The first of two upcoming colourful PlayStation 4 kart racers to reach the finish line is Team Sonic Racing, the follow-up to the much loved Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Sumo Digital has cemented itself as a talented arcade racing studio, and it seems to have made the most of the game's significant delay. We're currently playing the finished article for review, and so far, it seems to be a rock solid racing title.
Granted, the pared back roster of drivers and tracks is a bit of a bummer. The previous Sonic kart racer's USP was its amazing cast of SEGA characters and courses inspired by a wide variety of games, so the decision to focus solely on the Sonic the Hedgehog universe initially seems like a bad move. We do miss the variety brought by IPs like Jet Set Radio, Super Monkey Ball, and After Burner, but the developer has done a decent job of getting the most from the world of Sonic. Sure, the cast is missing a few favourites, but tracks are surprisingly varied, and the game makes smart use of the Wisps from Sonic Colours as pickups.
However, the real point of difference we need to discuss is the cooperative nature of the racing. Competitors are split into four teams of three, which are ranked as a collective. You and your teammates must work together in order to achieve the best positions you can. The total points earned from where you all place will determine which team claims victory, so there's more to the action than just placing first.
The leader among your team will leave a yellow trail for their partners to use. Dip into the golden path and you can build up a speed boost, helping those further back to slingshot back up the ranks. Similarly, if you spot an ally who's spun out or slowed down, drive right by them and it'll bring them right back up to speed. You can also swap items, ensuring no pickups go to waste. Completing these team-focused techniques builds up a meter, and when it's full, it'll give you a limited time supercharge that's extended further if you and your teammates all activate it at the same time.
These extra layers sound fairly insubstantial on their own, but they add an almost strategic edge to the racing. If you're leading the pack, you have more to think about than just maintaining your place; you can transfer items to your pals to help them get ahead, or ensure that your slingshot path is easy to follow. It's a smartly implemented system that adds to the already great racing carried over from Transformed. You can play standard races too, which play out exactly as you'd expect, though they feel slightly hollow after the co-op escapades of the team races.
Even the characters themselves are built to feed into the collaborative nature of the game. Divided into Speed, Power, and Technique classes, each excels in different ways and has unique abilities. Power characters such as Knuckles can brute force their way through obstacles, while Technique racers like Tails can drive off-road without losing speed. It's reminiscent of Sonic Heroes' three-character gameplay, and it's not surprising to see the majority of that game's cast included here.
As of right now, the main criticism we can throw at Team Sonic Racing isn't really its fault. It's fairly clear it's been developed with a limited budget, and while Sumo has made a great effort, it does feel a little limited in some ways. The visuals are nice but nothing outstanding, performance is mostly smooth but dips when things get hectic, and modes of play are pretty basic. There are some alternate, objective-based events in the story mode, but there's no way to play them outside of this.
Having said all that, we're rather enjoying our time with the game so far. It's going to be interesting to see how Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled stacks up when it drifts into view next month, but with both games offering something slightly different, it could be that there aren't too many comparisons to make.
Our full review of Team Sonic Racing will be going live later this week. Are you looking forward to this co-op spin on the kart racer? Go supersonic in the comments below.