Thanks to SEGA for the review code
Title: Team Sonic Racing
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 05/21/2019
In this racing game, you take control of Sonic and his friends as they head to the races while also investigating a very strange individual known as Dodonpa. This game’s story mode is very barebones and super easy to accidentally skip due to the placement of the cutscene button, but everything is fully voiced even if the overall presentation for these parts are lacking.
Overall, Team Sonic Racing looks pretty decent for a racing game, and on other systems it looks super smooth compared to the two Sega All Star racers before, thanks to being at 60FPS. Unfortunately, this is the Switch version we’re talking about, and it’s stuck at 30FPS just like those older racers. It looks and feels fine enough in handheld mode, and the scenery is still gorgeous even in this compromised form, but once you play in docked mode the sacrifices are more apparent and the game just feels weird when compared to smoother kart racers on the same system, although the downgrade feels a lot better than what Sonic Forces went through. I really wish that there was an option that would reduce the visuals in exchange for a higher framerate, but alas there isn’t any.
On the plus side, the game’s sound is still just as good as on other systems, and that means all the excellent remixes of classic sonic tunes are back. I was really surprised to hear rearrangements from Sonic CD and some of the earlier games here, considering how most of the courses are from more modern games, and nearly every remix is of high quality. The only gripe I have with the music comes from how Time Trials forces you to play with the main vocal theme, which is just terrible.
The voice acting is also well done, with each character having their own lines to respond to each of the characters on the roster, along with the aforementioned voiced lines in the story mode. A lot of the high quality voice actors from previous Sonic titles return and they still do just as great of a job as ever. However there are also a few characters that were recasted for this game, and they just sound really weird, particularly in the case of Knuckles. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, but it may catch some people off guard. Thankfully if you’re bothered by the mid-race dialogue, you have the option to mute that entirely.
Team Sonic Racing offers two ways to race, with the titular Team Race mode and your traditional single race. Each type still tasks the player with working their way to the finish line in as high of a placing as possible, but the Team Race tries some fun new mechanics that actually work out better than I initially expected, while the single race just felt like your typical Mario Kart clone.
Team Races tasks you with picking three characters in order to get them to race against the other teams of three. While you still control your primary character, (with the other teammates being controlled by CPUs) you can assist your allies in a few ways, from handing off unwanted item boxes to them, asking for an item in a pinch, and following behind a teammate to get a speed boost off their slingshot trail. If you allow your teammates to follow you enough times, all three members will eventually be able to use their Team Ultimate, which is a handy speedboost that allows all three teammates to gain a lot of speed for a period of time. At the end of a team race, the placement of each team member will be added together in an average of sorts, and the team with the highest average wins the race!
For a new mode that’s the game’s core focus, it works surprisingly well and works as a fun alternative to your standard kart racing, which consists of the typical “three lap, use items and race to first place” gameplay loop that nearly all Kart Racers imitate from Mario Kart. Without the team mechanics or any other gimmicks in standard races, they just feel like your typical kart racer and not much more. That’s fine for those who don’t mind playing a Sonic racer that’s far better from the days of Sonic Drift 2, especially since you have super tight controls and great track design, but playing these courses in Team Mode is strongly recommended if you have any local buddies around for multiplayer. Completing races will also reward you with tokens that can be redeemed to get random car parts, which can be used to slightly customize each character and improve their kart.
When it comes to the online mode, things get a lot worse and not nearly as fun. There’s your typical ranked and casual options for random races, but within weeks of the Switch release these lobbies dropped hard like a rock, with most of them consisting of five to eight people max in all my attempts at pairing up with players. In the case of missing players the game just replaces them with CPUs, but it’s disappointing that this online mode is already dead only a mere month after launch. It doesn’t help that the online in general is lacking to the point that I don’t really blame players for skipping the mode entirely. You can set up custom lobbies for races with your friends, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to join a friend in the middle of a public match like you can in Mario Kart 8, outside of joining a lobby at the same time they do and hoping for the best. This also means that you can’t deliberately pair up with your friends for team races, which makes this online mode even more confusing.
Last but not least, the single player options are pretty basic but they do get the job done. You have your standard Time Trial mode for every course in the game, which actually benefits from a handy quirk where the time trial restars after every single lap, meaning that if you don’t get the lap time you were hoping for you can simply keep going for another lap until you finally get a time you’re satisfied with. The story mode is pretty standard as well, with each stage tasking you with completing a race on a certain stage or even full length grand prix. Each stage offers stars, with some giving out more than others depending on the amount of objectives on offer, and alternate routes can be opened up depending on how much you have. The story aspect of this mode is pretty easy to skip however, since you have to hit Y to start the cutscene, as pressing A will just skip them and put you straight into the objective. This seems like a weird design choice when having them the other way around would work better for newcomers to the story, but there are several worlds to go through, meaning that you will have a good amount of content to play with when playing offline.
In conclusion, Team Sonic Racing entertained me a lot more than I expected, especially in this compromised version. While all the content is here and it’s moderately enjoyable, the reduced framerate can make the game feel clunky on Switch when compared to the other versions, especially if you play docked. But as a handheld game, it’s still a perfectly serviceable kart racer with a good amount of tracks and a lengthy mode to tackle, while also being a great time when played with friends. However, there’s still the issues with matchmaking, and compared to the more polished kart racers on the system you’re better off picking one of those, and you’re especially better off picking this up on any system but Switch due to the framerate downgrade if you’re still interested in these fun moments. Team Sonic Racing is decent as a handheld game and a fun racer in general, but this port could have been so much better.
I give Team Sonic Racing a 6 out of 10.