Team Sonic Racing Hands-On Impressions: More Friendly, Less Fast
Sumo Digital’s Sonic racing games have been a source of much-needed consistency for Sega’s put upon hedgehog. The Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing games gave Mario Kart a serious run for its money, and now, after a six-year pitstop, Sumo is returning with Team Sonic Racing. Are Sonic and pals ready to burn up the asphalt again or has Sumo hit a speedbump? I got to go hands-on with Team Sonic Racing at E3 2018, and I walked away with a few concerns.
As its name implies, Team Sonic Racing places the focus on co-op. Depending on which character you pick, you’ll automatically be placed on a set team of three – at E3, Team Sonic (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles) and Team Dark (Shadow, E-123, and Rouge the Bat) were available. Team Rose, featuring Rose, Big the Cat, and Chao has also been announced, and the full game will have 5 teams and 15 characters in all. Each team boasts a speed, technique, and power specialist, but, aside from appearance, all the teams seem to play more-or-less the same. Thankfully, the Sega rep on hand did inform me that you’ll be able to mix-and-match your own teams for multiplayer races.
Once you hit the track, teammates can help each other in both passive and active ways. Your car leaves behind a slipstream, with teammates can follow for extra speed, and when they catch up, they can slingshot past you for an extra boost. You can also pass your allies Wisps (the game’s take on Mario-Kart-style power-ups) -- If you’re in the lead and grab a Wisp you don’t need, you can send it to a teammate at the back of the pack, and if you happen to be the one dawdling behind, you can request your friends send you an item.
Playing well with others is important, as teamwork adds to a gauge which will give you a powerful “Team Ultimate” (basically, a super-charged boost) when full. Teamwork also helps determine the winner in a more direct way – the goal of each race is to get the highest cumulative team score, with points being awarded for your finishing position, rings collected, and the amount of teamwork you engaged in.
The team racing concept is fine, in theory, but Team Sonic Racing fails to take full advantage of a good idea. The game isn’t going to wow anyone with its graphics or tech -- it’s a step down from Mario Kart 8 and, arguably, doesn’t even look as good as Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, which came out in 2012. Overall, the game feels a bit sluggish, and I definitely detected some framerate issues. This is pretty disappointing, as the All-Stars series’ sense of speed and fluidity is really what set it apart from other kart racers.
Team Sonic Racing is also a let down on the gameplay front. Power-ups felt weak and unsatisfying -- I had no real sense of what any of the Wisps I was unleashing actually did. The clear, tactile feedback you get when you unleash a red shell in Mario Kart is sorely absent from Team Sonic Racing. I rarely bothered to trade power-ups with my teammates, because they didn’t feel like they made much difference. Drifting also felt a bit stiff, and, generally speaking, cars didn’t feel like they had a lot of weight or traction.
At this point, you may be thinking I hated Team Sonic Racing, but that’s not really the case. My hands-on time with the game wasn’t a joyless experience – the game’s track design seems solid, and some of the more basic team mechanics, like following slipstreams, are well-executed. And who knows, maybe some of the game’s unrevealed tracks will be more exciting than what I saw at E3? Sumo still has a few months to tighten things up. Let’s hope they do.
Team Sonic Racing wasn’t bad, it was just disappointing. I like the co-op racing concept, but what I played at E3 lacked the craftsmanship and polish we’ve come to expect from Sumo Digital’s Sonic racers. I’m sure Team Sonic Racing will find an audience -- parents looking for a racing game to play with young children will likely appreciate it – but those hoping for a successor to the Sega & Sonic All-Stars games might want to pump the brakes on their enthusiasm.
Team Sonic Racing skids onto PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch this Fall.