When he’s not running from left to right or looking quite weird in a movie trailer, Sonic The Hedgehog loves a bit of karting. He’s been partaking in cutesy car races since 1994’s Sonic Drift for the Game Gear, but the blue furball’s latest motor-assisted adventure comes at a time when Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has been sitting pretty atop the kart-racing subgenre’s podium for quite some time.
The comparison to Nintendo’s definitive kart game isn’t always kind to Team Sonic Racing, which has fewer tracks, racers and gadgets to offer than the Italian plumber’s latest foray onto the racetrack. But when you push Mario Kart from your mind and judge Sega’s new offering on its own merits, it does have a fair bit to offer, particularly if you’ve got a squad of three people assembled in your living room and looking for a good, wholesome time.
This, after all, is Team Sonic Racing‘s USP: each race, in the game’s main mode, is contested by two or more teams of three. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles make up the first triumvirate of familiar faces that you get to play with, and you unlock more as you go along. And when you team up locally with two chums to take control of a team like this, that’s when the game really starts to shine. It’s infinitely more fun playing like this than it is to tackle time trials solo or compete in races as an individual.
As we explored in our tips and tricks article about the game, Team Sonic Racing‘s main modes reward you for working together with your teammates, whether they’re controlled by local friends, online chums or computer AI. The most unique thing about the gameplay is that you can share items with your teammates and earn boosts by following in each other’s slipstreams. Playing nicely together like this helps you fill up a bar of ‘Ultimate’ energy, which, when complete, allows your whole team to speed up and become invincible for a short time.
These core mechanics are really enjoyable to get to grips with, especially if you are playing locally with mates or connecting up with them online. If you’ve got an enemy in your sights, you can ask a friend to send you a useful gadget. Achieving this kind of synergy is rewarding in the game itself, and it brings with it a nice sense of real-world accomplishment. Not only are you winning, but you’re also bolstering your friendships. It’s not difficult to while away a few hours working through the main story mode with your friends, unlocking more content as you complete the various stages. And playing against rival triumvirates online is pretty great, too.
In a lot of ways, though, Team Sonic Racing does feel a little thin. Once you’ve tried each of the 21 tracks and their mirrored equivalents, there are no more surprises in that department. And although sharing items provides a neat thrill, there aren’t any gadgets here that feel particularly fresh or unique, with most of them having a direct parallel in Mario Kart. And although they’ve gone to the effort of assembling a full voice cast, there’s a complete lack of cut scenes or podium-presentation moments, with the gaps between races filled largely with static images.
Also, the graphics are nice and clean, and your favourite characters probably look better here than they did in that movie trailer, but there are a few points when the game can’t quite keep up with itself. On occasion, for example, you may find your racer falling through areas of the track that were meant to be solid, or getting stuck to someone else’s kart in a glitchy-looking way. The game is an undeniably fun ride at its core, and it’s worth mentioning that the musical score is always a delight, but Team Sonic Racing is not the most polished product overall.
If the developers at Sumo Digital were aiming to make an easy-to-pick-up racing game for friends and families to enjoy together, they definitely succeeded. Falling into rhythms with your teammates and making the most of each other’s strengths never falls short of being a pure and simple slice of fast-paced, family-friendly fun. It’s easy to imagine parents playing the game with their young children, teaching them the basics and helping them along when they struggle. It’s wholesome stuff that’s hard to hate.
However, if Sumo was trying to make an industry-leading kart racer that could properly challenge Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for that top spot on the subgenre’s podium, we’d argue that they’ve fallen a bit short. The game’s tracks are fun, but a hardcore racer would probably want a lot more of them, and a bit more variety in and in the items and extra challenges could go a long way. The game feels a few updates away from being fully free of glitchy little niggles, too, not that they occur all that often.
So, if you go in with manageable expectations, hoping for a fun little racer that puts a heartwarming amount of importance on playing nicely together with other human beings, you won’t leave Team Sonic Racing feeling disappointed. In fact, you’ll probably be tempted to reach for the game next time you’ve got a couple of mates over and fancy some quick thrills. Just don’t expect much more than that, because you probably won’t find it.
Team Sonic Racing launches on 21 May for PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.