Team Sonic Racing (Switch) Review
High expectations have been placed on Sumo Digital after their last Sonic-centric racing game, Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, ended up a critical success and cult classic among kart racing fans who wanted to look beyond the moustachioed plumber’s kart racer. Team Sonic Racing (TSR) retains the slip-slidey technical racing style of it’s predecessor while introducing new team elements but at the expense of Transformed’s celebrated dynamic track design.
Most kart racers become successful by having some unique feature to differentiate them from the rest of the pack – Team Sonic Racing’s hook is its new team mechanics. While you only directly control one character during any race, your overall place hinges on not just your own spot in the standings but that of your teammates as well. You could be first across the line, but if the rest of your team lags behind then the entire team’s place will be dragged down. This would seem unfair if not for the new team actions you can perform. The lead racer of the crew will leave a trail behind them which teammates can follow for a slingshot-style speed boost (which can be chained together if you’re coordinated enough). Should you acquire an item you can’t make much use of you can offer up the item box to the others in the team in the hope they might find it more useful. If you spot a teammate who’s spun out ahead of you, you can skim past them to give them a boost back to speed. It’s a unique system, and allows you to have a direct influence on how well your team overall performs in a race.
Your personal success will be dependent on how well you can master the games’ specific style of drifting, which is quite different to games like Mario Kart. Like most you can drift to manoeuvre around corners and longer drifts afford you a speed boost at the end, but unlike most others these drifts can be super easily chained together – almost indefinitely. Drifting and earning boosts as often as possible can make all the difference in a race and so learning track layouts and being able to react to events happening around you will be important.
Things can get quite hectic with the variety of weapons on offer. Each weapon is a wisp (from Sonic Colours) which take the form of projectiles, speed boosts and the like. I found myself taking longer than I expected learning what each wisp does as while their shape often alludes to their purpose it can take some time to work out how each behaves. Some wisps are inventive (for better or worse) such as one which creates a series of stone columns at the front of the pack forcing those ahead to dodge and weave at a moments’ notice. I found this one particularly frustrating since if they appear at certain track sections they can be impossible to avoid, and while the same could be said for blue shells of Mario Kart in most cases this feels a little out of place for a game that tries to swing the focus closer to skill than chance.
TSR includes a lengthy and varied single-player Team Adventure mode. It follows a storyline (which you’ll entirely miss if you’re not careful and start races with the A button… as I suspect many will) told through static images and voiced text lines. I could take or leave it personally but it’s there if it’s your thing, and easily skippable if it’s not. This mode gives a series of racing challenges like your standard races and GPs along with testing specific skills in ring and targeted drift challenges. Many stages are optional and off the critical path, but are there if you want extra challenges and more chances at earning stars and keys to unlock future races in the adventure mode, or credits to unlock boost items and customisations for vehicles from a random capsule machine.
Each vehicle has a variety of swappable parts which can be equipped to both change the look of the vehicle and affect it’s performance. Most aren’t straight upgrades, since you’ll lose some effect in one area to gain in another, forcing you to consider what you feel most important to your racing style. Colours can be more broadly customised with each part of a vehicle allowing a selectable colour and extra colour schemes being unlocked with the aforementioned credits.
Team Sonic Racing’s graphic style looks quite nice on Switch. Tracks are varied with often quite a lot of background detail and interesting styling. Characters and vehicles even with their customisations all generally look good and fit in with the game’s aesthetic. Music is comprised of new versions of music from Sonic’s past – all the way from Mega Drive to more recent games. I found the music generally enjoyable especially if there’s a recognisable tune backing things up, but often music was a bit lost in a messy sound mix. There’s a lot going on between kart movement/collisions, over-talkative characters, environmental sounds on the track and the background music – and I found it difficult to focus on any of these elements in the audio mix. It’s not a deal breaker, but it made me reflect on how well other kart games have juggled a complex sound mix and managed to still have all the necessary sound cues clearly audible when needed.
Performance wise though, Team Sonic Racing is mostly consistent. Even with some of the more complex tracks and with a lot of action going on on screen, the game manages to keep what felt to me like a consistent 30 frames per second on Switch. Now it’s not the 60 frames of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (and I don’t feel the game looks significantly more detailed, so I guess it’s plain wizardry that got MK8D running so nicely) and while that would definitely be preferred for a fast paced racing game, at least performance is pretty consistent. The same can’t be said for split-screen multiplayer. It’s not game breaking by any means, but I did notice the Switch struggling to keep up and visually chugging as a result. Playing with multiple Switch consoles is probably the best way to go head to head in TSR, but I appreciated that split-screen is an option even with it’s issues.
Team Sonic Racing is a great kart racer, but one I feel won’t have the universal appeal of Mario Kart. The cast of characters is less recognisable, a higher base skill requirement will make it less appealing to some and with a heavy customisation element and lengthy adventure mode it seems more aimed at solo players than couch multiplayer nights. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily – I’d argue it has a lot more engaging things to do than Mario Kart ever did for a solo player. But I don’t feel it will have the same lasting appeal. There’s a lot to do with all it’s optional single-player content, customisation unlocks and increased difficulty modes but with a story I found to lack anything memorable or interesting a lot of the game content felt like nothing more than a list of gradually increasing challenges. Team Sonic Racing is a great kart racer in its own right, but without the universal appeal of its contemporaries, it’s one I don’t see myself coming back to after the credits finish rolling.
- Deep drifting mechanic
- Lengthy and varied single-player mode
- Forgettable story
- Split screen performance