Mario Kart may hold the undisputed title of best arcade racing game, but that doesn't mean there are no challengers to the belt — and the Mario-Sonic rivalry stretches back decades. Enter Team Sonic Racing, which aims directly at the "have fun while playing with your friends and family" segment of the population.
As its name implies, the big draw for the game featuring the iconic blue speedster is team-based, cooperative racing. Team play can be done cooperatively on a split screen or with online play or a combination of the two.
In team mode, three-kart squads will compete against other squads for fame, glory and those gold rings that Sonic seems to love so much. Similar to Mario Kart, collecting the rings slightly increases a driver's top speed — and getting hit by an enemy item will cause collected rings to drop.
There are three classes of kart — speed, technique and power. Speed-focused drivers (such as Sonic) have a higher top speed than other racers, and each class has its own special ability, such as being able to knock incoming rockets out of the sky. Technique racers have superior handling and can drive off-track over dirt and grass without losing speed; and power racers, despite their lower speeds, can find shortcuts by smashing through obstacles.
The big draw here is the team racing mechanics — the lead racer for the team leaves behind a yellow trail. Teammates can use a drafting technique to build a speed boost by following in that trail, and then slingshot forward, passing the first teammate. The best teams will continually speed-boost each other, exchanging the lead and leapfrogging their way forward to victory.
Victories are won by the team, as well. At the end of the match, individual positions are tallied up and then players receive a total team ranking. One teammate winning the race doesn't ensure victory — the most reliable way to win is to ensure the whole team does well.
There are other team-play mechanics as well — as in Mario Kart, items can be obtained while driving around the track, such as rockets, homing missiles, bombs and speed boosts. These items can be traded with teammates — and when a car sends an item to a teammate, it gets a power boost.
Also, when a character has been spun out by hitting an obstacle or perhaps being blasted by a bomb or rocket, a teammate can skim close to the stunned ally and give it a boost to get it back into the race fast.
There are 21 tracks available at launch, and 15 characters to choose from — all unlocked and available to play.
Each time a race is completed, players receive randomized loot, ranging from in-game currency and cosmetic items to performance-enhancing parts. The in-game currency can be used to buy upgrades and unlockables, as well.
The main campaign features seven chapters of races, and to start, players are locked into using Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, as it's a story-driven affair. The story itself is pretty hokey and not really worthwhile except perhaps to hardcore Sonic fans. The main benefit of the campaign, though, is it does slowly introduce the various mechanics in the game, serving as an excellent tutorial, especially for players of varying skill levels.
For all you misanthropes who shudder at the thought of cooperating with other humans online, fret not — there are normal free-for-all races, too.
Some other modes available are a King of the Hill race, where points are accrued by being in first place, and a survival mode, where the racer in last position is eliminated with each lap around the track.
While I don't think Sonic's racing game is going to steal the title just yet, Team Sonic Racing is a great arcade racing game — and unlike Mario Kart, is available on other platforms. The focus on team play, I think, works great for situations where the players are at different skill levels — it's not about individual performance but the effort of the team as a whole.
I'm curious to see where publisher Sony will go next, as the game will likely be tweaked over time, with new characters and maps added.
Last but not least, the price for Team Sonic Racing is quite reasonable — about two-thirds of the normal cost of a brand-new game, and it's available on all major platforms. There are no console-specific features, but also no cross-platform play, so PC users can only race other PC users, and so on.
Title: Team Sonic Racing
Platform: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Rating: Suitable for all ages
Score: 7 out of 10
ActiveStyle on 06/17/2019
Print Headline: Game On