While many folks believe that Mario Kart 8 is clearly the king of the road – particularly on the Nintendo Switch with its Deluxe build – there is some room for competition. Case in point – the overlooked 2012 gem Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed. Produced by Sumo Digital, this game stood out with its array of spectacular Sega racers and tracks, along with a standout soundtrack and multiplayer options aplenty.
It’s a bit surprising, then, that it’s taken so long for Sega to team up with the developer for a sequel. After all, Transformed sold significantly well for the company across the board. Even on the Wii U, it maintained a decent audience, despite Mario Kart 8 being the superior ride. Finally, the two decided to team up again. This time around, however, it’s not really an all-star affair, but rather a focus on Sonic the Hedgehog’s universe.
Upon hearing about Team Sonic Racing a while back, I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a Transformed II coming, with a playable Ristar or something. But upon first playtest of the game at last year’s E3, I could see that Sumo Digital wanted to do something for the Hedgehog, getting him – ahem – back on the road after a few gamers were turned off by Sonic Forces. And while it may not be the superior kart racer on the market (yes, Mario is still king), it’s a racer that’s sure to put a smile on your face, provided that you can get over the speed bumps.
Some Neat Racing Ideas, Though They Take Getting Used To
Team Sonic Racing isn’t exactly a facsimile of Transformed when it comes to its gameplay. A lot of its features are intact, which is nice, but there’s an interesting team dynamic that could take some getting used to with some players.
For instance, you actually race as a squad of three. Normally, with racing games, it’s all about attaining the victory yourself. But you actually have to help out your cohorts – and have them lend you a hand – to get the first three spots in each race. This can help stack points in your favor, and eventually win you victories across each cup.
So how do you do this? A couple of ways actually. First off, you can turn to your cohorts for a quick boost by drafting behind them. By doing this, you “slingshot” ahead. You can also do the same for them if they fall a little bit behind. There’s also times that a teammate will unleash a special trail behind them. Get into it and you can get a little speed burst to your advantage. Once you’re fast enough, you can get past them and go for the lead again. It’s neat, but some players might be annoyed with getting used to this tactic. It really does pay off dividends in the end.
Next up is the use of item boxes. As you might expect, these can help you with boosting or other abilities, or hinder opponents with a projectile strike (like an enlarged ice cube). There are times that you can actually use these direct, or perhaps save them for a fellow racer to use. It’s a cool little thing that helps them get back into the race, should they fall behind. Likewise, someone can send you an item box in return, providing an advantage when you’ve fallen behind on the track.
Similar to Transformed, you can get boost in a couple of creative ways. Drifting around corners is handled very well here, with a combination of the accelerate and brake triggers. What’s more, you can perform tricks in mid-air, either with flips or spins, coming off a ramp. Don’t stick the landing and you’ll pay for it, though you can come back with a last second boost if you time your button presses just right. However, if you do land, you’ll nail yet another boost, and you can start to stack things up.
Finally, you can unlock an ultimate boost. Once this is done by performing feats properly as a team, all three of you benefit with a few extra seconds of speed burst and invincibility. It’s a great way to come back, but keep in mind that all drivers have it. So if they come rushing from behind and take you down, don’t take it too hard. Your turn will come soon enough.
Even if your team doesn’t score in the top three, their positions still add up to your score overall. So if one of you has a first place victory, chances are you’ll still have the most points in the end. Not too much pressure, though it never hurts to “get good” in the later circuits, where the opponents mean serious business.
Overall, the gameplay does have something to offer here. Its deeper strategy may not be the (ahem) speed of those of you that thoroughly enjoyed Transformed, but it does take the racing action a step above. And that could be enough for some of you to be invested in Sonic’s latest racing go-around.
What’s In the Package?
There are various options when it comes to getting ahead in Team Sonic Racing. Looking for quick action? You can jump into local play and try your hand at quick cup races. Prefer online competition? The game offers that as well, in droves, including some races where you can skip the team dynamic entirely in favor of going solo.
Let’s start with the Team Adventure mode, which serves as the story mode. Surprisingly, this is probably the weakest part of the package, as the tale itself isn’t nearly as involving as what we’ve seen in previous Sonic adventures. That’s not to say it’s a serious flaw with the game, because, really, do you buy racing games for stories? Not particularly.
That said, I would’ve liked for Sumo Digital to dive deeper into the core of Sonic’s world. After all, they opted to focus exclusively on it this time around, yeah? So we should have a better idea of what’s going on. At the very least, the races do keep up over the course of the mode, so it’s not bad.
There’s also an abundance of customization, so you can design cars however you please and tweak their performance alongside your team. It’s surprisingly deep, though I would’ve liked more options based on what I’ve seen in Transformed years back when it comes to variety. Not the end of the world, though. You can unlock other goodies throughout the modes as well, which are sure to keep you busy.
Local multiplayer is also included. It’s not bad, though the performance isn’t quite up to par with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The frame rate goes at a lower pace than that game, and while it’s serviceable, it can be annoying on a smaller screen. On a normal sized television, however, it performs pretty well. Don’t expect PS4 Pro-style 60 frames per second speed, though. It’s not here.
As for online, it performs pretty well for the most part. Getting started in some races can take a little bit of time, depending on online traffic at the time. But once we got into a few races, we found no problem keeping up with the competition. If you’re, um, burnt out on Mario for a bit, this isn’t too bad an alternative. Especially when you consider the “hardcore” racing options.
Graphics Aren’t Bad, But the Music’s Worth Staying For
Let’s get to presentation, which is obviously an important part of this game. It’s here you might be slightly disappointed with how Team Sonic Racing appears when it comes to track layouts and all, but it’s more than made up for with a terrific soundtrack.
The visuals, again, aren’t too bad. They aren’t as crisp as what you’d find in Mario, but the game maintains a pretty good speed throughout; and the character animations do provide some distinction. That said, the levels themselves don’t really dive too deep into Sonic’s world. There are some inspired tracks, like the Egyptian-themed levels; but there could’ve been more here. Perhaps Transformed and its inspired design spoiled us a little too quickly here.
Also, quick note – the intro movie is missing from the Switch version of the game. Not a deal breaker, since some of you probably want to get into the race anyway. But it was a space limitation thing. So, no, your game isn’t broken. But just a quick heads-up.
Now, let’s get to where the game truly shines – its soundtrack. Transformed had an amazing set of tunes in its own right, and one would think the limitation to the Sonic universe would be a setback. Surprisingly enough, though, it isn’t. The artists find superb inspiration by Sonic’s world and put it too full use, with a combination of fresh new tunes and throwback songs, including some favorites from the Genesis era remixed to perfection. It’s probably one of the best racing soundtracks you’ll ever hear, period. The sound effects are good too, and the chatter of Sonic and buddies always adds a little extra something, even between team members.
While not as smooth as what Transformed provides, Team Sonic Racing keeps the core fundamentals in play when it comes to competitive driving. And the new team stuff does add a neat little advantage in some spots, though it’ll take some getting used to for certain players. A few practice laps, however, should put you in the proper frame of mind.
I really like the team stuff that Team Sonic Racing brings to the picture. Chaining boosts together with your teammates, along with attaining extra speed from stunts and drifting, is really something. And it’s not stacked unfairly, as all players have that kind of advantage should the situation call for it.
Learning Curve: 8/10
Again, the Team stuff takes some getting used to. And there are times that the AI will jet out of nowhere in some spots. Not to mention that you could get pounded with a special item or two in some scenarios. But the game provides something for all players to enjoy in one aspect or another. And after a few rounds with friends, you’ll see how easy it is to find that joy.
The visuals for Team Sonic Racing do bump down a notch on the Nintendo Switch. While the track design isn’t as imaginative as Transformed, the game holds up pretty well in terms of performance. That said, there could’ve easily been a way around the missing opening movie.
But then we get to the soundtrack, which more than makes up for the lapses. It’s one of the most listenable selection of tunes you’ll find in a racing game period. Yep, even overcoming Mario Kart 8’s offerings. Throw in some fun, comical commentary between teammates and engine noises, and you have a winner that’s perfect for use with your headset. Or crank the volume really loud on your TV. (Mind the neighbors.)
Local multiplayer does take a slight hit in Team Sonic Racing, especially compared to Mario Kart 8. But if you can accept the frame rate limitations in spots (and maybe not play on the portable front), you’ll have a good time with it.
Online does require a slight bit of waiting. Accept that, though, and you’ll find this game has a lot of value, whether you prefer racing as a team or going solo. It’s nice to have various options here.
Value For Money: 7.5/10
Oh, what I wouldn’t have given for a sequel to Transformed with a much bigger Sega universe to explore. But Team Sonic Racing isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot to enjoy here once you accept how much it focuses on the world of the Hedgehog. Sure, Team Adventure could’ve been better; but the characters, soundtrack and gameplay have more to offer than you might expect. And, hey, it’s nice to see Big the Cat get his due in the Sonic universe again. It’s been too long for him and Froggy.
How much you get out of Team Sonic Racing really depends on what you’re willing to put up with to get to the finish line. It can’t hold its own against Mario Kart 8 in some areas, but more than makes up for it in others, like with the inventive team tactics and the most excellent soundtrack. It has plenty to offer with multiplayer as well, provided you don’t mind how it performs locally in spots. The game could’ve obviously been so much more, but it stays on the road long enough to score the win. For Sonic fans, that’s worth taking a victory lap over.
The gameplay is a little trickier than Transformed, but has a lot to offer to initiated players
There’s a lot to cover here, both online and locally; and customization goes further than expected
Good fun with friends, though some may be frustrated getting a hang of the team techniques at first
One of the best racing soundtracks you’ll ever come across, worth the listen
Frame rate takes a bump when it comes to local multiplayer, especially in handheld mode
The track design just doesn’t expand enough without other Sega licenses in the fray
Team Adventure mode could’ve been a lot more
The opening movie is missing on the Switch front, intact in other versions
(Disclaimer: a review code was provided by the publisher.)