field. It’s more intricate, more front-facing, and hugely beneficial to try to coordinate.
Another major aspect of team play is item passing. The usual item boxes are in play here, which come in the form of the Wisps first introduced in Sonic Colors. With the press of a button, you can either offer the item you have to your teammates, or request one for yourself. Passing an item causes a re-roll instead of just handing over the same item, which can result in unique items that can really help someone in a bad situation. Again, this is another layer of paying attention to things kart racing players aren’t used to paying attention to. All of this leads to a shared meter the team builds from various actions such as these, and once it’s full you get a massive burst of speed and invincibility for the whole team.
Team Sonic Racing Review – Live and Learn
What this all results in is a much more active kart racer. Not only are you concentrating on trying your best at the actual race, you’re also looking for every opportunity you can to interact with your teammates and build meter for the big boost. Even when you’re just playing by yourself, your AI teammates competently stick around you and do their part, which helps preserve the Team Sonic Racing vibe even in the single player modes. At the end of the race, each character gets a number of points based on the place they earn at the end, and the winning team is decided based on overall totals. This means that even if not every team member fills the top three spots, a strong team that works together well could theoretically pull ahead as a unit, over a team that has one ace and two stragglers. While I often find myself leading the pack in kart racers, I can see groups of players with varying skill levels really vibing with this setup. It’s still competitive, so that aspect of racing isn’t compromised, but there’s a lot more room for nuance on the way to the results screen.
While Team Sonic Racing’s core is awesome, it does have issues that hold it back from giving Mario Kart a run for its money. There is a level of polish this game simply struggles to reach, with a lot of the game outside of the actual racing feeling a little low budget. The story mode is full of visual novel-like dialogue balloons over static portraits, making it immediately skippable. The roster is tiny, with only a handful of teams and a spread of characters that hardly acknowledges most games in the series. Car customization surprisingly involves custom paint jobs, but parts and even paint color sets are all from an in-game loot box system that you will be endlessly pumping credits into sort of aimlessly until you’re sick of it. Online racing is also pretty standard fare, although it does offer a few different ways to play, including dropping the team gimmick for some hardcore kart competition.
Team Sonic Racing Review – I Just Realized There Aren’t Any Chaos Emeralds in This Game
Most glaringly, and most disappointingly, Team Sonic Racing does not handle local play well. Despite being easy to set up, and despite co-op even being an option for the story mode, the game suffers performance issues pretty consistently during split-screen play. This even happens with just two players together – things get choppy throughout races. It isn’t unplayable, and the game is smooth more often than not, but it absolutely plagues the experience. Online play is nice and smooth, or at least it was during limited review player sessions. But playing locally, which is generally the ideal for kart racers, is an issue. Hopefully this can be addressed in an update.
I’ve been excited for Team Sonic Racing, even before I got wind of its unique conceit. Sumo Digital’s previous Sega racers were both excellent, and seeing such an ambitious attempt to change how a traditional kart racer is played had me practically drooling to get my hands on this bad boy. For the most part, Team Sonic Racing doesn’t disappoint. Playing a kart racer as a team is an excellent idea that does wonders for the genre in practice, even making single player racing feel distinct from other games in this space. The soundtrack, featuring remixes and collabs with Crush 40 and other musicians, is incredible. But a small roster, somewhat bland presentation, and performance issues during local play do hold the game back from its full potential. I absolutely recommend giving Team Sonic Racing a whirl for its new kind of kart racing play, but if you want to play locally with your friends, you’ll have to put up with some potholes.
Team Sonic Racing review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.
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