Want to no longer be on speaking terms with your friends and family? The kart racing genre has you covered. Sega seems to know this, because they’re taking a crack at a team-focused racer. This change towards cooperation instead of competition will surely repair your fractured relationships. Well, not really, because you’ll probably start arguments among your friends for not sharing items and using the team ultimate before you’re ready.
Even so, the title Team Sonic Racing isn’t just for show; there are a surprising number of unique teamwork mechanics in the game that go beyond simply playing together. Going through the tips section for the first time was legitimately overwhelming. Regardless, the core of the game remains like in most kart racers: drive around a track while hitting boosts, drifting and doing tricks to speed up, and use items to disrupt your enemies or protect yourself. Individual team members’ placement contributes to the group’s overall score to determine a winner.
The teamwork mechanics are largely related to boosting speed, but require some level of coordination. The Slingshot is the most important element to success. The lead car in a given team will leave a bright trail behind them, which their teammates can follow. Staying within the trail left by the lead car will charge up a boost that will activate when you leave it. Efficient utilization of this tool means that your teammates will constantly be leapfrogging each other, and allow everyone to finish ahead of the competition. The second major mechanic is Skimboost, which is far more simplistic and uncommon than Slingshot. By driving close to a spun-out teammate, you can give them an immediate boost that bypasses the need to accelerate to the full speed again. In theory, this is a great way to keep up the momentum of the team and stifle the opposition’s offense. In practice, however, the circumstances necessary for this situation to occur are infrequent and difficult to achieve intentionally, particularly in the heat of the moment. So, when the mechanic is used, it ends up feeling more serendipitous than a calculated assist from a teammate.
The third mechanic is the ability to share items among your teammates. Like Skimboost, it ends up feeling like a well-intentioned but somewhat superfluous feature. While it makes perfect sense to incentivize team play by sharing, the item you give is not the one your teammate will receive. Different car types (speed, technique, power) have different items, so sharing is effectively just giving a random item. Ideally, a strong defensive item would be shared to a teammate in the lead, whereas a strong offensive item would be given to a teammate behind. Yet these randomization elements and kart-specific limitations ensure you can’t strategize well with your team. In fact, it’s somewhat undercut by the final ability: the team ultimate. Despite the flashy name, it’s really just a team-wide speed boost with momentary invincibility, which can be extended if all three members activate it at the same time. Using the aforementioned team mechanics build up the ultimate meter that can be activated by all members individually when it’s filled. So, you’ll end up throwing items to each other reflexively to increase the meter, irrespective of whether or not it’s smart to do so.
Unfortunately, rubber banding is as prevalent as ever. I realize this is simply part of the genre, but there are some additional mechanics that make it more frustrating than it otherwise would be. This is most notable with how the team ultimate works. Intentionally falling behind near the end of the race and using the ultimate will rocket you past the lead cars, even if they also use their ultimate. Instead of a trump card to be used during any crucial moment, it’s worthless as a tool to increase a lead, relegating it to a catch up mechanic that already exists inherently.
Naturally, the team aspect necessitates playing with friends, because while the AI is competent on a base level, they’re completely ineffective on higher difficulties. The best time I had with this game was unsurprisingly in couch co-op. The option to play the story mode with friends is another welcome addition that gives some sense of progress.
There are thankfully a healthy amount of modes that provide variations to the standard races. Daredevil introduces star posts that test your ability to drift, Traffic Attack places pedestrians on the track that must be avoided, and Eggpawn Assault floods the course with robots that must be destroyed to accumulate points. Beyond that, there are slight variations to the scoring system, such as King of the Hill and Ring Challenge. None of these modes fundamentally change the game, but there’s enough variety to shake up the standard racing formula.
For the praise I will give to some of the new mechanics, it’s unfortunate to see some of the defining attributes of a Sonic racer not make the cut. The transformation mechanic is gone, and the tracks – while appropriate – lack some of the flair and excitement of previous entries. The game isn’t completely devoid of creativity, but it’s a noticeable and unfortunate casualty of the new ideas. Some features also feel like an afterthought, like the loot boxes, which contain side grades to the karts and cosmetic options.
The music in Sonic games is incredibly consistent, and Team Sonic Racing is no exception. That’s not to say that every track is great, but they generally have a suitable tone. Goofier characters have themes that reflect their lighthearted nature, while the edgier ones receive similarly appropriate treatment. I doubt any of these tracks will be remembered among the best of the series, but they’re not distracting, either.
Team Sonic Racing isn’t the fastest thing alive, but it moves at a decent pace. It won’t convert those who hate the kart racing genre, but it offers a decent twist on the formula for existing fans. That in itself is enough to justify its existence at a budget price, and it thankfully isn’t an embarrassing mess like Sonic Forces.