Special thanks to SEGA for providing us with this review copy.
Speeding its way into the hands of many, Team Sonic Racing has finally launched! Stepping away from the other Sonic racing games such as Sonic Riders and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, this title focuses exclusively on Sonic and friends. Does Team Sonic Racing offer an exciting racing adventure, or should this Grand Prix be skipped? My name is Tris, and let’s find out in this review.
The plot of Team Sonic Racing is relatively straightforward, though not unlike anything of the previous Sonic racing games. Sonic and friends are invited to race by a strange tanuki named Dodon Pa. As the plot progresses, more and more of Sonic’s friends and affiliates are invited to the fray. The plot is filled with plenty of pleasant interactions between characters but is unfortunately easy to miss out on in the Switch version of the game. For some odd reason, the default “A” button location will play a story mission, but leave out the story. In order to actually view the plot before and after the mission, players must select it with the “Y” button location. This strange oddity actually made me miss out on most of the plot of the first chapter of the game initially, as the button prompts don’t stand out very much. Overall, the plot isn’t something I’d say is the highlight to the game, but it’s certainly cute while on the simple side.
As a racing game, the main focus in Team Sonic Racing is on its gameplay. The game plays fairly well, and the controls make sense for the most part. R to accelerate, L to drift, B to use items. In Team Races, it’s X to use team ultimates, and A to offer or accept items. When in the air, players can flick the R stick in different directions to perform tricks. It’s pretty straightforward gameplay in terms of its controls. There are three classes of racers: Speed, which has the highest top speed but poor defense and acceleration, Technical, which have good handling and acceleration and can go off-road without slowing down, and Power, which have good boost and defense, lowest top speed, and can destroy obstacles. I personally found myself using Technical racers more frequently.
Single races play nicely, but sometimes the wisp item balance can be a bit too chaotic. While the game can be played in solo races of up to 12 players, the focus is clearly put on the Team Races. In Team Races, players have two teammates that they must work together with in order to win the race. Simply having one teammate placing in the top 3 may not be enough, so it pushes the player to strategize. Instead of using items, they can be given to a teammate in a lower place who may need it more. Or, if the player is struggling, a teammate may offer them an item instead. Triple variants of items are only available through sending or receiving items. The teammate that’s furthest ahead leaves a slipstream trail that can only be used by the other two racers. Using the slipstream can give speed boosts called slingshots. Overall I vastly prefer Team Races to Single Races in this game. The item balance feels far more fair, and the extra layer of strategizing is something I find to be fun that adds to the challenge of a good race. It just made the game much more fun and enjoyable for me.
There are three main modes to play in Team Sonic Racing. Team Adventure, which is the story mode, is filled with missions ranging from single races to full-on Grand Prix, to challenges. Difficulty ranges from Normal to Expert, which affects how computer opponents play, as well as the overall speed of the game, much like the engine classes in Mario Kart. Each mission features requirements in order to complete it with a higher rank. Some missions per chapter also feature Keys, which are usually awarded for completing a specific additional challenge in the mission. Getting all keys in a chapter reward the player with a customizable option for their vehicle. While the story mode itself isn’t particularly long, a completionist may definitely have trouble perfecting every mission in later chapters. Requirements for 3-star ranks, as well as keys, start to become very tedious and difficult.
Next up is Local Play, which is where the players can jump straight into Grand Prix, Exhibition Races, Time Trials, or play wireless local multiplayer with other players. There isn’t much to say here, other than about split-screen multiplayer. Like most racing games, the split-screen isn’t too much of a problem beyond making gameplay smaller, which is a bit difficult on more flashy courses like in Casino Park.
Finally, there’s Online Multiplayer, where players can either create or join a lobby for friends, or go into matchmaking, which allows them to play with random other players for ranked or casual team or solo races. This is where I have to say the game disappoints me most. While I love how the game plays, I don’t feel I’m ever able to enjoy it at the potential it was meant to be. Whether I played on Wi-Fi or with a wired connection, the connection was overall a bit unstable. Rather often I’d have other racers, computer or human, teleporting around the track. Only on release day did I ever get an online room filled with all 12 racers as actual players. Whether I did quickplay or any focused matchmaking in Solo or Team races, the most I’ve been able to consistently get is about 5 players. Luckily, the game will fill the room with computer racers, but it’s still very disappointing that the game had basically dead servers as of day one. I want to stress, this isn’t simply from a few days of trying. I tried various kinds of online matchmaking two to three times a day, every day, until the day this review goes live. I even had my friend who got the game on PC check often, and he had the same issues…meaning it isn’t simply a problem with the Switch release. Either the servers for the game really are dead on arrival, or the game has trouble matchmaking properly. Even if one gets into a decently sized room, the game suffers from some slow loading times between the room being given time to fill, course voting, then actually loading the course before the race starts. More often than not I’ve seen people leave the room because it takes a solid few minutes for a race to get started.
Overall, the game is pretty fun and I really enjoy the gameplay as a whole. The Team Races are vastly superior to the solo races, as it makes all the mechanics of the game come together very cleanly. While I’m glad the computer racers put up enough of a challenge for me, I still wish I could play in a full online server of other players. Being unable to do so actually kills a fair amount of the gameplay experience for me.
The presentation in Team Sonic Racing is honestly rather good. The plot is told through silly little character interactions. The fact that every line of character dialogue is fully voice acted both in and out of the races is a very nice touch. The characters are so expressive and they have great little quips and interactions, whether it’s Knuckles describing the grass he drove through or Shadow demanding the “ultimate life form” be allowed to pass. There’s a ton of personality in these characters, and it’s great to see. Beyond the characters, the unlock system of the game is done fairly well too. The “Mod Pods” as they’re called may initially read like a gacha system, but it’s more or less working with random unlocks for every 10 in-game funds. The only repeats that can be gotten are for bonus boxes that let racers start with a wisp. This means that as long as the player keeps earning funds, they’ll eventually unlock everything through mod pods. What I like about this system too is that it heavily favors the characters the player uses. I spent most of my time playing as Tails, but I also at times went to Amy and a few other characters. Most of my rewards from the mod pods were almost exclusively for Tails for the longest time, with sometimes some for Amy. Once I completed both of their customizable sets, then I started getting unlocks for the other characters.
Speaking of the customizables, let’s go to the garage. At first, I was a little underwhelmed by the level of customization, as each racer gets 3 additional pieces for the front and back of their cars, and the wheels, followed by golden variants of those pieces that share the same stats. When it got to the paint jobs and vinyl however, I found myself more interested in trying to make my vehicle stand out and be how I wanted it. I believe the customization in the game is pretty nice, though it definitely takes a while to unlock the special zone-themed paint jobs.
Something I really like about Team Sonic Racing is its accessibility. The Tips section is like an entire book, it’s filled with tons and tons of tips and advice about the game. While every loading screen offers a look at a tip, it’s nice to go into the section itself and find exactly what you may be looking for.
The one problem I have with the presentation in the game, however, is that it’s pretty slow to navigate, seemingly due to poor optimization on the Switch. The game runs at 30fps 720p, but some of the menus load really slowly. Selecting a character, especially in multiplayer, takes a surprisingly long time to load and keep up with the player cursor. The viewer on the side also seems rather slow and clunky. Thankfully, the gameplay is solid and nice, though still only at 30fps even in single-player. This is only on the Switch version, by the way. Other versions of the game like PC or PS4 run at 1080p 60fps and are a lot less clunky in the menus. Like I said, I just think the Switch version is a bit poorly optimized.
Team Sonic Racing is honestly a very fun racing game. It plays nicely, its Team mechanics, while seemingly hit or miss, are what I enjoyed most about the game. I play a ton of Mario Kart, and this didn’t simply feel like another party racing game. I genuinely feel that under better circumstances and more content, the game could potentially stand alongside Mario Kart as a fantastic racing game. As someone who hasn’t really kept up with the Sonic series since around the time of Sonic Colors, this game really excited me. It made me feel happy to be a Sonic fan, and it made me really want to get back into the series and get more of these characters. Ultimately, I feel that if you’re a fan of the Sonic series, but more importantly a fan of quirky party racing games, you should definitely give this game a try…but maybe not necessarily the Switch version. Despite this, I’ve had a really great time with this game. If you have friends to play locally with you to make up for a lackluster online matchmaking system, then I think you could have fun with it too.