Sonic‘s racing games have been around for 25 years. While it still might not make any sense for the fastest animals alive to be speeding around in cars, karts, or hoverboards, the fact that these spin-off titles have been around for so long is a testament to their enduring popularity. The following is a ranking of every Sonic racing game on consoles so far, in order from worst to best. Keep in mind that this article only considers those entries that have released in the West. Japan-only games like the first Sonic Drift are not included.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 9. Sonic Free Riders
Simply put, Sonic Free Riders is broken. Tailor-made for Xbox 360’s Kinect, the game has players tilt their bodies in order to race their way through courses. Supposedly, they can jump and kick to grant themselves speed boosts. This is hardly the case in practice, as most of time characters fly around the screen haphazardly and pay little regard to one’s motions at the screen. Outside of the core gameplay, the title’s menus twirl around feverishly with the smallest gestures and voice recognition directs players to courses they didn’t request. It’s not hyperbole to say that Free Riders is the most flawed game in the entire franchise.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 8. Sonic Rivals
Sonic Rivals offers a unique twist to the franchise’s classic side-scrolling gameplay. As Sonic, Knuckles, Shadow, Silver, or Metal Sonic, players must race opponents across levels while keeping an eye on enemies and bosses that lie in their path. Rivals is fun to play in short bursts or with a friend locally, but its repetitive stages and punishing track design can get frustrating fast. There’s not much to do outside of the story mode either, as Challenge Mode and Cup Circuit each add only a few new objectives to complete.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 7. Sonic Rivals 2
Though Sonic Rivals 2 hardly improves upon the first Rivals, it does feature more characters and modes. Aside from the returning Story, Challenge, and Cup Circuit modes, fans could try out Free Play and Time Attack. The former allows players to explore each one of the game’s stages without having to worry about an opponent beating them to the finish line. The latter challenges users to find 10 hidden Chao scattered throughout a level before time runs out. The multiplayer battle modes are also neat diversions, but it’s hard to ignore the same grueling track design and mediocre narrative that bring down the original game.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 6. Sonic R
Though many fans were blown away by Sonic Adventure‘s graphics in 1998, Sonic R‘s presentation is just as worthy of praise. Like Rivals, the game has players compete against other anthropomorphic mascots in footraces across highly detailed tracks inspired by iconic settings like the Green Hill Zone and the Chemical Plant Zone. Vibrant colors help make the universe pop off of one’s television screen and character models look great while in motion. Unfortunately, the title’s biggest shortcoming lies in its control scheme, which can be hard to get used to for Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing players.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 5. Sonic Riders
Sonic Riders is a successful amalgamation of the extreme sports and racing genres. It sees the titular blue blur and his friends race across futuristic maps on anti-gravity hoverboards, constantly refueling their air tanks in hopes of maintaining the lead. While boosting off of opponents or using charged jumps can be a lot of fun when timed right, the game’s floaty physics engine can result in more than a few unplanned deaths. Riders‘ soundtrack also feels uninspired, as most melodies seem as though they’ve been borrowed from other games in the franchise.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 4. Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity
Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity replaces the air system found in the original Sonic Riders with Gravity Points, or GP. If racers manage to accrue enough GP by the time they reach certain areas of a track, they’ll be able to use one of three different special moves to speed ahead, open up shortcuts, or improve their drifts. Though this change opens up an array of gameplay opportunities, floaty mechanics that were carried over from the first game prevent this entry from being free of frustration. At least the melodies sound a lot more original here.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 3. Sonic Drift 2
Sonic Drift 2‘s best quality is that it constantly introduces players to new obstacles. Bombs pop up in the middle of the road, lightning whites out the screen, and canyon crosswinds whisk away anything they touch. Each stage and character has a unique identity, helping Drift 2 stand out from the familiar tracks and overused mascots that other racers featured in 1995. The game is a classic that’s worth going back to today, so long as retro fans can get used to shallow fields of vision and static backdrops.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 2. Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing
Though Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing is a blatant clone of Mario Kart, it manages to evoke a ton of nostalgia thanks to its inclusion of characters from Super Monkey Ball, Samba de Amigo, Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Virtua Fighter, Banjo-Kazooie, and more. Items have a rock-paper-scissors effect and each unique vehicle is adapted for a specific type of terrain. There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved in choosing characters and stages. All-Stars Racing is intelligent in its design, though it may not be as addictive as Nintendo’s flagship kart racer.
Best Sonic Racing Games | 1. Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed
Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed appeals both to newcomers and seasoned racing fans. Career Mode emphasizes fun above everything else and has players switch between cars, boats, and planes on the fly. Tracks can transform at will, thus forcing fans to change up their playstyles every lap. This sequel carries over All-Stars Racing‘s clever design but doesn’t forget to let players fool around if they want to. Of course, Grand Prix, Single Race, and Time Attack modes are available for those who are courageous enough to dip their toes into the game’s competitive scene.
It remains to be seen whether the upcoming Sonic Team Racing will rank among some of the best Sonic racing games ever. Fans will have to find out for themselves when the title debuts for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC on May 21. Considering how it’s being developed by the same studio that worked on All-Stars Racing and All-Stars Racing Transformed, there’s reason to be excited.