|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch|
|Dev: Sumo Digital|
|Release: May 21, 2019|
|Players: 1-12 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Jenni Lada
Sonic seems like a character who should be some sort of poster child for racing games. He and his friends are known for racing around at ridiculous speeds. They have a reckless disregard for the rules. Many of the stages from major games have roads or tracks running through them. Also, there have been great Sonic racers before, like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Team Sonic Racing tries to do some new things, which can be interesting and should be lauded, but some technical difficulties get in the way.
You may not expect a campaign and story in a kart racer, but Team Sonic Racing has got one! An alien named Dodon Pa, who rules the Donpa Kingdom and has a Donpa Motors car line, has come to Planet Wisp to convince Sonic and the other familiar faces in his world to compete in a Grand Prix. Why? Well, he has some new cars that need testing. While his motives seem questionable, various allies and enemies all get involved in events that may or may not end up being a little dangerous and nefarious.
What’s great about the Team Sonic Racing campaign is that it offers quite a bit of variety to it. You start with Team Sonic, which means Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are available. You unlock new challenges on the map, which can involve things like traditional races on one track for three laps, a speed challenge where you try to hit boosts, tasks where you attempt to collect rings, and a Grand Prix in each area that involve races on four different, but connected, tracks. It is a good way to learn your skills, experiment with unusual racing challenges, and earn coins to get new mods that alter cars’ performances and appearances.
It also helps familiarize you with the different racers and tracks. There are four teams, each with three racers, for a grand total of 12 characters. One is always a Speed type, which prioritizes speed and handling, another is a Technique character with good handling and acceleration, and the Power characters have high boost and defense. There are seven different Zones, each with three tracks, for a total of 21. Each one has a certain ambiance to it, which extends to the layout, challenges, music, and obstacles. They all also have their secrets and extra path options for people to exploit. There is a lot of variety here, which is good.
Unfortunately, that variety doesn’t mean much when a game isn’t properly balanced. In Team Sonic Racing, you quickly learn the Speed racers are the “good” ones. The stats that matter most in the game are speed and handling, and those two are these characters specialties. This means whether you play alone or with friends, online or offline, going with Sonic, Amy, Blaze, Shadow, or Metal Sonic is the right choice. Especially since you can perform a Radial Burst move that can destroy an aggressive Wisp that someone might use against them. Power characters are mostly useless, since their speed is the lowest and all they have going for them is the ability to crash into things without slowing down. If you manage to get the right mods, you can get the speed stat high enough on a Technique character to help, which might be handy since going on rough terrain doesn’t slow them down, but still. Speed is king here. Fancy that in a game where “gotta go fast” is basically the main character’s catchphrase.
The Wisps are a bit of an issue too. There are 14 different kinds of Wisps, and they all have similar body shapes. Which means you really have to look away from the track to see if it is the particular one you want. The only ones you really want are the White Wisps, which offer a speed boost, and the Yellow Wisps, which turn you into a speedy drill. It can be more distracting than beneficial when you get one. You’re better served earning coins, pumping them into the in-game gacha in the hopes of getting performance-enhancing parts for the cars of Speed characters you like, and then sticking with the people who feel the need for speed.
While some elements are hit or miss, the team mechanic can be surprisingly fun. Especially if you have some friends you can coordinate with and also happen to be good with kart racers. In the campaign, you are always on a team with two AI partners. (These are the other two designated characters from your official team.) Online, you have the option of playing alone or with friends on a team, both ranked or unranked. Everyone receives points for the position they earn. The team with the most total points wins. It means people who are better can bolster those who are not, and it also encourages some interesting tactics. Especially since, when playing with other actual people, everyone can make their own teams. (Say, of three Speed characters.)
There are three that force people to communicate and work together. One is the slingshot. The team member in the highest position creates a trail the other two can follow in to boost off of, allowing them to go faster. If you get a Wisp you don’t want or need, you can offer it up to a teammate. They could also offer it to you. Finally, as you all play and boost off of each other, you fill up an Ultimate gauge. If you all trigger your ultimate at once, you get a speed boost and basically barrel down the track through other racers. If things are working properly, it can be a lot of fun!
The key is that “working properly” part. There are a lot of times when Team Sonic Racing just doesn’t. The campaign is the most stable part of the game at launch, so long as you are playing it solo. If you play locally with another player or try to set up a local split-screen match, the game can chug a bit and struggle to keep up. Should you go online, lag won’t be as much of an issue, but you can’t control if the people in your party are on your team in matches with other, random human players. Also, the bugs and glitches get worse in this area. When playing online, I had my vehicle customization options not appear, the game drop just me, the game spawn an error that completely crashed the game, an issue that sent me careening horizontally off of the side of the track when I boosted off of an ally’s trail, and glitches that sent me clipping through environmental objects. Granted, these could be fixed, but it is a bit of a mess right now.
It also doesn’t help that the online races feel longer than they should be. Each one is padded out by an extended results screen. First, you have to give commendations to one of four players for their actions, as in Overwatch. Then, you have to watch the game tally up the score for each team, going through each racer’s contribution one by one. Then, you have to look at a results screen showing every team’s rank. It’s unnecessary.
With some patches and some polishing, Team Sonic Racing could be satisfactory. It has some interesting ideas. Getting to race with other people and help one another, in the name of everyone in your group doing better, has some merit. The campaign also is goofy in a good sort of way. There just needs to be some balancing, so people have a reason to pick people who aren’t Speed types, and the online races need to be fixed so people aren’t being booted or find themselves victimized by unbearable glitches.