Sonic goes fast. That’s his thing. We’ve known that for decades. The Sonic racing series has always spread that speed to the whole cast in vehicle form. But Team Sonic Racing makes that sharing a little more team-oriented in a way that gives a slight but welcome refresh to the kart racing genre.
The obvious elephant, or plumber rather, in the room is Mario Kart: Double Dash, the 2003 entry in Nintendo’s long-running kart racing franchise. While that game had some team elements, it essentially played more as a kart racer with different swappable abilities and stats. Team Sonic Racing, as its name implies, plays more into having teams and working as one well-oiled unit.
Team Sonic Racing Preview: A Team Effort
There are four groups of three players and this team play cleverly intertwines with many of the game’s systems. Final scoring is an average of your tallied individual placements. Lagging behind will be costly but your better, more skilled teammates can help the slower karts get back up to speed, sometimes literally.
Team Sonic Racing has four team play mechanics, as described to me by Lead Designer at Sumo Digital, Richard Acherki. Players can slingshot in each other’s trails for boosts. Trails are highlighted by a golden path following the teammate who is farther ahead. Driving in that constantly swerving path gives you a speed boost and fills your all-important ultimate meter.
Players can also help out their allies who have spun out. By driving dangerously close to a wrecked teammate, you’ll perform a skim boost. This reorients the driver and gives them a speed boost that helps them catch up with the rest of the pack. Anyone can utilize the mechanic but it seems specifically made for lower skilled players who might feel like they are letting down the team by constantly wiping out. Everyone benefits when helpful, seasoned teammates are allowed to quickly pull up their allies during a race and is a thoughtful, inclusive system.
Transferring items is also a useful team skill. It’s exactly what it sounds like but with a special twist. Not only will giving items net you some ultimate charge but it’ll reroll the item and yield a stronger one. Some items, called Wisps, will only be available through transferring.
Team Sonic Racing Preview: Ultimate Power
All of this, including taking down your rivals, slowly adds to your ultimate meter. Once activated, your vehicle slips some superpowered LSD into its gas tank and becomes an unstoppable force while the screen explodes with sparkles. You’ll get a speed boost and be able charge through hazards. If your other team members activate their individual ultimates in quick succession, you’ll sync and get an even stronger effect.
Team Sonic Racing’s overarching design rewards and actively encourages team play from top to bottom and the game is much better for it. It gives the genre a unique spin that’s more than just slapping a different paint job on essentially the same game. These tools both deepen the racing mechanics in a vacuum and cleverly encourage playing a unique way not seen in other kart racing games.
This team play would be meaningless if the game was a drag to play. It controls similarly to the other Sonic racing titles, which means that it just feels good. Drifting is simple yet effective and each vehicle, regardless of its base stats, controls in an appropriately arcadey way.
Team Sonic Racing, however, needs to put a banana in its tailpipe. Team chatter is the only “team element” (and I use that term very loosely here) that actively made the game worse. Throughout each race, characters spoke over the radio to the other drivers either by talking trash or using generic barks. Banter like this is pretty standard video game stuff but each line of dialogue was incredibly grating and constantly playing. Lame wordplay and bad jokes repeatedly assaulted my eardrums and it felt like a lame parody of Rick and Morty doing a parody of a mediocre children’s show.
The Sonic racing games have quietly been incredibly solid, reliable racers. Both Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed both controlled well and were much better than they had any right to be, especially given The Blue Blur’s troubled solo titles. Team Sonic Racing is not only building upon the solid framework of its predecessors but it’s also adding to the genre as a whole in a few small but noteworthy ways. Deeply integrated team play give the game its hook, but its fluid mechanics keep you on said hook. The final game might not do enough to lift the series into the spotlight it deserves, but, if it continues down this path, it’s looking to be another reliable kart racer for those who just Gotta Go Fast™.