Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was a Sonic themed kart racer that seemingly came out of nowhere and took gamers by surprise with its inventive levels, unique racing mechanics, and gameplay that felt as fast as the heroic hedgehog himself. I spent hours in that game, both online and off, and it stands among one of my favorite kart racers of all time.
Seven years later, the team over at Sega have delivered a new Sonic racing game in the form of Team Sonic Racing. Gone are the stylish transforming mechanics, replaced by a team racing experience that brings some cool new ideas to the table.
At the core of it, Team Sonic Racing is your standard kart racer. Iconic, family-friendly drivers, fun and imaginative tracks, and various power-ups to give you an edge over the competition. Team Sonic Racing sets itself apart with a surprisingly in-depth level of customization, some seriously challenging modes, and a huge emphasis on team play.
The racing is easy to learn, fun to master. As you race, you collect various power-ups to use on your opponents or buff yourself. Perhaps the most crucial thing to learn is drifting. Much like Mario Kart, drifting through turns will charge up a speed boost that activates as you exit the drift, pushing you ahead. It seems easy at first but when you take your skills online, you realize how much you have to practice to perfect it. This provides a nice bit of challenge for the more hardcore racers out there.
Team Sonic Racing teaches you the basics via the adventure mode. This story based mode has you racing across 7 different chapters and a handful of levels, allowing you to unlock characters and earn credits along the way based on your performance. The story is forgettable at best, told through standard character dialogue boxes before certain races. I couldn't recount exactly what happened if you asked me to but hey, we aren't playing a kart racer for the story.
Each level of the adventure mode gives you a list of objectives to complete. Doing so will earn you stars and keys that are required for unlocking more levels and progressing forward. The adventure has a nice bit of variation to it apart from the standard mode. Some missions will task you with completing a Grand Prix, similar to Mario Kart, comprised of four races and your average score of the four determining your final placement. Others like Traffic Attack have you racing alone, dodging moving obstacles, and occasionally going through gates to add time to a dwindling timer. The most difficult of these is the Ring Challenges. You have to collect rings throughout the track in order to keep your timer from running out and the best way to add time is by drifting through said rings. It really forces you to get great with the drifting mechanic and be very thoughtful of the racer you choose as not all will drift as accurately.
The standard type of race is Team Race. Team Race puts you on a team of three and you work together in order to win. You can send power-ups to one another, ride in each other's stream for an added speed boost, and use an ultimate ability that gives all three of you a strong advantage with a lengthy speed buff. This mechanic is really fun and adds a level of strategy to kart racing that makes you think about your next move or how you want to use that next item.
Throughout the seven chapters of the adventure mode, you get to experience every track the game has to offer, 21 of them to be exact, and boy are they wonderful. Each track is beautifully created with various set pieces happening around you, vibrant colors, and rock-inspired soundtracks that bring me back to the City Escape days of Sonic Adventure Battle 2. So much thought and time were put into these tracks, many new, some remakes from other Sonic racing games, and all set in themed zones like classic Sonic platformers. Admittedly I found myself slamming into a wall now-and-then because I was taking in the sheer beauty of it all.
Playing through the adventure mode is the best way to earn credits which are then earned to purchase Mod Pods. Mod Pods are basically loot boxes that contain performance and visual unlocks for karts as well as Bonus Boxes which can be applied at the start of a race to give you an added buff. While the Mod Pods are randomized, you cannot buy credits with real money, only earn them in-game, so no player has an advantage over another. Unless I was completely blind and missing something, there is absolutely no trace of micro-transactions within this game. Everything is earned by playing which is a refreshing take in our modern gaming economy.
While the story is perfectly serviceable for getting you set-up with the mechanics, the game really shines when you take your racer online. You can create a custom game with friends, join their custom game, or jump into the standard matchmaking. Within the matchmaking you can jump right into a race with the Quick Play feature or choose from either a standard race, eliminating the team aspect, or the highlighted team race. Racing with actual people ups the ante a lot and creates some truly memorable moments. I only experienced a few races with stuttering from lag and, depending on the time of day, it can be hard to find people to match with, but when you are racing it is a pure thrill. Team Sonic Racing also features split-screen so you can play with up to 3 other players locally. Racing games seem to be removing this altogether so it is really nice to see this option included.
I played on a PS4 Pro and the game runs at a mostly consistent 60fps. There were a few times when items were being used like crazy and the specific level had so much happening on-screen that the frame rate dipped a bit below that which can hinder such a fast-paced, split moment game such as this.
Team Sonic Racing is a fun, surprisingly deep, family-friendly kart racer that introduces strategy via the team based gameplay and has more than enough content to keep you entertained for hours. While it doesn't quite hit the highs of its predecessor, it is still a largely enjoyable kart racer that is entirely worthy of the fast-paced Sonic name.
Our Score: 7 out of 10