A new E3 means a new Sonic game and this year’s major Sonic release is a pseudo-sequel to Sumo Digital’s SEGA crossover games. While the first outing had SEGA’s superstars matching together in SEGA Superstars Tennis, the remaining titles revolved around Mario Kart racer-inspired titles with the previous one featuring transforming vehicles in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. As the name implies, Team Sonic Racing calls for Sonic & Nobody Else All-Stars Team Racing. Some folks from Sonic Retro and SEGAbits, including myself had hands on playtime from SEGA’s booth at the show floor. You can either hit the jump to check out impressions from me and Neo Hazard or hop over to our sister site SEGAbits for a tertiary (or perhaps quaternary) view from SEGAbits writers Kori-maru and Dakota.
We may not have the SEGA line up of characters (Or Danika Patrick, or Banjo-Kazooie or Wreck-it Ralph) but in turn this allows for greater use of the Sonic brand. Not only do we get original music and brand new voice overs, the emphasis on teamwork shows characters interacting with each other on a more personal level and giving way for a game that wants to stand out on its own, limiting asset recycling while still paying homage to the world of Sonic. The short Planet Wisp course was enough to show off the main features in play. We may not have transforming vehicles anymore but the car-handling mechanics are straight out of the previous racer. Including some of the control quirks involving drifting and executing tricks with the right analog stick. Teamwork takes a greater emphasis in this game as the place you earn determines how many points your team gets on the track overall. If you have teammates that lag behind however, your team will likely not earn the win. The demo may have shown shortcomings of relying on a CPU-controlled teammates, but the potential for cooperative based play sounds appealing.
Perhaps a polish of the team based mechanics might encourage players to not always try to go for the best shortcuts and try to help trailing or less skilled team members find higher spots without unfairly giving demerits to skill. Items are replaced with wisps that still serve the same purpose and action. Not only do they thematically mesh with the other Sonic characters, it gives off a bit of a vibe of an older item-based racer, Blur, which not only features vibrant neon colors, but was also a game several members worked on prior to working for Sumo Digital. While they symbolize what they do (Like boosting, landmine-like cubes, straight-forward rockets) being hit by an attack stops you in your tracks and when you’re being overwhelmed by items it’s hard to not feel that the game is being obnoxious with it’s overlapping systems. When the demo starts the game encourages you to trade items, draft behind other team members while skim boosting, take down rivals and skim boosting next to a teammate to build a team-ultimate meter, which grants extra speed to all team members at the press of a button.
It was a little difficult to do most of these actions, particularly when the teammates were lagging far behind. This also means other teams have no problem ganging up on racers that try to lone-wolf the track by leaving ‘cube’ wisps on the track and trapping you with hot red trails of fire. You also get more offensive weapons when further behind making it tougher for players in the lead to trade useful items, however the CPU does try to give good weapons to other teammates (Including you) when in leading positions. Aside from gameplay balance issues, there were a host of performance problems that usually come with pre-release Sonic-Sumo racers including an unstable framerate that dips below 30fps but still providing great detail on the track. That said the Planet Wisp level shown appears far more vibrant and colorful than the racers that came before it. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were on display but played largely the same with the promise of parity between all platforms. The game mechanics can use some work and balance will be tricky to maintain but currently this could be a great game to play cooperatively than one you would play solo.
Team Sonic Racing drops all the fan favorite SEGA characters from the All-Star Racing series in favor for a Sonic-oriented experience. The big hook is the team mechanic, which I’m told is why the SEGA characters were cut and frankly, the sacrifice wasn’t worth it. As far as the driving is concerned, karts handle the same as All-Stars Racing Transformed, drifting has three levels to hit, you can do tricks with the right stick, and that’s about it. Not much as changed in terms of how drive, but how you compete.
Characters are grouped up into teams of three, which allow for different power ups and team attacks, namely in the form of boosting, at least in the demo. Now here’s where things get tricky. As far as scoring and winning the race, you only do as well as your teammates do. You can use your teammates to get a boost by slipstreaming behind them and even get items. But what sucks is, you can place first place, but because your teammates placed significantly lower… you still lose. Yeah. A racing game where you essentially have two giant ball and chains attached to both ankles at all times. I found this entire gimmick insufferable, I don’t want to cooperate in a race, I want to win! Especially in a kart racer no less! In theory, this could be fun with actual people and the idea of going online in groups of three is neat, but the fact that you can’t simply race individually is incredibly disappointing. Team Sonic Racing isn’t helped at all by some disappointing visuals, which are made worse by the sub-30 framerate. And while the music is passable, you’re unlikely to hear much of it given that the characters never shut up. There’s always constant chatter between them that seemingly never stops.
I get what was being attempted in Team Sonic Racing, and maybe with some polish and better A.I. it can get better, but right now, it’s not a mere step down from Transformed, it’s a step off a cliff.