There's something you should probably know about me before we dive into this review. I grew up a Sega kid. While my friends were all playing their Nintendos and Super Nintendos, I was cutting my proverbial gaming teeth with the Master System and Genesis. As you might expect, this led to me quickly becoming a pretty avid Sega enthusiast, as I still am today. Granted, as time went on, I came to eventually love Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft as well, but deep down, my heart still beats for Sega.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when Sumo Digital's 2010 masterpiece, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, came out, I consumed it with a ravenous hunger; and it was good. So good, in fact, that I actually consider it to be one of my favorite games of all time. For my money, it beats all others - I'm not just talking about copycat cart racers, the Mario Kart games as well. Some may disagree with that statement, but I will happily and convincingly tell them why they are wrong.
Sumo Digital's 2012 follow-up, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, was also a thoroughly enjoyable affair, but it came nowhere close to reaching the lofty heights of greatness as the criminally-underrated original. It had exciting things to offer, sure (new fan favorite all-stars, amazing new stages, a cool transformation mechanic), but the graphics were lacking a bit by comparison and the gameplay was plagued by some pretty awful rubber-banding that unfortunately couldn't be turned off (unlike in the first game). It just seemed to lack the same level of care and attention to detail as the original. Which brings us, now, to the third entry in the series...
Despite featuring a new team-based mechanic, and zero non-Sonic-the-Hedgehog-related Sega all-stars, Team Sonic Racing is still very much a Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing sequel. For starters, Sega once again (smartly) tapped Sumo Digital for development duties, and the resulting racing is still just as rock-solid as it ever was. Secondly, all of the previous Sonic characters (sporting mostly similar-looking rides) return from those games, as do several of their tracks. Lastly, even though Team Sonic Racing's main hook is the brand new (and surprisingly fun) Team mode, the "Standard" solo racing mode that you already know and love is still present and accounted for here as well.
Graphically, the game looks pretty good. Though the Sonic Racing games haven't ever really been known for pushing video hardware to the limit, they've never looked objectively bad. The first game actually looked quite decent. The second game, though serviceable, did look perhaps a little bit rougher. Team Sonic Racing mostly splits the difference. It's more finely-tuned than the second game but there are a couple of minor visual issues that pop up every now and again, such as teammate names periodically flickering during a race. For the most part though, the graphics leave little to complain about.
The new Team mode is an entertainingly welcome surprise. It allows you to race as part of a trio, all competing together for a combined win. The way it works is such: every place earns points, with the most going to first, and the least going to last. Only the highest total score earns your team a victory so it isn't enough for you to come in first, you need to help your teammates place high as well.
There are a few ways the game allows you to help take your team to greatness. The car of whichever team member is nearest the front will automatically lay down a slingshot trail on the track behind it that other team members can then drive on to charge up a speedy slingshot boost towards the front of the pack. Racers who have just crashed can also quickly get back in the action if a team member happens to buzz by and catch them in a so-called skimboost. In addition, teammates have the ability to transfer item pick-ups to each other. So, for instance, if you are lagging behind and you pick up a cart-slowing cube obstacle, you can transfer it to a partner further up to slow down the competition. Or, if you are fighting to hang on to the lead and you pick up a forward-firing rocket, you can transfer it to a friend further back to help eliminate some of the pressure. Finally, you and your teammates can work together to fill your individual Team Ultimate meters. This can be done in various ways such as following slingshot trails, taking out rival racers, and/or drifting. Once full, you can then activate a Team Ultimate and barrel through the other racers towards the front of the pack.
For all the things the game does right, it isn't without a few unfortunate missteps. While it's hard to find too much fault with the overall visual quality of the game, the same can't quite be said of the audio. Not the music, per se, that's pretty inoffensive for the most part. The voice acting's a different story though. One can only assume that Sega wanted to save money in that department because it seems like they only hired D-level voice talent for the game. I honestly don't think there's one voice that didn't constantly annoy the heck out of me. To make matters worse, all the characters are constantly talking to you for the duration of each and every race. They really never ever shut up. Thankfully, there are a couple of different, very much-appreciated sound options included in the settings menu to help with this. Otherwise, I don't think I would have been able to continue playing this game. It's seriously that bad.
Another big downside, in my opinion, was the somewhat perplexing decision to go all in on Sonic, this time around. I mean, I like Sonic, don't get me wrong (and I realize he's always kind of been the main focus of these games), but I would have much preferred having the ability to choose from the other Sega all-stars as in past games. Whether it's Beat, from Jet Grind/Set Radio; Jacky and Akira, from Virtua Fighter; or Vyse, from Skies of Arcadia, the additional franchise favorites provided some much-needed variety, as well as a broader degree of fan-service and general appeal to the proceedings. This was equally, if not more true for the racetracks, as past games have featured stages inspired by everything from Samba de Amigo to The House of the Dead. Choosing to limit things to just Sonic's universe is a bit boring, by comparison. That being said, it is fun getting a chance to race with some of the blue hedgehog's lesser-known associates, like Vector the Crocodile and Rouge the Bat. Still, that isn't a trade-off I would have made willingly, given the choice.
The last complaint I'll make is regarding the complete and total lack of anything related to Sonic Mania or its DLC. No Mighty the Armadillo, no Ray the Flying Squirrel, and no courses based on any of its memorable stages like the Studiopolis or Mirage Saloon Zones. How do you make a racing game that's all about Sonic the Hedgehog, but leave out any reference to his most important title in recent memory? The only possible explanation that makes any sense is that they are keeping it for an unannounced, future DLC. If that is indeed the case, it's not optimal, but at least it's something. If that's not the reason, well then, that is just monumentally stupid.
All things considered, Team Sonic Racing is a worthy entry to the Sonic (& SEGA All-Stars) Racing series. While the loss of the non-Sonic characters (as well as the puzzling lack of any reference to Sonic Mania) is a bit hard to understand, the additional Sonic pals and the new Team mode, combined with Sumo Digital's already excellent racing gameplay, make this title still well worth checking out. Even if you aren't as big a Sega fan as yours truly, there's a pretty good chance you will still find something to like here.
(This is a repost of a review that originally appeared on 12/12 Games.)
- Publisher: SEGA
- Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam
- Price: $39.99