When word of a new Sumo Digital kart racer spread in early 2018, all eyes were on the British studio for a follow-up to 2012’s stellar Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Rumor soon became fact once Sega revealed Team Sonic Racing this time last year, a kart racer that—as its name implies—is not just about finishing in first place. Unlike its peers, Team Sonic Racing focuses on teamwork; you strategize as a team, share items as a team, and win as a team. With seven years in-between installments and a unique gameplay gimmick, can Sumo Digital’s latest stand on its own merits?
The real super power of teamwork
Team Sonic Racing abandons its “Sega All-Stars” from previous games as it narrows its lens down to the world of Sonic alone. With its narrowed focus, the game goes to great lengths to pay tribute to the blue blur, and I must say it succeeds in doing so.
Outside of Team Adventure Mode, the game’s 15 playable characters are all available right out of the gate, split down between their associated teams (Sonic, Dark, Rose, Vector, and Eggman) and racer types. Speed-type racers are all about achieving top speed at the expense of defense and acceleration. Technique-types have better handling and can handle rough terrain. Power-types are perfect for clearing obstacles on the road. You can mix and match for any desired team-up, but balance is key so that you can cover each other’s strength and weaknesses. “Teamwork” is the name of the game for Team Sonic Racing; you can’t simply lone wolf your way to first place and win gold.
With that, there are a number of ways to work together with friends seamlessly woven into the gameplay. Sharing Wisps (including exclusives to other racer types), following your teammates’ trail, and skimboosting past will keep you in the lead as you ready your Team Ultimate attack. Altogether, I greatly enjoyed the teamwork mechanic, as I became mindful of my actions and how they would affect my team. If you want to race alone though, the game offers that too via Local Play.
As for the stages, Team Sonic Racing provides seven thematically distinct Zones, plucked straight from recognizable landmarks and areas within the series that longtime fans will no doubt recognize. Each Zone then features three distinct tracks that in turn feature their own twist on the given theme, with all kinds of twists and turns that take you up and down and all around. It really helps make Team Sonic Racing feel like a traditional Sonic game in all but genre. For example: Glacierland begins with the bitter tundra of Ice Mountain; you explore deeper to discover Eggman’s secret Frozen Junkyard; then you wind up in the iceberg’s Hidden Volcano where a magma giant wrecks havoc in a realm of ice and magma.
Among the seven Zones though, the tracks from Seaside Hill, Casino Park, and Final Fortress all return from Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Transformed. That makes nine of the game’s racetracks retreads from previous titles, which I initially saw as a detractor given the small number of racetracks already present. However, the visual upgrades each of these received make these familiar locales look outright stunning and more vibrant than they previously were, so they look and feel like brand new.
As a result, each individual track came across as memorable in its own right and worthy as Team Sonic Racing highlights to me. Despite my praises though, I can’t deny preferring the level design in Transformed due to its stages shifting terrain between land, sea, and sky. Sad as I was to see the transforming vehicles go, I understand that certain teamwork mechanics would probably be harder to execute in these open areas. Maybe someday Sumo will combine the best of both worlds in a later game.
For solo players, Team Sonic Racing features a fun, relatively inoffensive Team Adventure Mode that serves as the game’s story mode. It’s funny to see how the game justifies having these different characters and worlds come together; an alien Tanuki named Dodon Pa likes to host races and provides super cars to racing prospects. The story is simple and silly with that premise, but it works fine! Of course, you can choose to skip the visual novel-style cutscenes and get straight to the action too.
Team Adventure Mode will test your skill with a variety of challenges, all to earn Stars so you can progress and Keys to earn extra goodies. Some challenges are relatively straightforward. There are simple races where you and your team must finish in first place, earning more Stars the better you perform. Survival Race will eliminate slower racers each lap until the last ones standing claim victory.
These two are the most recurring ones if you’re staying on the beaten path, but then you’ll likely miss out on other specialized challenges. That said, Team Adventure might be best enjoyed casually for first-timers, as some of these clear conditions can be downright obscene. On one hand, Ring Challenges are easy, and Egg Pawn missions among others can be cleared without much effort. On the other hand, Daredevil in particular demands perfection in drifting past Star Posts to earn points: Even dinging them will kill your score multiplier, and you’d have to start over if you’re aiming for a Platinum medal and its associated Star. I’ll never look at a checkpoint in a Sonic game with the same reverence again.
You’ll want to keep coming back to Team Adventure, as that mode is the best place to earn a ton of Credits. This in-game currency can be spent on Mod Pods, which randomly unlock a variety of vehicle parts. These include performance modifiers, vinyls, themed color schemes, car horns, and the optional Wisp you can equip before a race. You can go way out there to customize your own ride and stand out among other racers online, be it by giving Shadow a hot pink car or pimping Big the Cat out with the sickest Froggy-themed ride.
I was also impressed with how well Team Sonic Racing runs on the Switch, despite its limited power compared to more powerful platforms. The graphics took an expected hit, but the game’s bright and colorful art direction help make up for it. A stable 30 fps ensures the game runs smoothly in docked or portable mode for most of the experience. Online performance may vary, but that comes down to stable internet.
Of course, I can’t finish without mentioning Team Sonic Racing‘s absolutely phenomenal soundtrack. Jun Senoue returns to the directorial helm for the music, bringing with him a whole team of talented artists for catchy original tracks and amazing remixes of iconic Sonic tunes. I could gush for days about this game’s music, and with famous Sonic names like Crush 40, Tee Lopes, and Hyper Potions, how could I not?
My only real gripe with the game is that it is ultimately light on content when it comes to original race tracks, but I hope Sega and Sumo Digital will consider revisiting this game later down the line for DLC. Even one extra Zone with a brand new three-character lineup would go a long way, since the world of Sonic the Hedgehog still has a ton of extra material to work with in terms of level themes and familiar faces. That said, the base game is perfectly serviceable on its own.
Despite being in the shadow of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Team Sonic Racing crosses the finish line as a solid kart racer in its own right. With a fun teamwork mechanic, solid presentation, fantastic score, and a cheap entry fee, I would highly recommend Team Sonic Racing for kart racing fans looking for their next fix.
A review code was provided by the publisher.