Review | Team Sonic Racing

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While I generally find kart racers fun, I wouldn’t call myself a serious fan of the genre. Two exceptions to this are the original Crash Team Racing, which I sank a lot of time into as a child, and Sumo Digital’s previous kart racer, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

However, I was pessimistic about Team Sonic Racing before its release. When I briefly played it at EGX 2018, I felt like TSR might be unable to differentiate itself from other kart racers. At the time, my opinion was: “Sumo Digital promise that unlockable parts will let you change your car’s looks and performance, but that’s just not the same as turning your car into an aeroplane.”

I wanted to be proved wrong, but unfortunately I can’t say that the game has done enough to change my mind. Before I follow that train of thought, I’ll explain what TSR actually is, and what it does well. 

Gameplay and Story

TSR is a kart racer based solely within the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, which places the familiar characters into environments based on levels from previous Sonic games. It has the same development team and game engine as the “Sega All-Stars” cross-franchise racing games, which are Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing, and Sonic and All-Stars: Racing Transformed. However, TSR is not a direct sequel to the Sega All-Stars games. 

TSR contains the standard kart racer ingredients of drifting, boost pads and power-ups, which all work well. The difficulty selection seems fair, based on how I’ve found the first 4 chapters of Team Adventure, and the AI racers attack other teams rather than focusing on yours. TSR does nothing markedly wrong in terms of gameplay, but in comparison to Sonic and All-Stars: Racing Transformed it doesn’t feel as interesting or unique. I revisited Racing Transformed to be sure I was making a fair comparison, and found that its races had slightly more impact and liveliness than in TSR. I’m not sure exactly what that subtle difference is due to, although I think the slower top speed and the minimal kart noises are to blame.

Team Adventure is the main single-player mode, and it contains approximately 60 events across 7 chapters. Beyond the team races and returning challenges from Racing Transformed, there are new challenges which test your ability to drift precisely and to multitask between drifting and shooting targets. For me, these challenges were harder than the standard races, but not impossible or unfair. 

The story of TSR uses a similar style to the Sonic Rivals series, relying on static character poses and speech bubbles rather than full cutscenes. However, TSR moves beyond the Rivals games by virtue of being fully voice acted by most of the current Sonic cast. The plot is lightweight at best, but neither kart racers nor Sonic games are known for their complex plots, so that’s an observation rather than a complaint. 

Graphics and Sound

 TSR uses the same bright and bold graphics style as the All-Stars games, but with even more graphical polish. The tracks are bright, colourful, and full of references and tributes to other Sonic games, while outdoor tracks feature especially impressive scenic backgrounds. 

One minor graphical complaint is that placing the Ultimate meter right by the car’s exhaust obscures the colourful exhaust pops that indicate boost, which makes it harder for me to know when I’ve held a drift for long enough to generate boost. However, I’ve experienced zero issues with failed textures or pop-in, and no visual glitches. TSR is a graphical iteration rather than an style overhaul, but that seems like a wise decison.

Music is a particular high point of TSR, even by the high standards of Sonic games, thanks to the all-star (sorry!) cast of performers and composers. Series mainstay Jun Senoue is the lead composer and also performs the title track as part of Crush 40. Other artists include Sonic Mania composer Tee Lopes, and Richard Jacques, composer of multiple Sonic soundtracks including Sonic Generations and Sonic R

Yes, that Sonic R. The polarising 1998 on-foot racing game is referenced both musically, via a remix of main theme “Super Sonic Racing”, and visually. The Sonic R logo forms the R in Sonic Team Racing and is also the symbol of the in-game currency. Given that TSR mostly sticks to tracks and ideas from the newer Sonic games, the older reference is surprising but fun to spot.

So far, my favourite song is the Market Street track, a guitar-led remix of “Rooftop Run” from Sonic Generations.

Online

Online team-based play could have been the major selling point of Team Sonic Racing. However, online multiplayer is currently the weakest part by far. Races are fun and lag-free (in my experience), but finding and completing a race is rarely possible. When players can’t find a full lobby on the day after release, something has gone very wrong.

My online rank is just above #1600 despite me finishing fewer than 10 Ranked matches. On other attempts my game has either crashed and force-quit before loading the lobby or frozen mid-race because the host quit and took the server with them. Even stable matches are usually populated with more AI than humans, which blocks the true potential of team co-operation.

Trying to play TSR online is frustrating and I really hope that some kind of fix for how the game handles player disconnections can be pushed through soon. Also, whichever person thought the player joining/leaving notification should go across the middle of the car deserves a special place in game development purgatory. 

Overall

TSR is competent and highly polished, and contains everything you would expect to see in a Sonic the Hedgehog kart racer. The game doesn’t have any massive mechanical flaws; its only major problem is the broken online networking experience. Its lack of a season pass, microtransactions, and complicated mulitple editions is also appealing – I really appreciate that Sumo Digital didn’t try to force monetisation into the game or to parcel bits of it off to the highest bidder.

If Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed didn’t exist, I would probably be giving high praise to TSR right now. But it’s impossible for me to play this game without comparing how it feels and plays against its excellent and innovative predecessor. TSR is not supposed to be a sequel to the All-Stars games, but it has the same graphical style, most of the same characters, and the same game engine. Because of all these shared ingredients, TSR can’t avoid giving the impression of being a sequel. Its not surprising that people are likely to see TSR as a sequel, and that impression will probably be the game’s downfall.

If TSR was a typical £60 AAA game, I wouldn’t recommend it. But as a £35 game, it’s mechanically solid and fun enough to recommend for kart racer fans. (However, if you’ve only got the budget for one kart racer this summer, I think the upcoming Crash Team Racing remake looks like the better bet at the moment). TSR is a good game, it’s just unfortunately less memorable and less engrossing than what Sumo Digital have already shown the world they can create.

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