SEGA’s business partnership with Sumo Digital for Sonic spin offs dates back to the release of Sega Superstars Tennis in 2008, and has since grown. They would continue by switching to kart racers, leading to the creation of Team Sonic Racing. Team Sonic Racing released on May 21st at a launch price of $40, $20 less than the standard video game price tag and seven years after the release of the last SEGA kart racer. How does Team Sonic Racing stand up to the critical success of previous SEGA Sumo Digital racing games? Is Team Sonic Racing worth your money? Let’s find out as we review and analyze each aspect of the game one by one. (Product provided by SEGA, although I am not payed by them to voice positive opinions. Played on Nintendo Switch).
Before we delve into the different modes, it is important to explain what puts the “team” in Team Sonic Racing; the mechanics. Each team consists of a speed type, a technique type and a power type. The speed type is more for experienced players, offering low handling and defense in trade for a very high speed. Opposite of the speed type is the technique type, being easier for beginners to start with as they have high handling and can drive on terrain near the race track without slowing down (grass, lava, sand, etc) in exchange for lower speeds. Lastly, power types can break though obstacles on the stage that the other two types would regularly get slowed down by. I think this is a great way to give new and long time players ways to both have advantages.
What would a team be without teamwork? There are multiple moves you can pull off in order to help your team stay in the first places. First, you can pass items among team mates. Passing an item will give the other team mate three times the item you gave them, encouraging passing. Then you have the skim boost. The racer in your team who is the furthest placed will leave behind a yellow trail for the other two team mates to go on. The longer you stay on the trail, the bigger of a boost you get. Finally, there is the slingshot; once an team mate gets hit by an item/obstacle, if you drive past them they will get a boost to keep them up to speed with the other racers. Preforming these team acts will build up your team ultimate, where everyone on the team receives invincibility and a higher speed for a few seconds.
While the team mechanics work amazingly well as a concept and with friends, I couldn’t say the same for computers (more on that later). Also, everyone in the roster has the same yellow boost for their team ultimate. This is a step back from Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing where each racer’s ultimate was unique, such as Sonic turning super. I can’t help but feel this is a budget move or has to do with time constraints (again, more on this later). This is not to say the team mechanics are bad, as they make this game stand out over any other racers on the market. Also, there is the option for solo races for those who don’t want ot get into teams. Personally, I recommend team over solo racing due to how much life it adds to each race; it is also not as complex as it may appear once you get the hang of it.
There are many modes in Team Sonic Racing, including a story mode. I am not going to get into story details here as the actual story itself is nothing mind blowing. The story is told by voice acting and still images over actual cutscenes, which again I believe has to do with a budget limit. The gameplay of the story mode is split up into five different types of races; races where you have to drift while collecting rings to gain more time, races where you have to drift near signposts for more time, races where you have to avoid getting hit by traffic to gain time, Grands Prix, and regular races. These modes are fun but have two major issues. One is that the computers preform really badly on your team, and the only chance of them doing good is giving them every single item you get. This doesn’t make team races for the story bad, but rather occasionally frustrating. The other issue is, for the time gain races, it is near impossible to get a platinum medal even if you spend hours trying. The story is still an overall neat addition to the game, and I enjoyed the unique challenges…. to the most part.
It is the multiplayer modes where the most fun will come out of. Specifically, there is Exhibiton where you can customize rules to your liking and race with friends against each other or on a team. Racing with friends as a team brings the team mechanics to a whole new level of fun, incentivizing discussion to win together. Then you have the other standard modes such as grand prix and time trials, the ladder being fun but you can only here Green Light Ride so many times (as that song is played no matter which track during time trials). Although, the biggest relief and struggle at the same time has to be the online.
I didn’t think I would be saying this, but the online manages to both succeed and disappoint at the same time. The amount of time you have to wait to get from one race to another is unacceptable, as the game wastes too much unnecessary time making you wait for everyone else to finish the race and then stuffing you with a bunch of information about how people did on the teams for no reason. On the flip side, lag is rare and the team mechanics work surprisingly well with random people. Also, they give you many options such as playing with friends, playing with random people, playing with teams off and racing on a team with whomever you want on your team. Perhaps they will release a patch fixing my issues, but either way the online isn’t unplayable; you’re just going to have to do a lot of waiting.
Between all the modes is the customization, one of my favorite parts of the game. Racing between the different modes gets you R tokens, which can be used to purchase mod pods. Mod pods randomly generate a car part, paint kit or a vinyl. Don’t worry; R tokens are easy to earn and there is no option to purchase them. Car parts affect the performance of you car, while vinyls and paint/material are just for show. I found myself feeling rewarded after each race due to the tokens I earn, and spending hours going through different paint materials and car parts to see what looks the coolest while still having a performance I want.
The modes are good and all, but what about performance? On the Nintendo Switch, Team Sonic Racing is 720p 30fps. As much as this may sound like a turn off, it isn’t as bad as it appears. The 30fps almost never dips and it is locked at 720p. Also, although the quality and framerate were sacrificed the visuals are almost exactly the same as other platforms. On Xbox One and PS4 Team Sonic Racing runs at 1080p 60fps, but you don’t get that sweet portability and the framerate dips more often. During multiplayer the framerate manages to remain solid and the quality isn’t bad. (Also, fun fact; the menu screens run at 60fps on Nintendo Switch despite the rest of the game being 30fps).
The graphics are alright. I was a bit disappointed as the graphics were a somewhat big step down compared to last gen Sumo Digital racers. The lighting on the characters especially looks worse, and the colors overall are much less vibrant and bright. They still do their job don’t get me wrong, but the budget really hurt. Even the animations were cut down. I feel like not only can modern hardware run much better graphics, but can also run a game with the current visuals at a more consistent framerate than what we got. Looking at how much visually nicer Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is makes me feel like the Switch could have achieved better quality/framerate, and games like the visually stunning Forza also run at a much more consistent fps than PS4 and Xbox versions. Don’t take this as me saying “this game looks like it belongs on PS2”, but rather as “the visuals are nice but are clearly cut back by budget.”
How could I not mention the music. My goodness, the music. Not only was Crush 40 brought back to make a main theme of a Sonic game for the first time in a decade, but they also brought many of the best musicians in Sonic history such as Tee Lopes. Each music track feels in place with their respective race tracks, and they all carry the energetic feel Sonic music is known for. Even if you are not a Sonic fan, there is a lot to appreciate in just the soundtrack. This was clearly one of the areas where the team had a high budget.
Speaking of the budget, that brings me to my last issue with this game. While yes the online issues have nothing to do with budget and more so feels like it was done by someone with a lack of experience, most of the issues I complained about do. It even goes as far as to affect the track design, as some tracks have considerably more work put into them than others. This isn’t to say the track design is bad, in fact I think it is great even for the stages with less effort. The team at Sumo Digital clearly had talent and passion but they can only do so much with the budget provided.
Now for some last things I didn’t know where to place, starting with the items. While almost all of them are Mario Kart rip offs, they now take the form of wisps making them feel at least a bit unique. The CGI opening is very well animated and is worth watching every once in a while, but the Switch version does not have the opening in order to save space. The character roster, while small, still does it’s job and has the core Sonic characters most people would care to play as. The track design is on par with other great racers, but some race tracks are better than others as mentioned earlier. Finally, you can play multiplayer using the local wireless options the Switch provides, which I thought was a neat touch.
So, should you pick this game up? Despite me being somewhat negative, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. The race tracks are great, the music is fanominal, the team mechanics work and set this game apart, and the customization is some of the best of any kart racers. This game was so close to setting a new bar for all kart racers, but the budget and online issues brought it down. For that my final score is a 8/10. You’ll have a blast if you’re into any racing games!