Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is, for our money, one of the few kart racers that deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Nintendo’s all-conquering Mario Kart series. The celebration of SEGA’s illustrious legacy not only revelled in ridiculous fan service (Burning Rangers, anyone?) but it also had a sharp gameplay loop whereby vehicles could, ahem, transform from cars to boats to planes and back again. It was barmy but brilliant at the same time.
Team Sonic Racing yanks out the nineties nostalgia and vehicular variation, preferring to put its furry focus on Sonic Team’s expanding cast of characters and four wheels. It’s a disappointment in pure premise alone, because while we can appreciate the mass market audience of this Sumo Digital developed sequel not really understanding the significance of Ryo Hazuki whipping around hairpins in an OutRun arcade cabinet, does anyone under 20 know who Shadow the Hedgehog is anymore either?
The game’s big twist is that, as per 2018 trends, it adds a co-operative dynamic to proceedings. This essentially means that you’ll be paired with two other racers, and you’ll be effectively working together to take pole position. Collaboration extends to swapping and sharing power-ups, as well as a unified super meter that you build as a group; riding in one of your teammate’s slipstream gives you a speed boost… And yeah, that seems to be just about the extent of it.
It’s a nice system but it remains to be seen how much of an impact it’ll have on actual gameplay; the rubber banding is so strong that we never felt like we could effectively collaborate with our computer controlled accomplices, and by the end of the race we were just praying that our fluffy friends finished high up the rankings. You’re scored as a unit, so if one racer comes first and the others finish seven and eighth, your team will likely lose anyway. Great?
The big problem, though, is that it just doesn’t handle right. SEGA told us that it was experiencing Bluetooth interference on the busy EGX 2018 showfloor, but we didn’t encounter any issues elsewhere. Disconnecting and reconnecting the controller improved matters, but it still felt sluggish and imprecise. In a game that’s meant to be about flinging yourself around corners, it felt borderline bad to us. There’s a lot of work to be done.
The environments, too, just don’t have that same spark Transformed had. To be honest, we couldn’t tell you which course we played: it was definitely a Sonic level, with blue skies and bright colours – but compared to, say, the Golden Axe and Panzer Dragoon race tracks of its predecessor, there doesn’t appear to be anything of similar interest here. It all just feels by-the-numbers and bland – it strikes us as a game that’s ticking boxes, rather than one with real imagination behind it.
The real problem is that we understand why SEGA’s taken this turn; Jet Set Radio and Space Channel 5 are so old now that they mean next to nothing to most people. But you only need to look at Super Smash Bros to see how nostalgia can be married to mainstream characters in order to create an effective crossover that facilitates the tastes of two different markets. With sloppy handling and a potentially frustrating team mechanic to add insult to injury, Sonic may well be finishing last. Again.
Are you looking forward to Team Sonic Racing? Are you worried about the team dynamic? Do you think it’ll come together effectively in the end? Follow the trail of rings into the comments section below.