Hands-On Preview: Team Sonic Racing (Switch)

Racing, er, un-transformed?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/23/2018 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

I had high hopes for Team Sonic Racing before I finally got my hands on the game. The buildup to my play session was promising enough. Sega had a large, replica front end of Sonic’s blue race car for people to take photos in. I got a snazzy Team Sonic Racing car air freshener. Heck, the trailer even had my blood pumping. Sonic racing was back! The only problem is that Sega seems to have forgotten all the things that made his last two racing titles so good.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed were both very solid titles starring the Blue Blur and a litany of Sega mascots. By the time we got to Transformed, the gameplay boasted land, sea, and air racing with tight controls, vivid graphics, and some truly fun power-ups to play around with. It wasn’t quite at the same level as Nintendo’s Mario Kart series, but in those two installments developer Sumo Digital had shown they could produce a very respectable mascot racing game. Yet, despite all the progress Sega made with the Sonic & All-Star Racing franchise, they have elected to jettison virtually all of the different elements that made it special.

The flying and boat racing segments are gone. There’s only car racing now. Also, the bevy of Sega fan service is out the window, as well. All of the beloved Sega mascots have also been kicked to the curb. This latter point might not be so obviously contentious, but the reality is that as much as I love Sonic and his cast of pals and enemies, there’s just not enough there to make up an entire roster of racers worth choosing from. Once beyond the obvious members of the cast like Knuckles and Amy, is there anyone out there truly clamoring to roll around as Big the Cat? Or Cubot? Okay, I’ll be honest and say that I’m one of those fans, but I know I’m not in the majority!

Insofar as the abandoned flying and boat racing mechanics go, they too are also sorely missing. I imagine that the loss of water and air races in Mario Kart would be equally disappointing. Simply put, it feels like a step backwards. It’s actually strange considering the fact that Sumo Digital has stated in the past that when Mario Kart 7 was revealed for 3DS, they’d already begun incorporating plane and boat races into Sonic & All-Stars and were disappointed, thinking that some fans might assume they were ripping off Nintendo. Oh, how the times have changed. Removing those two elements from Team Sonic Racing was not the way to go, folks.

With a more restricted pool of racers to choose from and only land races to partake in, Team Sonic Racing is going to have to do a lot to maintain fan interest. From what I played, there’s a chance that can happen, but it’s going to be tough. To be clear, while Sumo Digital has less on offer this time around, the actual racing itself is as fun as ever. The cars feel solid and have a different heft to them than the typical kart racer, along with a nice sense of speed, to boot. Carrying over from Sonic & Sega All-Stars is the immensely satisfying drifting, which can be used to chain together some wicked stretches of boosts and extra speed.

Where Team Sonic Racing tries to differentiate itself from any other mascot racer that’s come before is its “team” focus. Just shooting for first place isn’t going to get the job done this time around. Let’s look at a possible scenario in Team Sonic Racing: if you snag first but your fellow racers obtain last and next-to-last place finishes, while your opponents all come in second, third, and fourth, the enemy team will place ahead of yours and get the gold. Team Sonic Racing pushes for players to race as a team or lose.

This can be… frustrating. If you don’t have competent racing companions in tow, it’s murder trying to get them to place at a high enough position along with yourself. Thankfully, there are some buffs in place to help get your team on the same page. For one thing, as you race around the track, if you’re ahead of someone on your team, you leave a trail behind that they can follow which will simultaneously boost their speed should they choose to follow it. It’s also possible to “gift” your power-ups (represented here as Wisps) to teammates who might be straggling behind. It’s an interesting concept, for sure, and one that will likely appeal to fans looking for something genuinely different from a racing game.

On a personal level, however, the team elements of Team Sonic Racing never quite resonated. I found the additions cumbersome and awkward, preferring to simply bask in the sound racing mechanics that Sumo Digital has become known for. I’m willing to withhold my final judgment until the game launches in quarter four of 2018, but there’s no denying that Team Sonic Racing feels like a diminished title compared to its predecessors. While I’m of the mind that a game stands on its own merits, even taken as a singular experience without factoring in the Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing titles, Team Sonic Racing‘s “team racing” concept is likely to be more divisive than anything else. Here’s hoping that Sumo Digital can get this one across the finish line intact.

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