Republished on Wednesday, 23rd January, 2022: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of March 2022's PS Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Here's the thing: PlayStation 4 does not have many examples of good arcade racing games, let alone kart racers. The few exceptions are trying new things in an attempt to liven things up, but the reality is that players who just want a straightforward, drifty, boosty racing title aren't really catered for. The argument is they don't sell nearly as well as they used to, but it's still a shame to see the subgenre peter out as it has. Thankfully, Team Sonic Racing from Sumo Digital might be one of PS4's best arcade racers, although that's not to say it's perfect. Like we said, all these games are throwing in twists on the formula, and we dare say not everyone will be convinced by this colourful kart racer's focus on cooperative play.
The important thing to remember is that this is based on the fundamentals of Sumo's previous Sonic racing games, with very familiar handling giving the title an extremely solid foundation. The driving varies by character; each is split into Speed, Power, or Technique categories, and they all have unique stats, making for surprisingly noticeable changes on the track. Overall, the handling is smooth, coming in and out of drifts is a breeze, and it's immediately good fun throwing these cars around.
The team-based races are mostly successful, too. The game is structured around them, and it doesn't take long to adjust to its line of thinking. Splitting competitors into four groups of three means that you need to work together to tally as many points as you can. Small but effective systems allow you to send and receive help from your teammates, and it all works in favour of getting all three of you ahead. The leader of your team leaves a yellow slipstream, which you can dip into for a quick slingshot boost. Skim past teammates that have been taken out to get them back up to speed instantly. Transfer items to and from each other to ensure you get the most from them.
It gives you more to think about than just putting your foot down and aiming for first place. Sure, you should be at the front of the pack if you can, but the positions of your partners is just as important. This is where things start to get a little iffy. On the one hand, pooling your points together means everyone does better from it; the pressure to be the first across the finish line isn't as pronounced, and it evens the playing field to some degree. However, it can be frustrating if you're consistently doing well and your teammates aren't. You can be in first place and earn top points, but if your two allies are at the back of the pack, you can still lose. Obviously, utilising the aforementioned team-based tactics lessens this possibility, but especially with AI drivers, nothing is guaranteed, and sometimes your best efforts to work together aren't enough.
For most of the time, though, the co-op racing works well, and you'll quickly grow accustomed to trading pick-ups and boosting off your buddies. The Team Adventure mode does break up these races with the odd objective-based fare, like collecting as many rings as you can, driving through pole gates, or weaving in between robots. They keep things interesting while you work through the story, but they seem to demand a high level of skill, which may be problematic for casual or younger players.
You can remedy this to a point by unlocking new performance parts for each character's vehicle. Mod Pods can be opened with credits earned through playing the game, and this gacha-style system sees rewards somewhat randomised. From our experience, it seems it'll prioritise characters you've been using the most, letting you quickly customise your favourites. Even though racers all have their specialities, you can make surprisingly big changes to their stats by swapping out parts, and doing so could make a real difference, particularly in those challenges.
In addition to car parts and paint jobs, you'll unlock item boxes. These can be selected before a race to give you a leg up on the competition — for example, start the race with a certain weapon, or make drifts build up boost faster. These kind of buffs aren't strictly necessary for victory, but they can certainly come in handy.
If you're not keen on the idea of co-op races, it's possible to play Team Sonic Racing as a standard kart racer. You can play this way locally or online, and it plays precisely how you'd want it to. The problem is that, because you'll spend a lot of time playing team races, driving alone may feel a little empty; a lot of the tracks are quite wide, and item boxes aren't as plentiful as in Mario Kart. In other words, courses are built first and foremost with team racing in mind. If you get used to the quick decision making and fast-paced co-op of the game's main events, standard races don't feel as exciting.
Elsewhere, the game just doesn't quite have the level of polish you'd expect. Performance in particular stands out; an unlocked frame rate means 60 frames-per-second for the majority, but we noticed several moments of slowdown on both standard and Pro consoles. The presentation is fine, but the visuals aren't particularly impressive. It gets the job done with a clear, colourful style, but it's nothing that'll blow you away. In terms of audio, the music is typically fantastic, with lots of high energy themes that marry perfectly with the action. However, we noted some delayed effects and instances of the mix being noticeably off, mainly when it comes to dialogue. It's not a constant issue, but there are times when you won't be able to hear what characters are saying (although, sometimes, that's a good thing).
We don't want to drag Team Sonic Racing down for ultimately quite trivial points. At the end of the day, Sumo Digital has served up a solid kart racer that succeeds in bringing something new to the table. It won't be to everyone's tastes, but the cooperative racing adds a nice layer of rapid fire strategy. It's implemented well, to the point where standard races feel distinctly secondary. It might be lacking the wow factor SEGA's other IPs brought to Sumo's other racers, and it's a shame performance is a little rocky, but this is a good option for PS4 players who want some arcadey thrills.