If there’s one thing Sumo Digital is best at more than anything, it’s making a solid racing game. From Outrun 2 to Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, the development team has proven that they are the best at what they do. The only thing that could possibly hold them back is a good concept with a fatal flaw. And this is where Team Sonic Racing comes in. Having gotten my hands on the game at E3, I find that it feels just as good as the previous two All-Stars games. However, there’s one major thing that separates Team Sonic Racing from it’s predecessors and that’s relying heavily on AI in order to win.
The demo begins with you picking a racer out of two teams. Team Sonic (Sonic, Tails and Knuckles) or Team Shadow (Shadow, Rouge and Omega) with red and blue Egg Pawns filling out the rest of the roster. Once you’ve picked your driver, it’s time for the race to start and this is where Team Sonic’s major flaw rears it’s ugly head. The game relies not on you getting first place in the race you’re in, but for all of your teammates to perform well. This is done by trading Wisp power-ups with your friends, skimming past them to help them get a speed boost or driving on their wake to help speed yourself up. Good teamwork brings up your “Ultimate Meter” which will give all three of your teammates a huge boost of speed. This is why teamwork and sharing items is very important. If the three of you do well, your score at the end of the game will determine if your team wins.
While the game is meant to be played in multiplayer co-op for the best experience, the demos at E3 were in single player. This means you are completely reliant on your AI buddies being good enough to not screw you up. Sure you can share items with them and watch their back as best you can, but if they run into a wall, you’re screwed. This leaves you with trying to babysit your team rather than focus on winning the race.
That doesn’t mean this one aspect ruins the game. The racing is still just as smooth and intense as it’s ever been. Drifting and handling is spot on and the enemy AI doesn’t take it easy on you, making for a more enjoyable race. New items such the cube and rocket wisps provide plenty of new ways to antagonize your opponents. Think bananas are annoying in Mario Kart? Try giant, blue cubes everywhere. My favorite is the burst wisp. It lets you shoot flames from the back of your vehicle that do serious damage to the racers behind you.
Another interesting aspect is the sound. What little music I heard is rock solid, with an original track that starts out really jazzy, but quickly brings in the rock guitar in a tune that reminds me a little of Jun Sunoe’s work on Sonic Heroes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Junoe worked on the soundtrack. The sound effects themselves are satisfactory enough, but the sounds of ring collecting seemed muted and slightly different from the traditional ring sound.
The biggest change in sound is the voice acting. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still the same voice actors and it sounds like even the announcer from the last game makes a return. But this is possibly the first in the Sega sports series of games to include all original voice acting (not counting the Sonic Riders series) specifically for this game. This means no stock voice work from previous games to save money, but full on taunts and brags to make the game feel more alive. Of course, this being a Sonic game, that means some really groan-worthy lines too. Does all of this extra dialogue mean we’ll get a full story mode as well? Who knows?
As far as graphics go, they’re a bit of a jump from the last game. The game features smooth textures with great lighting and a high resolution. Little details such as particle effects like pollen or confetti in the air and the tread on the tires as it spins are all present. There are even billboards for different things in the Sonic-verse. Some of which I’m sure will have obscure references.
All of this comes at a price. Like it’s predecessors, the game currently runs at 30 frames per second. Whether this will change before release remains to be seen. From what I could tell playing both demos, the PS4 version seems to have a resolution of 1080P while the X-Box One version is running at 720P. The Switch version was not on the show floor, but Sumo Digital has always done a good job at porting their racing games to less powerful consoles while keeping it looking and feeling great.
One minor thing I noticed is that the PS4 demo has a bit of a performance issue. Sometimes when boosting, the frame rate will suddenly chug and drop heavily. This also leads to the sound stuttering as well. I wouldn’t worry too much about it as the game is still in development and it has a long way to go before release, so I doubt this will be an issue.
While I’m not to crazy for the teamwork game play aspect in it’s current state, Sumo Digital has never let me down and since Aaron Webber has already confirmed more modes within the game, I have great confidence that the more we see of this racer, the more hyped I’ll be for it. That said, Team Sonic Racing’s got a long drive ahead before it can beat All-Stars Racing Transformed past the finish line.
Team Sonic Racing speeds into stores on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, X-Box One and PC this holiday season.