Released on: May 21 2019
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Price: $54.99 CDN ($39.99 US)
Full disclosure: I am far from the world’s biggest Sonic fan. Growing up in the Sega versus Nintendo console wars, I sided with Nintendo. It wasn’t until much later that I got a Sega Genesis (the Sega Mega Drive for readers outside North America) with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. While I did enjoy Sonic 2 and a bunch of other Sonic games that came later, I thought there was much to be desired with the game’s design philosophy. Along the way, I learned that Sonic had a kart racing series called Sega All-Stars Racing, which aimed to emulate Mario Kart’s gameplay. I did hear good things about the series, so when the announcement of Team Sonic Racing, a game made by the same folks that made the Sega All-Stars Racing series hit, my curiosity was peaked. There is even a promotional cartoon made to help sell the game, which worked on me. I decided to get Team Sonic Racing (TSR) when it was released. The question is, was it a good purchase?
In TSR, we see Sonic and his friends getting an invitation to race in peculiar high-tech vehicles. These aren’t just typical races; these are team-based races. Sonic and his friends quickly suspect this alien tanuki (named Dodon Pa) of an unsavory collaboration with their arch-nemesis Dr. Eggman. Against their better judgment, they decide to accept Dodon Pa’s invitation. During Team Adventure, the player will partake in races and challenges to uncover the reason for Dodon Pa’s request. Not being the biggest Sonic fan, I felt the plot wasn’t too exciting. It does explain why Sonic, this universe’s fastest thing alive, is in a car.
TSR has an excellent soundtrack. The main theme song performed by Crush 40, a music group that has been composing a lot of the music for Sonic the Hedgehog since 1993, is insanely catchy. I’ve been singing it the entire time I’ve been writing this review. The race tracks also have fantastic background music composed by Tee Lopez of Sonic Mania fame. I always admired the music of Sonic the Hedgehog, and TSR is no exception.
Having played the Switch version of TSR, I was aware that there would be a downgrade when it came to the game’s graphics. Despite this downgrade, I do like the visuals of TSR. The characters all have their signature cartoonish style. The environments look phenomenal, even with the Switch version’s limited graphical prowess. The landscapes in the background make the world feel alive, the tracks are bright and colorful, and the water effects are pretty. The graphics excel with the vehicles. TSR offers a lot of different aesthetic options for each character’s car. When applying the different textures, the vehicle texture will emulate its real-life counter-part with impressive effectiveness.
The thing that sets TSR apart from other racing games is its unique team-based racing. The base gameplay has the player team up with either two other computer-controlled characters or two other players. One person finishing in first place is not enough to win. TSR judges the entire team’s performance in the race to determine the ultimate victor. Fortunately, players can help each other out by passing unneeded items to other teammates, help them regain speed after a crash, adding a lot of exciting decisions to an already fast-paced racing game. The execution of the base game is also splendid. Those who have played the newest Mario Kart games will be familiar with how the vehicles control and how to get the most speed.
By playing the game’s various modes, the player can unlock more paint options, vehicle parts, and bonus boxes via Mod Pods. Mod Pods are these gachapon inspired capsules that contain the unlockables mentioned above. While alarming at first, TSR uses in-game credits to purchase these Mod Pods. The player can only earn credits by playing the game. I respect TSR for having a loot box based unlock system that the player cannot purchase using real money. This gacha mechanic could have easily been used to monetize the game further, but TSR successfully dodged that bullet.
TSR has a multitude of multiplayer modes, both offline and online. While the offline modes work as they should, the online mode has some serious issues. When I played TSR’s online multiplayer on its release, the lag was unacceptable. Racers would just pop-up from nowhere, and I would get by projectiles that appeared out of thin air. The delay has thankfully improved… because no one plays TSR online anymore. I spent eight minutes waiting for a second player to join (in a game that can have twelve players). It is worth noting that I played the Switch version of TSR. Other versions might have a more active online community. As for people looking to play online with other Switch owners, they might find themselves disappointed.
While the game feels great to play, TSR tends to get old pretty quickly. The modes included in TSR are your typical Grand Prix, Time Trial, Exhibition Races, and online multiplayer modes. Those are the staple modes for a kart racer to have, but other than the Team Adventure mode (the story mode of TSR), there isn’t much else that stands out. Speaking of Team Adventure mode, it too failed to grab my interest. The challenges felt repetitive and a slog to get through.
My final gripe with TSR is with character balancing. There are fifteen characters to choose from; each of them separated into one of three groups: Speed, Technical, and Heavy. Heavy characters can go through light obstacles without losing speed, but what those obstacles are is poorly defined. Technique characters can travel on terrain that would typically slow other racers down, like water or grass, without losing momentum. Finally, there are speed characters; they go the fastest. Now, since Team Sonic Racing is a racing game, I wonder which one of these would perform better overall? In all seriousness, I am aware that the idea is to have the players play to the strengths of individual characters, but the game awards points for better placements. So if every person in the team goes fast, they will help accumulate more points for the team. This take on character balancing baffles me.
Team Sonic Racing is not a bad game by any means, but it is ultimately disappointing. Despite having great gameplay and music, the lackluster selection of modes, the barren online community (on Switch), and minimal incentive to complete Team Adventure mode, Team Sonic Racing falls short. There are overall better kart racers out there; I would recommend one of those over Team Sonic Racing.