Team up and race with your friends at the speed of sound.
As a massive fan of kart racers, there haven’t been many options to choose from on the Switch so far besides Nintendo’s flagship series. Team Sonic Racing finally gives the plumber and crew a run for their money with exciting racing and creative team elements that keep it from being just an impersonation of the classic Mario Kart formula.
Unlike the last few Sonic Racing titles, Team Sonic Racing doesn’t include the entire Sega universe of characters but instead focuses on Sonic and his friends. The Team Adventure mode frames grand prixs, versus races, time trials, and other challenges around a light story in which the Sonic crew is challenged to compete in team races by an alien king. You’re not tied to a specific character or difficulty level when you start the adventure mode, which provides flexibility if you end up struggling with a course.
All of the characters have dialogue during the story itself and also during races. I thought it would be annoying at first to constantly hear my character talking while I’m trying to focus on the race, but there are enough unique phrases and interactions that it never gets too repetitive, and it’s actually quite charming. Big the Cat is my absolute favorite of the bunch with his innocent and childlike sayings that tend to have nothing to do with the race itself.
Staying loyal to its title, Team Sonic Racing’s gameplay puts a strong emphasis both on elements that keep each team of three players together, and of course, speed. When a player gains a lead over their teammates, they create a yellow boost track behind them that only stops when they fall behind the rest of the team. Even if you’re several places behind, this massive speed boost ensures that you catch up in just a few seconds. The ability to share item blocks with struggling teammates can also bring your group together, as long as you’re feeling charitable. Using the team features gives you the additional advantage of a Team Ultimate later in the race which gives you a substantial temporary boost and invincibility. As they give you lots more to think about and consider while playing, all the team elements make Team Sonic Racing more complex and interesting than the typical kart racer.
The tracks echo styles and locations from classic Sonic zones, like casinos, beaches, and jungles. Every level has a variety of track styles, enemies, and background elements. The layouts of the maps themselves are well-suited for the blazing speed of expert mode with long stretches of track giving you the ability to focus on the race, but things are still kept interesting with loops and tunnels. Even on the fastest speed and in split-screen local multiplayer the frame rate stays consistent, despite running at 30 FPS compared to the smooth 60 FPS found on other platforms. Once I got over the initial frustration of the lower frame rate, I quickly became intrigued by the snappy feel of the racing gameplay itself.
You can customize each character’s kart in the garage, but you need to earn coins to unlock Mod Pods, which each give you a random car element. I would prefer a more straightforward way to get the styles and parts that I want without playing the lottery element, but I do appreciate how many options there are to trick out every vehicle. Car parts change the speed and acceleration as well as other qualities of the vehicle’s performance, but the characters and vehicles themselves don’t feel too different from each other.
The online functionality is limited but works smoothly. You can play in teams or alone, like any other racer, but I vastly prefer the fun of the team features. You can open up custom lobbies with friends, but not public lobbies with strangers. In general, beside the adventure as well as basic races and time trials, I would have liked to see more modes for both single player and multiplayer, on and offline.
The soundtrack by Sonic Generations composer Jen Senoue is the highlight of the experience. Each track has the sassiness and excitement that you would expect from any Sonic soundtrack, plus callbacks to many of the iconic songs from the series’ past. The addition of driving songs from electronic and rock bands like Hyper Potion and Crush 40 completes the perfect racing accompaniment.
Team Sonic Racing is the perfect addition to the Switch’s kart racing lineup. It’s a fast and exciting roller coaster of a racer with the style and spunk you’d expect from the Sonic series. While it doesn’t perform on the Switch as well as on other consoles, that doesn’t change the fun of speeding through this iconic universe.