Team Sonic Racing Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Sumo Digital

Publisher: SEGA

Release Date: May 21st 2019

Price as of Article: $39.99, £34.99

Story

There is a story in Team Sonic Racing… and there is not. As you gaze your eyes upon the home menu, you are presented with six options; Team Adventure, Local Play, Online Multiplayer, Player Stats, Garage, and Mod Pods. With Options, Tips, and Credits being sub options.

Adventure mode immediately starts you with a static, though voice acted, conversation between Sonic and his merry band, as they are approached by a mysterious looking mustached fella, who invites them to a race on Planet Wisp. Off to the races our heroes and anti-heroes go, and that was all she wrote, as from here on it is just one race after the other, without as much as a static dialogue exchange to forward the ”plot” and find out more about who this ”mysterious” figure is.

Racing games don’t need a story mode, the races are the core of the gameplay and usually stand perfectly fine on their own, but it can work as seen in Crash Team Racing, a game whose Adventure Mode was also very light on cutscenes but at least felt like you were on an actual adventure with bosses and what not. Another example is Jak X, the combat racing game from Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter series, that actually featured a full fleshed story with frequent cutscenes that showed how the racers interacted with each other inbetween the races, and had actual twists, turns, and character development. It felt like the Jak 4 we never got, only on wheels, and as the story progressed and you learned more about what was at stake, it made the races themselves even more thrilling as you knew you had something to fight for.

Team Sonic Racing Adventure Mode

But again, racing games don’t mandatorily need stories, and if Team Sonic Racing doesn’t want one, that is absolutely cool. Its predecessor, Sonic & All*Stars Racing Transformed, just had a career mode. But then don’t call your mode ”Adventure” if a single dialogue exchange at the beginning is all we are gonna get. Don’t pretend there is an adventure, when there clearly is none. Heck, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate had more substance in its World of Light, than this.

Phew… that was a long segment about a story that is not even there, so I guess I should touch on how this mode actually works and what is there. You basically have a map where you select missions with various objectives, that you then have to beat to the best of your ability to earn enough stars to proceed to the next mission on the board. The areas are divided into ”chapters”, and the missions can vary from Grand Prix, to single races, to a race where you get eliminated if you fall too far behind, to Time Attack missions where you are all alone and have to collect rings to keep the stingy timer going.

A satisfying performance will reward you with stars and keys like previously mentioned, that in turn can also unlock alternate routes on the map leading to special stages. At the beginning you can only play as either Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, but at the end of each chapter you unlock an additional 3 member team, though I don’t understand why these are all locked in Adventure, when they are unlocked from the get go in multiplayer.

Gameplay

Players who have played the previous two installments in the franchise, being Sonic & SEGA All*Stars Racing and Sonic & All*Stars Racing Transformed, should be immediately familiar with the control scheme. You choose a mode, you choose a stage, you choose a racer, and then you just hold that ZR button and never let go. Holding the ZL button around a corner or curve lets you drift and build up a 3-staged boost that releases when you let go, but is lost if you bump into anything while drifting.

You can also tilt the right analogue stick in any direction when in mid air, to have your character do some fancy flips that charge your boost, which is then immediately discharged upon touchdown, potentially giving you an edge in the race if you execute it correctly. If your landing is the least bit off though, you will stagger a bit, leaving you open to bite the dust of your fellow racers.

Team Sonic Racing Screenshot

It of course wouldn’t be a colourful cartoony mascot race without a means to fight back, and items do return in Team Sonic Racing. But where in previous games they were things like swarms of bees, glowfish bombs, gusts of wind, remote controlled bombs etc., these have now been replaced with Wisps that cover everything from homing missiles, to afterburn, boost, and invincibility. I am personally a bit tired of the Wisps appearing in every game since Sonic Colours, but personal feeling aside they do their job well as an offensive support for your player. Wisps or regular items, either or works fine.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Now, the game is called Team Sonic Racing this time around, with a heavy emphasis on ”team”. Sure you can have a traditional standard match against the CPU or up to 3 other players, but where the previous installment was all about transforming your vehicle to adapt to the terrain, Team Sonic Racing’s gimmick is, well, team racing. In team racing four teams consisting of three racers each will be pitted against each other, drastically changing up the gameplay, as where you previously just had to look out for yourself and make sure you were first over the finish line, you now have to work together to try and secure a united victory.

In this mode you have a Team Ultimate gauge, that builds as you help each other. You fill the gauge by handing your buddies an item that you yourself currently don’t need with a push of the A button, if say you are in 1st place and you can see your mates are lacking behind. Or by following the yellow trail left behind by the driver on the team who is furthest ahead, called Slingshotting. When the gauge is filled by these various actions, you can hit the X button to give all three team members a temporary invincibility speedboost, that is given a bit more run time if you manage to run into your opponents while it is effect, and, if playing with other real people, if you all manage to activate it simultaneously.

Team Sonic Racing Screenshot 2

Working as a team is important, especially in Grand Prix, where you race four 3 lap courses in succession, as you are scored based on what place you finished in. So if you want your team to stand strong and have the best chance of bringing home the gold, it is in your best interest that all three team members perform the best they can and preferably land in the top 3.

As a lone wolf, I was very sceptic about this new gimmick initially, as I didn’t want to have to worry about anyone but myself crossing the finish line. But not only did I like the concept of giving unneeded items away to someone who were in more need of them than I, as you would normally just waste those yourself while trying to get something better next time, but I also found it really fun trying to get all my three racers across the finish line first. It made me think strategic in a way no other racing game before has. If say I was in 2nd place and had a good weapon, should I use it on the guy in front of me to secure that golden 1st place, or should I hand it to one of my team mates lacking behind on 8th place and then try to overtake the 1st place on my own? If I finished first it would give us some cool points that might compensate for the rest of the team, but if I helped them out we might collectively finish with better results, making for better odds overall.

In fact, it is further encouraged to send and recieve items from your team members, as an item may transform into something else or even multiply, with some stronger items being exclusive to this method. Plus, again, sending items fills your Team Ultimate, so it really is a win win either way.

Team Sonic Racing Screenshot 3

Maybe I am overthinking this and giving it more praise than it really deserves, but I genuine found this mechanic cool, and would even willingly choose team race over single race now, as I feel it offers the more fullfilling experience. I still however, deeply miss the transformation gimmick of the previous installment, as the ever changing stages of that game forced you to adapt between driving, flying, and sailing, which offered much more variety in what a stage could do, and made sure that every lap was different and dynamic. Why couldn’t we have had both? Transformations and teamwork? The new teamwork gameplay is fun and has potential, but it in no way replaces the previous gimmick, in fact, I would say this is the lesser deal.

In fact, instead of keeping transformations and perhaps, just like the returning Wisps, make it the defining identity of the series, SEGA, whom we know never sticks to one idea for very long, constantly trying to re-invent the wheel as if they fear the franchise will otherwise grow stale, decide to take a page out of Mario Kart 8 this time around with stages that sometimes defy gravity. It works, but is still no replacement for the changing stages in All*Stars Transform. I swear, every time these guys have something that works, they drop it again immediately.

Where is everyone??

Speaking of ”All*Stars”, let’s talk a bit about the roster, shall we? In the two previous games, that both wore the All*Stars name and thus advertised that we would be treated to characters across SEGA’s long forgotten franchises, Team Sonic Racing, with its shorter and quite frankly, more boring title, makes no such promises. Right off the bat you are treated to 15 racers, seperated into classes; speed, technique, and power, and teams; Team Sonic, Team Rose, Team Dark, Team Vector, and Team Eggman. Yeah, I am getting Heroes flashbacks too, although this time around Cream from Team Rose has been replaced with 4 Chao, and Vector has replaced his trusty two sidekicks, Espio and Charmy, with Silver and Blaze.

Team Sonic Racing Characters

While it is nice to see the Heroes line-up back in action, and Silver and Blaze are welcome additions to the flock, I do miss the variety the All*Stars games brought, with otherwise long forgotten characters like Nights, Lola from Space Channel 5, and Alex Kidd from the Master System days, which made for a more diverse cast. Something cool about crossover rosters like that, as we have seen with Super Smash Bros., is also that they re-invigorate interest and awareness in lesser known characters. Pit, for one, would likely never have gotten a new game on the Nintendo 3DS in the form of Kid Icarus: Uprising, had it not been for his newfound popularity in Smash.

Furthermore, since this game is solely based on the Sonic series this time around, this also means that all the courses are based on stages from his games and adventures, like Planet Wisp, Seaside Hill, Bingo Highway, etc., whereas Transformed gave us one stage from each of the games the different racers represented, making for some great variety in scenery. One moment you were in Green Hill, the next your were in a secret underground facility, and the next again you were in a dreamscape taken right out of Nights into Dreams. While the courses represented here are all colourful and visually disctinct from one another, many of them largely feel the same in my opinion, making it feel like there are fewer than there really are.

Also, a minor gripe, but would it have killed them to come up with some more creative names for the different Grand Prix’ than just ”Grand Prix 1”, ”Grand Prix 2”, ”Grand Prix 3” etc.? Adding insult to injury, some stages even repeat.

Multiplayer

Going back to the main menu for a bit, we have Online Multiplayer as I mentioned in the beginning, which is exactly what it says, a mode where you can race players around the world in either single- or team races. Be forewarned though, that the result screen, that you can skip past in Adventure and local multiplayer, is unskipable in online, and you thus have to arduously sit through. It even forces you to wait 10 whole seconds for everyone to vote between the top 4 racers on who they thought did best. I couldn’t care less, okay? Shouldn’t being in the top 4 be praise enough? Get on with the races already!!

Team Sonic Racing Garage

And speaking of multiplayer. Since, if you choose local team play, you are forced to play with three other AI teams, why on Earth doesn’t the game allow for up to 12 players locally? Maybe not on the same system but then at least via wireless play? Super Smash Bros. Ultimate allows for up to 8 players of simultaneous chaotic mayhem, so why does this game only allow for 4? Four players means that you can’t even fill out two whole teams with human players. How epic could it have been to have tournaments with 12 people in teams of three, co-operating for victory? This, now that I think about it, is perhaps the game’s biggest missed opportunity.

Then there are Player Stats that I honestly don’t get why is even here, as it is really just the game keeping track of trivial things like how far you have driven, how many races you have finished, how many rings you have collected etc. Fine that its in the game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has something similar, but it didn’t need to take up a spot here.

The Raddest Hog on the Road

But the two last modes are perhaps even more pointless, or at least could have easily been one and the same. Mod Pods lets you spend the points you earn by racing (no microtransactions here) on gatcha balls containing paintjobs and customizations to your vehicles. But a push on the L button also takes you to the Garage, so why have that be its own icon on the main menu? Regardless, while paint jobs are purely cosmestic, customizations actually add or detract from your driver’s stats plus it makes their vehicles look even more swag!

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Audio

On the audio side, it is what you can expect. This being a racing game based on the Sonic series, the soundtrack consists largely of remixed tracks from the games the courses are inspired by. Some of them not being half bad, while other sound like they try a bit too hard. Transformed not only came with a more diverse cast of characters and stages, but also, to follow, a more diverse soundtrack, with epic pieces like Carrier Zone from Afterburner and Adder’s Lair from Golden Axe being personal favorites of mine.

Something new to this game I admittedly found really cool, is that characters frequently talk and interact with each other. If Sonic gets hit by a projectile from Shadow, he will comment something like ”I won’t go down that easily, Shadow”, if someone bumps into him he will say things like ”Hey, don’t text and drive!”, and if he drives off track or fails a boost he will says things like ”No one saw that, right?” or ”I meant to do that”. I mean, there are of course only so many lines, and they will quickly begin to repeat, but I appreciate them being there none the less. A fan favorite of mine, Metal Sonic, was one of my go to drivers in Transformed, but I quickly dropped him in this game, as he doesn’t have a voice, only beeps and boops. In fact, why isn’t Neo Metal Sonic here, since Team Sonic Racing borrows so heavily from Heroes?

Personally, I like characters who speak and comment all the time, as it makes the game feel alive to me, but if you are the type who quickly finds these things obnoxious you can turn them off in Options, as well as decide what language they should be if you do want to hear them. Or you can have voices disabled and only have them comment in text. Sonic also really seems to be hungry for bacon in this game.

Visuals & Performance

Sumo Digital, who developed the previous entry, is also the team behind Team Sonic Racing, and it honestly feels like they were given less of a budget to work with this time. Sonic & All*Stars Racing Transformed opened with a beautifully animated CG movie showcasing the various characters as well as the game’s transformation gimmick, and immediately set the stage for its production value. None of that is here in Team Sonic Racing however. No intro movie, we just go straight to the title screen with the announcer silently whispering the name of the game, after which we are taken to the main menu.

What I liked about the announcer in Transformed, was that he was never quiet. Every time you selected something from one of the menus or submenus, he announced what you had selected and what you were about to select next. In Team Sonic Racing though, he keeps quiet until the race begins, but even here he is not as active as he used to. Sure he announces when it is the final lap, and when you activate one of your Wisp powers, but in Transformed, if you managed to keep in 1st place for a while, he would say things like ”dominating the race!”.

I know, these are very small details, but with the rest of the game’s presentation being fairly decent overall, it comes down to the smaller details for me.

Team Sonic Racing Screenshot 5

Graphics wise it looks great, it is what you can expect from a AAA developer like SEGA, though I swear Sonic’s car has seen a downgrade in design, it’s like even he knows the game is subpar and doesn’t feel like going all out. And while we are on the topic, the racers on the characer select screen don’t load instantaneously, at least not on the Switch, which makes this version feel a bit sluggish. Can the Switch not load them fast enough?

I cannot for the life of me tell the difference between 60- and 30fps or 720p and 1080p though, so I can’t give you a technical comparisson on that front. All I can say is, it is perfectly playable and looks fine.

With that said, the game runs perfectly fine in handheld as well, but do not, I repeat do not play it in tabletop mode with two players, as it is next to impossible to make anything out. The Switch’s screen is small enough as it is, so try making 1st place when you only have half the screen to work with. I love the Switch and its portability, when you play by yourself and have the whole screen to work with.

I admire Nintendo’s vision of being able to share a joycon with a buddy and being able to play with a friend anytime anywhere, but for me personally it just doesn’t work on such a small screen. Maybe if it was just a couple inches wider, like on a tablet.

Value

For what it is, which is honestly a significant and disappointing downgrade in just about everything since Transformed, I guess Team Sonic Racing is still a decent package for what you pay. The game ain’t full priced, so if you just want a decent mascot racer on the go, or are a Sonic fan like myself, then it has enough content to tie you over for a while and keep you occupied. I applaud SEGA for finally releasing a new racing game, and I far prefer developers making something new, rather than taking the lazy route and port exisiting Wii U games, but to be honest this is one instance where I would have rather that they had done just that and ported All*Stars Transformed.

For what it’s worth though, at its budget price of £34.99/$39.99, it is not a bad deal at all, it just falls short of what it could have been, and pales in comparisson to what came before. So if you are not a die hard Sonic fan, I would suggest you wait for Crash Team Racing releasing next month, which, if it is anything like the game it is based on, and if the trailers are anything to go by, should be an absolute treat.

Pros

P

Cool team mechanic

P

A lot of colourful courses

P

Funny comments during races

Cons

P

No transformations

P

Lackluster Adventure Mode

P

Only supports up to 4 players local