2012’s SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed was an outright celebration of all things SEGA. Nobody can deny Sumo Digital didn’t go the extra mile when it came to fan service, resulting in something even one of SEGA’s in-house studios would struggle to top.
What a difference seven years (and a lower budget, presumably) make. Team Sonic Racing also comes from Sheffield-based Sumo, yet it feels as if was made begrudgingly; something to simply tide the studio over until a more lucrative project came along. Remixes of modern Sonic tunes and a few appearances from Eggman’s Badniks of yolk – sorry, yore – are as much fan service you can expect here.
There is, at least, a gimmick in place to prevent Team Sonic Racing from being another ‘me-too’ kart racer. As the name suggests, you race in a team – two other racers join your chosen character on the track, and so there’s a focus on ensuring they cross the finishing line at a respectable position too.
This is mostly achieved in two ways – not only can spare items be shared with the team but by drifting a slipstream is created that others can benefit from.
Standings are tallied at the end of each race. If you didn’t put the effort in when it comes to teamwork, you may still lose a GP despite coming first in every race. It’s a decent twist, forcing you to keep an eye on your crew’s position as well as your own. Sharing items isn’t a one-sided affair, pleasingly, as the AI has been programmed to dish out goodies when you’re struggling. You may even receive a unique super-charged item in return – a nice touch that helps even the odds.
The item selection is vastly uninspired, however. Sonic Colors’ Wisps act as arsenal, and despite being colour coded, the icons are poorly defined. The rocket and speed boost icons are almost identical, for instance, and it certainly doesn’t help that they’re both an orangey hue. Non-descript blue blocks are the game’s equivalent of Mario Kart’s banana skins, while music notes are used to cloud the screen a la Mario Kart’s Blooper ink. The ‘void’ weapon is a tad more inventive, inhaling anything it comes near – valuable rings and rival’s rockets included – and we also approve of the alternative boost item that leaves a trail of flames behind.
An earthquake that creates stone pillars is intended to cause a Blue Shell level of destruction, meanwhile. Weaving in and out of the pillars takes an equal measure of luck and skill.
Track design isn’t a hotbed of originality either, sadly. Forget about rallying around Green Hill Zone and similar classic locations, as Team Sonic Racing mostly favours modern Sonic locales, with Planet Wisp providing the setting. The decision to include not two, but three, casino-themed tracks strikes us as a peculiar decision, and we’d even go as far to say that the two returning tracks from All-Stars – Lost Palace and Whale Lagoon – are the best of the bunch. These two also showcase the visuals at their best with inviting waterfalls, rainbows, and other picturesque vistas. Shame it isn’t always this alluring, the occasional set-piece – such as a string of hot air balloons to bounce across – aside.
For the most part, Team Sonic Racing is an easy-going ride. Simply holding down the left trigger enters into a drift, which is both easy to manoeuvre and exit from, while a flick of the analogue stick is enough to perform a boost-bestowing trick when airborne. Moreover, with more than a few ways to gain a speed boost, battling for dominance is far from tense. Hit a few boost pads and slide into a slipstream and you’ll soon propel yourself to the front of the pack.
The AI does occasionally challenge your dominance – and despite the teamwork focus, they rarely bunch together – but with so many ways to zoom ahead, it isn’t long until you’re back in pole position. Simply put, fighting your way to the front isn’t as satisfying as it should be.
More damaging is the fact that there isn’t much encouragement or reason to experiment with the dozen characters on offer (play online and you’ll soon notice that 90% of players favour Sonic), and this is despite some abilities being linked to certain vehicles.
The same can be said for messing around with upgrades, gained via gashapon-style mystery pods. Opening them one at a time is a painstaking process that makes visiting the upgrade screen a chore. Thankfully we had no trouble making good headway through the story-driven adventure mode using the standard stock vehicles.
The adventure mode is a reasonably pleasurable way to spend a few hours, drip-feeding new tracks and introducing the Sonic Heroes-inspired racing teams. Sonic diehards – if nobody else – will want to take in the story, involving the mysterious newcomer Dodon Pa – a tanuki hiding an ulterior motive. But even then, fans should set expectations low. The story is told in the laziest, and cheapest, way possible with static cut-scenes featuring stock images. It’s as if Sumo raided SEGA’s fileserver full of character art and used whatever existing resources they could grab.
Content is lacking elsewhere. Local play mode presents just a trio of options – Grand Prix, Exhibition Race, and Time Trials. Online matchmaking allows for casual and ranked matches – in which it’s possible to race solo or in a team – but the process is simply aggravating, giving no choice but to sit in a dull lobby and wait for the previous match to end. There’s no facility to spectate, and to add to the monotony, the lobby music plays on a brief 20-second loop.
The voting process also takes too long, adding unnecessary downtime. Try playing online with friends if possible as creating your own lobby gives a few extra mode choices, including the longer lasting King of the Hill matches.
It isn’t all bad news on the presentation front – there’s some context-sensitive speech during races that livens things up somewhat, and the music is up to the franchise’s usual high standard – but for the most part, it does appear to have been put together on a tight budget. Made to spec, and nothing more. What should have been a turbo-charged racer with go-faster stripes feels more like a standard factory issue model, offering no extras other than a thinly applied coat of polish. Maybe next time SEGA will open their wallet wider and splash out on a few luxury extras.