Putting Sonic the Hedgehog at the center of a racing game just seems right. It’s surprising that Mario has had the premiere racing series the past three decades when if placed in a one-on-one footrace with the blue blur would swiftly be lapped a dozen times before he had the chance to attempt to cheat through a sewer pipe. This point wasn’t lost on Sega, who first tried their hand at the genre crossover with Sonic Drift in 1994 for Game Gear and attempted to solidify the concept with Sonic R in 1997 with mixed results. After experimenting with hoverboard racing with Sonic Riders, Sega decided to turn to third-party Sumo Digital and bank on their experience reviving Outrun to give Sonic a proper racing franchise. The result was the surprisingly capable kart-racing game Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, which was successful enough to receive a sequel just two years later. Unfortunately the series has lay dormant in that time, but is back with a spiritual successor in Team Sonic Racing.
The first notable aspect of Team Sonic Racing when comparing it to its predecessors is that it jettisons any characters other than those in the Sonic the Hedgehog universe. While this means not being able to race as characters from Samba de Amigo or Super Monkey Ball and avoiding tracks from Billy Hatcher or Jet Set Radio Future, it does cement the series as more of a direct competitor to Mario Kart and avoids the muddled title Sonic & All-Stars Racing in favor of the clear Team Sonic Racing. While it was always fun playing as characters and seeing assets from classic Sega series, if Mario Kart can draw only off of Mario assets, there’s no reason Sonic can’t do the same. There’s so many notable settings and characters through the franchise that can be used to great effect here and custom elements influenced by the series can be built as well.
A notable aspect about Team Sonic Racing is how it puts an emphasis on teamwork. Much like in a NASCAR race, players are less focused on the individual and more about the overall team, being willing and able to assist their teammates throughout a race. Power-ups and speed boosts can be shared and opponents can be knocked out, culminating in the Team Ultimate ability. Up to twelve different players can hop into a race with support for four-player split screen both online and offline, including modes like Grand Prix, Exhibition, Team Adventure and Time-Trial modes. Adventure mode will feature a story as players get the hang of things, although what this story will be or how deep is currently unknown. Performance and appearance of vehicles are customizable, assuring players hit the track looking and feeling as desired.
Team Sonic Racing features fifteen playable characters from across the Sonic Universe and three different character types including Speed, Technique and Power. While this may seem like a low amount, hopefully it’s in the service of gameplay balance. Diving deep into the series and including characters like Nack the Weasel would be cool, but if they’re just thrown in and makes it into a free-for-all, that would be a detriment to the game’s competitive possibilities. Teams all feature characters that mesh well with one another, such as Team Rose featuring Amy Rose (Speed), Chao (Technique) and Big the Cat (Power). Players will also be able to choose between Team Sonic, Team Dark and two unannounced teams upon launch.
Since Sega All-Stars Racing emerged nearly ten years ago, it’s been the premiere kart challenger to Mario Kart. Sumo Digital knows how to craft an entertaining racing game and Team Sonic Racing looks to carry on that trend. At first glance it may look like a step back from its predecessor, featuring less characters overall and franchises to draw from, but the hope is that this is to make it a balanced experience that can be played on a regular basis with the amount of strategy preferred in a racing title. At the very least you’ll be able to blaze through a course as Big the Cat. Isn’t that all anybody ever wanted?