In November of 2012, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed dropped to a positive critical and fan reception. Some considered it a contender with Mario Kart, while others would argue that, at the time, it may even have surpassed it. Transformed, unfortunately, had its fair share of bugs, some of which were sorted but many that, to this day, haven’t been. Fast forward to today, and after a healthy delay, we now have Team Sonic Racing. Gone are the transforming vehicles and colorful SEGA cast, instead replaced with Sonic mainstays and a focus on cooperative gameplay. And while in a few areas, Team Sonic Racing feels like a step or two towards improvement, it takes several flights worth of stairs tumbling backwards.
Now upfront, this particular review is all about the Switch version of the game. That means, yes, the graphics and framerate have taken a hit and no, these screenshots aren’t in the Switch version, rather the PS4 and PC which is covered by my colleagues later on. When you look at screens of the Switch version (shown below,) certain textures, namely light reflections and shadows, are lower than the other console and PC counterparts. But while in motion, you won’t notice these things and at no point did I feel like I was missing out visually. In fact, the game looks quite nice in handheld mode, which is arguably the reason you’d shell out for the Switch version in the first place. Tracks are vibrant, though lack variety. There’s essentially 7 themes, or zones, and many of the courses under each banner don’t do much to differentiate themselves from one another. There is the Rooftop Run set of stages that actually feel different from one another, but then you’ve got Planet Wisp and Seaside Hill, for instance, where the three tracks featured are painfully similar in look and feel between them. What’s on display is nice, but more variety among the tracks would’ve helped this game tremendously. Still, the karts and characters look nice and what’s here at least, is pretty.
Here’s what to expect when playing on Switch.
And yes, we’ll get the elephant out of the room now. Team Sonic Racing does run at 30 frames per second on the Switch. In my opinion, if you don’t play with another version with 60 fps, you aren’t really going to care. At no point did I feel like the framerate was an issue with the gameplay, we’ll get into that soon enough, and TSR manages to keep a consistent 30 frames while racing. There’s only one spot that the game does consistently and noticeably drop, and that’s when activating your ultimate. Every single time, the game chugs for just a moment as the animation plays, which the animation itself is fairly distracting and you’ll notice the drop in frames. Other than that though, it runs like it should, so unless you’re some psycho that has to have two copies of this game, 30 frames per second gets the job done.
The soundtrack is the highlight of TSR, as music typically is in even the worst of Sonic titles. There’s plenty of remixes of old songs and it feels like this was the area that saw the most fan service. Rooftop Run and Sandopolis are my two personal highlights, though the game’s theme song, Green Light Ride, falls a bit short. Something about it lacks the usual energy that the beloved, guilty pleasure buttrock Crush 40 plays has. The chorus never quite hits its stride and altogether it feels oddly off. Speaking of off, Team Sonic Racing features its cast talking to one another… a lot. To give the game some personality and to, I guess, mix together characters that might not normally interact with one another, every character is chatting constantly, obnoxiously, throughout the races. Sometimes this is your teammates crying for help, but often times its them reacting to things you don’t see, because you’re racing your kart, not theirs. Thankfully, you can shut these off, which I did for the majority of my play time.
That’s not to imply the voice acting is bad, really. In fact, most of it is pretty good throughout the game’s story, a surprisingly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable little tale. What’s remarkable is, for once, the majority of the cast acts like the manuals and character bios always claim they do, but as an audience, we rarely ever see. Sonic cares more about getting to race his friends than actually investigating anything suspicious, while the rest of the characters conspire with one another about what’s going on around them. Although most of the voice acting is great, Eggman is a highlight as always and Silver is actually enjoyable as your socially awkward friend you never take to parties, Knuckles, Shadow, and Rouge are pretty poor. This game did see a lot of shake ups in the cast so this could very well be new members adjusting to their roles, but in their first outing, they’re notable outliers.
So like we talked about at the top, Team Sonic Racing sticks solely to kart racing with a team gimmick. Now the idea of making a racer where you need to rely on two other racers, two AI racers no less, if you’re playing alone, doesn’t exactly sound fun to me. And unfortunately, in practice, it largely isn’t. Like a normal kart racer, TSR has you race three laps, use items to ward off your opponents, and aim for 1st place. Now if you’re like me, getting 1st or at least close to it in Kart racers is a pretty simple affair. But Team Sonic Racing’s team system throws a whole new wrench into things. Throughout the game, you’re able to give your partners items, as well as a special boost called “slingshotting,” if they, or you, follow the path of the person in the highest place on your team. This makes staying in the race as a human being very simple and these team actions help build your ultimate gauge. Your ultimate functions as a huge, temporary boost with invincibility. Hitting it the same time as your partners will net everyone a slightly longer boost and that’s quite literally the only time the AI is useful. Otherwise, you’re basically doing one thing while racing: babysitting.
TSR’s story has you saddled with two AI characters, except in certain challenges. You never once get to pick your AI characters, instead being tied to the respective team the character is supposedly a part of. This even extends into the grand prix modes, where, as far as I could tell, you only get Tails and Knuckles on your team when playing alone. While I get it in the story, it’s insanely lame that modes outside of it do not let you choose your partners. Not that it matters though, as no matter who the racer is, the AI is just awful. While I could fight my way to front pretty quick, I found that computer players were constantly falling behind. It was only through constantly feeding them any and all items I’d picked up that they’d slowly start going back up the ranks. Ultimates are the only real reliable cure, as they seem to almost rubberband themselves close to you once it’s been fired. But they don’t stick around for long and it’s right back to babysitting for you.
Now there’s two common coverups that folks will point out that supposedly makes the game better: the first is racing with other players. Well, I can safely say that the little bit of time I played online in TSR made no difference. Part of that was because I could never fill a whole room with people, so there was always one AI partner anyway, and also because these faceless mole people didn’t seem to play much better. It was at this point, I bummed a copy through Steam’s Shared Library to get the full experience of playing the game with friends, hoping it might make a difference. Sadly, it didn’t. While my team was now smart enough to know whether or not they could drive on the grass and how to use the slingshot system for more than a millisecond, the overall experience just doesn’t feel fluid. The coop element somehow feels forces and hollow, almost as if it exists solely to have a gimmick that sets it apart from being just another Kart racer with Sonic’s mug on the front.
The other coverup exposes the game’s flaws from a different angle, and that’s the solo races. You’d think that being able to play the game alone and focus on racing would alleviate a lot of my complaints with this game but it doesn’t really. Instead, without it, you realize how boring and empty most of these tracks are. They’re designed, to a very basic degree, around the way teams are supposed to operate. The majority of the tracks feature huge, empty roads with a handful of obstacles and all that space is clearly intended to be shared together. So if you’re good and you pull ahead of the pack, there’s not much to look forward to. There is the occasional loop or ramp to give some visual flair and attempt to break up the monotony, but at no point does it reach the level of its competitors or even the games’ own predecessor. Ironically, the tracks in the game that do break the mold are returning tracks from the series, like Ocean View in Seaside Hill.
The worst part of Team Sonic Racing, is that there is a hugely competent racer buried under here. The biggest complaint I have about Transformed is its finicky trick system, where you use the right analog stick to perform flips before landing, which leads to a boost. In Transformed, the game has issues with hit detection occasionally, causing stunts to fail for seemingly no reason, thus you have to be cautious as to when and where you attempt them. In TSR, that’s completely fixed. I never once felt like the game ripped me off if a stunt failed, it was because I took an unchecked risk. The drifting feels better than ever and every single kart handles fantastic. Every race you win nets you credits that you use to unlock various parts for different characters, which there’s a huge variety of. You can also customize horns, colors, and add different decals for every racer’s car. There’s also some variety between each racer as well, with speed, technique, and power types. They all change the way you play the game and absolutely should. The trouble is, the tracks featured often aren’t conducive to displaying your racer’s talent, instead opting for the focus on teams. The game seems light on content on the surface, and with only 15 racers and 21 tracks, compared to most modern day racers, it is. But underneath is a pretty robust little customization system which you’d think they’d maybe tout more. That said, I never felt the need to mess with it much and since the tracks featured don’t exactly make a point to make any of this matter, it’s hard to care.
And at the end of the day, that’s the real problem. The tracks aren’t great, sure, but it’s the core idea of this game I just couldn’t get behind. As someone who loved Transformed and all the fan service that came with it, I really hoped Team Sonic Racing would be a slam dunk. There is a good game in there somewhere, it’s just utilized so poorly. Team Sonic Racing isn’t the worst racer you can pick up, but when you look at what’s available on the market now, or maybe even what’s coming in just a month’s time, it’s a tough case to recommend it.
SECOND OPINION: Nova – PS4
Having gotten a heap of enjoyment out of Transformed, it was really exciting to get back into the driving seat of what essentially promised to be more of the same with Team Sonic Racing, Sumo’s latest kart offering. If you’ve played either of the previous two entries, you’ll likely know what to expect from the core gameplay and that hasn’t changed much, all things considered. If anything, a tighter focus on the Sonic property has allowed Sumo to arguably create a more consistent-feeling experience throughout, with the game’s weapons being swapped out wholesale for (you guessed it) wisps, a tight track selection featuring some fantastic series callbacks and a presentation that feels considered and polished throughout. For anyone that has been paying attention to the game’s marketing, it goes without saying that the soundtrack to this game is absolutely astonishing, Jun Senoue absolutely relishing the creative freedom afforded to him and the opportunity to work with several artists he so far hasn’t had a chance to, and that enthusiasm really shines through in the final product. It’s honestly hard to think of a single piece of music in the game that is merely ‘average’ or just above.
Gameplay-wise, the teams mechanic is actually rather well-implemented and really fun at times, but it can also become frustrating as you struggle to complete challenges on certain later stages where you are reliant on your teammates’ performance. Obviously this just goes for AI companions but it’s frustrating to have these challenges there when what would probably take three human players a couple of attempts can take you on your own many, many more. Other than that, slingshotting, swapping weapons and giving small boosts works great and really adds some flavour to a game that quite sorely needed it.
What I mean by this is that, ultimately, Team Sonic Racing is very plain. It’s not bad by any means, in fact it’s pretty enjoyable, but when you sit back from it all there just isn’t a lot of meat on the bone here, something the extensive customisation options mask quite well but ultimately, becomes more and more obvious as you keep playing. While I’m hesitant to ever speak positively of downloadable content, this is one game that would certainly benefit from some post-launch love.
Ultimately, if you were on the fence or just non-plussed about Team Sonic Racing, I can’t see the final product radically changing your mind. However, if like me, you were looking forward to more ‘All Stars Racing’ but weren’t fussed about the Sega licenses, I would still recommend a purchase as there’s still enough content here to get stuck into and have some fun with.
THIRD OPINION: Bartman3010 – PC
How does Team Sonic Racing one up itself over the last two Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racers? Well, you make Sonic-and-Nobody-Else All-Stars Racing. Well, granted it’s not that simple. With a greater focus on presentation on top of the engine used for Sonic Transformed and bring in a greater emphasis on teamplay. TSR allowed Sumo Digital to resurface and expand upon ideas present in the last two games. The developers worked to bring the same tech behind Sonic Transformed into the new era and design around the flaws by making tracks much wider and utilize the Sonic brand to help with visual identity of character types, weapons and provide a more unique audio with original songs and brand new character dialogue to help give players hints on how to react to the environment. To help with this All-Star moves are reserved as team ultimates and the boost stacking from Transformed is greatly reduced. Despite the balance tweaks, you’re still faced with physics going wrong and you feel less sense of impact as an individual especially racing by yourself with AI teammates as you cannot directly command your teammates which usually leads to a teammate falling so far behind that they cannot catch up, failed opportunities to advance up the race pack and general confusion of how the teammate component works leaving races up to “Who can use their team ultimate last” to win the race. There is a great sense of speed thanks to the increase in framerate on all consoles, the game continues to make use of splitscreen in nearly every mode of the game including online play. There are even modes that let you race by yourself making for a nearly pure Mario Kart-like experience. Character types are worth paying attention to with certain types having a better advantage over others in certain tracks. But none are too greater than the rubber band AI and cooperation failure that seem to occur more often than they probably should. Especially when slipstreams fail to generate, your car tips over or failing to stay on the track after executing a strong boost. Team Sonic Racing gets down to the point on focusing on Sonic to nail the presentation while still facing the same fundamental issues the Sonic/SEGA Kart series that are worked around instead of improved providing more of the same. For Sonic fans this is great news while others may just want to stick to Transformed.