Recently, a lot of games have incorporated cooperative mechanics to competitive modes. Something like Destiny 2’s Gambit was long desired and adds a lot more strategy than you’d thing. Even if the anyone can win concept is part of what makes Mario Kart so much fun and Mario Party something of a nightmare, it’s easy to see how this concept could be expanded upon through teamwork. This is the concept of Team Sonic Racing, something that is furthered by the franchises repeated use of set teams or groupings. Based off what I played at E3 it was certainly interesting but given the way new ideas tend to go over, is better in theory or does it give Mario Kart a run for its money?
For better or worse, Team Sonic Racing goes in a rather predictable direction for story. Sonic and his friends receive an invite from Dodon Pa, an alien tanuki from a planet that loves racing, inviting them to compete. Naturally they accept, leading to a number of races, challenges and competitions designed to amuse the masses and give various teams a chance to shine. Even if there is more than meets the idea, it’s pretty forgettable and more of a tutorial.
If there is a downside to story, it’s that it gives players a variety of challenges, without really adding much. The mini-games, which include collecting coins or driving through specific points, are genre staples that actually require a fair amount of practice or a specific build to win the highest awards on. This will prompt some to practice to complete them all, whereas others will accept a mediocre win and call it a day. Racing levels struggle to change this perspective.
Races come down to your ability to work together or utilize mechanics to your advantage. Maybe you get a good item but it’s not useful to you, give it to someone else and they can help your team. Likewise, even if you’re not in first place, awards are given based off overall placement, not single player performance. This makes it ideal for others to work together, as you can lose and win and win but lose.
For some this might be a difficult concept to understand, so I’ll explain. For a six person race, first place gets 15 points, followed by the next positions getting 12, 10, 9, 8 and then 7 respectively. Even if you get first place, if your teammates get fifth and sixth, you lose. To actually win with first place you need someone who comes in first and at least one of the others needs to come in fourth or better. It’s rare for someone to lose with first, not to mention frustrating, but the fact you can really sells the idea of playing as a team.
Going back to what I previously said, winning hinges on your ability to share resources, drive together and boost to victory. However, the stand out feature is giving less skilled or disruptive players a chance to have fun without sacrificing victory. I know back when I played these games with my family, my dad simply could not drive to save his life, but maybe he managed to slow someone else down or even if he contributes nothing, gets the feeling of winning.
This, along with other competitive elements, appear in full force online. With races having up to 12 players, some of which are AI, it doesn’t take much for things to go in a multitude of directions. It forces players to think ahead, play smart and awards smart last minute plays or decisive attacks.
However, as nice as things are, it suffers from the same feelings commonly associated with Mario Kart. Winning is great, though now you don’t just have party mechanics to hold you back or limit your ability to win, having dead weight is enough to tank your score. Just looking at the image above, Bored_TurtleO_O won the race, they actually had a sizable lead of about 2 seconds on second and 6 seconds on me, yet their partners were bad enough to drop them from first to third. Sure, it was by one point but if Shadow had simply beat Siriusbee, they’d have tied with me and the tie breaker should’ve favored them and they would’ve won the race. It’s little things like this that can ruin some of the fun.
Outside of racing, there is a fair amount of customization in Team Sonic Racing. Some of this is for fun, like horns or decals, with parts actually changing how you perform. This allows for a bit more customization, not just in look but you can improve your defense or top speed, just like you can ignore things like handling. It allows players to get the build they want, so they can perform to their strengths, even if it takes a bit to accomplish.
Levels also do a good job of highlighting where Sonic has come since the Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. Various tracks do a good job of reminding us the charm or excitement of some of those stages, making for a fun experience.
Team Sonic Racing is ultimately a double edge sword. The concept is cool and the mechanics are there, it just won’t appeal to everyone. It’s hard to win a race and still lose, just like it’s a lot of fun to not have a last second mistake take away an obvious victory. If anything, it just changes where the source of frustration is. I wouldn’t say this is enough to ruin the experience, just that it’s less of a fix and more of a different experience. If this sounds fun or you just want to play a Mario Kart-esque game on a different platform, it’s a solid choice, otherwise I’d wait to see if they fix the kinks down the road.
[Editor’s Note: Team Sonic Racing was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]