Kartography is my regular series in which I look at licensed kart racers throughout gaming history, and figure out where they fit on my all-time karting game leaderboard.
For more information on my scoring policy for Kartography, check out this introductory article.
Sega / Sumo Digital
PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC (PS4 version reviewed)
My last Kartography article looked at Sonic R, Sonic’s debut home console racing experience.
Given that today marks the launch of the latest one – Team Sonic Racing – it only makes sense that a Kartography double-bill is in order.
Thanks to Sega, yer man Scullion has been playing the PS4 Pro version of the game for the past week and a half, which is just enough time to deconstruct the entire thing in trademark Kartography style.
In case you aren’t aware, Team Sonic Racing’s main gimmick is team races, where you’re grouped together with two other partners and your Grand Prix points are all added up for a total score.
Where will this new twist place it on my Kartography leaderboard though? Let’s find out.
As I said in the last Kartography article, the Sonic licence is a fairly massive one in the world of video games, second arguably to Mario when it comes to family-friendly franchises.
Even when it hits its low points – Sonic 2006, Sonic and the Black Knight – the character continues to have enough goodwill with gamers old and new that they’re always willing to give it another shot.
This has paid off in recent years with some genuinely brilliant Sonic games: Sonic Generations was a lovely nod to the classic titles, but Sonic Mania took it even further with an immaculate old-school 2D platformer.
Long story short: he may have had his ups and downs, but Sonic remains a hugely popular property in the gaming world.
Licence score – 5 out of 5
Love him or hate him (and I love him, for what it’s worth), Sonic is money and a Sonic karting game is always going to be popular.
Since team-based racing is the main focus of Team Sonic Racing, the 15-character roster is split into five preset teams of three.
When you choose a character in a single-player team race, the other two characters in their preset team become your AI partners during the race.
There are three types of racers in general:
• Speed types obviously have the highest top speed
• Technique types can drive over the likes of grass and ice for a while before it starts to affect them
• Power types are slower but can break through some on-track obstacles and use certain stronger Wisp power-ups to make up for it.
Look, you already know who Sonic is. If I bothered to try explaining I’d only be wasting my time and yours.
In fact, just the act of me typing out these words you’re reading just now could be considered me using up energy I don’t need to use up. I’m going to stop now.
Miles ‘Tails’ Prower
Sonic’s pal: you know, the one with two tails. It’s still to be confirmed whether he has two bums.
This is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. I’ve tried emailing Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka, but he won’t answer me. This is unacceptable.
Did you know an echidna is a sort of spiny anteater, belonging to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals?
Because I did. I didn’t even have to Google it or anything. There isn’t a thing about echidnas you could ask me that I wouldn’t know. Owls, now that’s a different story.
Amy’s certainly gotten her act together since Sonic R. Back then she was the only one in a car, but it was absolute guff and she was the worst racer in the game.
This time she’s a proper all-rounder, and I ended up playing through most of the story mode as her. Good job, madam: you’ve turned your life around.
There are actually four Chao piloting this little pod car: a neutral one, a hero one, a dark one and the annoying tutorial one Omochao.
Fun fact: they’re named ‘Chao’ because that’s what they say to people as they drive past them.
Fun fact 2: that’s a lie.
Officially named after the popular Tom Hanks movie (that’s another lie), Big used to spend his days searching for his best pal Froggy.
Now he drives around in a giant metal green car that looks suspiciously frog-like, while his chum is nowhere to be seen.
I don’t want to spread rumours, but it seems clear to me that Big has turned his friend into a car. This is yet another lie, incidentally.
Blaze is an imperial princess from an alternate dimension, which seems pretty far-fetched until you remember she’s called Blaze and that’s probably what the designers were doing when they came up with her backstory.
In her debut appearance in Sonic Rush, she starts off shy and eventually learns the meaning of friendship from Cream the Rabbit.
And now Cream’s nowhere to be found. Is that how you treat your friends, Blaze? Off gallivanting to racing tournaments without them? For shame.
Silver is infamous for making his debut in the worst ever Sonic game, not taking the hint and deciding to stick around even though his very presence continues to remind everyone it existed.
Every time Sonic sees him he has flashbacks to that time he kissed a human female, and he’s sick in his mouth a little bit.
You know, it may be hard to believe, but there was once a time when Vector the Crocodile was the name on everybody’s lips.
Granted, that’s because people all over the world were buying Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and asking “who the hell is Vector?”.
But hey, it all counts.
Remember when Shadow was considered controversial? Remember when he had his own game, where he rode a motorbike and said “damn” and people were like “WOW, Sega got real mature all of a sudden”?
Remember that bit in the Shadow game where he breaks into a soup kitchen and punts a big pot of soup through a window because he’s so bloody edgy?
No you don’t, you liar. That didn’t happen.
For ages I read Rouge as Rogue, because I thought she was a bit of a rogue: you know, given that she’s always dropping double-entendres and the like.
I never really associated her with the word ‘rouge’, because she isn’t red for starters. That just makes no sense.
I appreciate this misunderstanding is my own doing, and I take full responsibility for it.
Not to be confused with E-102 Gamma, who starred in Sonic Adventure and was an Eggman robot who turned on its master and became good.
Instead, E-123 Omega starred in Sonic Heroes and was an Eggman robot who turned on its master and became good.
Wait, hang on.
No, I’m afraid Sonic hasn’t discovered the joys of Rob Zombie and Iron Maiden. That isn’t the kind of ‘Metal Sonic’ we’re talking about here, hyuk hyuk.
This is instead the robotic Sonic that Eggman created back in ‘93 to kidnap Amy Rose. Its musical tastes are unknown but given the era it’s from I reckon it likes a bit of Whigfield.
American rock band Soundgarden’s much-loved song Spoonman was originally going to be called Eggman, but Sega threatened legal action if it wasn’t changed.
Inspired by his passion for egg & spoon races, frontman Chris Cornell cleverly decided to change the song to Spoonman instead.
This is all a lie too.
The rookie of the roster, Zavok has only appeared in a couple of games and Team Sonic Racing marks the first time he’s ever been properly playable.
He’s the leader of the Deadly Six, a sextuplet of evil Zeti who appear in Wii U platformer Sonic Lost World with plans to drain Sonic’s world of its power.
He’s a bad bastard, basically.
Racers score – 4 out of 5
It’s close to an excellent roster of Sonic characters, but it isn’t definitive by any means. Considering the last couple of Sonic platformers featured a cross-generational storyline, it would have been amazing to see classic chubby Sonic and Tails in there.
Meanwhile, Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel may have been obscure characters in the past but their addition to Sonic Mania last year means they’re relevant now and would have been welcome additions too. Other characters have just been outright ditched: sorry, Cream the Rabbit fans.
The 15 who made the cut, though, are handled well: they all have their own animations and come with loads of dialogue. There’s plenty of ‘top bants’ throughout each race and they even have specific lines when they interact with certain characters (like the Chao team apologising to Blaze when they hit her, and Rouge trying to chat up Knuckles).
Each character in Team Sonic Racing has their own specific car, as seen in the screenshots above.
You can’t choose from different cars like you can in Mario Kart, so if you want to put Vector in Metal Sonic’s badass shiny F1 car you can’t.
What you can do, however, is upgrade each vehicle with custom parts you can unlock through a loot box style system, where tokens are used to buy gacha machine balls containing parts, decals, horns and the like.
The horns and decals are obviously cosmetic, but it’s the parts themselves that are more important. Each car has three unlockable fronts, three rears and three wheel types as well as ‘legendary’ versions of each (which act the same but are shiny). This means there are 18 different parts to unlock for each car: a total of 270.
To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s Sonic’s standard car:
Now here’s how it looks when I apply all three legendary parts, apply the ‘Tails’ colour scheme (i.e. yellow) and make it metallic:
Lovely. And don’t worry about the loot box thing, we aren’t talking microtransactions here. You get tokens for winning each race, and the game’s pretty generous at dishing them out.
By the time I finished the Story mode I’d earned enough to buy around 300 balls, which means I got the vast majority of parts along with a bunch of decals, horns and paint schemes. This isn’t the sort of thing that’s going to take you hundreds of hours to unlock everything: 20 or so should probably do it.
Vehicles score – 3 out of 5
Each car is well designed and the ability to swap out different parts is cool too. It’s a shame there aren’t multiple cars to choose from, though, because some of them are a tad generic (like Amy’s sports car).
There are 21 tracks in the game, divided into seven distinct themes.
Of these 21, nine are carried over from the previous Sonic racing games, albeit as recreated and far more detailed versions.
In the last Kartography I introduced ‘lap tour’ videos, in which I play a lap of every track so you can get a better idea of how it looks and sounds.
Naturally, nobody wants 21 videos stacked on top of each other, so below you’ll find seven videos – one for each theme – each containing laps from the three tracks in that theme.
Alternatively, if you want to watch a single big half-hour video showing all 21 tracks in one go, you can find it on my YouTube channel here.
* track previously featured in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing
** track previously featured in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
A trio of tracks based on the Planet Wisp stage in Sonic Colors.
Your standard stadium-style track, albeit with a nice wooded area.
Another nature-themed course, though there’s one weird section with a giant wisp (the Mother in question) who makes a large floating pink bridge for you.
More of the same, but this time there’s a factory-style section with spinning buzzsaws and dangerous pink gloopy waterfalls.
Three tracks based on the Seaside Hill stage in Sonic Heroes.
A pleasant, easy enough track complete with a giant octopus and the whale from Sonic Adventure.
A beach track that takes in a couple of waterfalls and a twisty bridge.
The whale returns (obviously) in this stony track whose main gimmick is a section that splits into two distinct routes.
A bunch of ice-themed tracks, not based on any game in particular.
I’m going to shock you here: this is a mountain-based track with icy roads. Shiny surfaces are the order of the day here, along with more somersaulting whales chucked in for good measure.
A slippery race through what seems to be some sort of frozen graveyard for abandoned Eggman projects.
A volcano track with ice in it? Whatever will they think of next? Hahaha! I mean, it’s been done before but it’s still an impressive-looking course.
A triple-helping of gambling courses based on the Casino Park stage in Sonic Heroes.
An impressively detailed and colourful track set around a big roulette wheel.
A similarly colourful course that’s based on bingo for some reason, complete with a spinning tunnel (where the balls are being shuffled) and a straight section where a bunch of numbers flap around above you.
More casino stuff, this time with a short pinball section that really just consists of a few bumpers sitting in the way.
Three sand stages based on the Sandopolis Zone in Sonic & Knuckles.
Your token desert stage, with wide sandy roads and not much else of note.
The second desert stage takes you into a haunted temple, complete with ghosts swinging axes at you.
A race through a large mechanical pyramid containing a load of clock gears that have to be avoided.
Some tracks based on the Rooftop Run stage from Sonic Unleashed’s Spagonia region, you say? Here’s three of them.
If cheery racing under a trademark Sega blue sky is what you’re after, Market Street is for you (though it’s a little uneventful).
One of the best tracks. A visually impressive glass track in the sky, including the biggest jump in the game by far.
Another cool-looking tracks set on a translucent green track that wraps around a bunch of huge spinning gears.
The last three tracks are based on the Final Fortress stage in Sonic Heroes.
A fairly uneventful track with loads of straights. There’s one bit where a bunch of lasers fire at you but other than that, meh.
Another uninspired one full of straights: this time there are three occasions where a production line of robots passes over you and you have to dodge them.
Rounding things off with – you guessed it – a track full of straights. At least this one has cool spinning turbines and some of the best music in the game.
Tracks score – 3 out of 5
21 is a strong number of tracks and they all look extremely pretty, but some of the layouts are a bit dull and the fact they’re split into seven different ‘themes’ means many of them look similar to each other.
You see backflipping whales in three different tracks, for example, and while I’m a sucker for such frivolity it has to be enjoyed in moderation.
Ever since Sonic Colors on the Wii, Wisps have formed part of the Sonic universe whether we like it or not.
Naturally, then, the power-ups in Team Sonic Racing take the form of Wisps. This is all well and good for authenticity, but it does mean it isn’t immediately apparent what some of them do. Allow me to explain.
The purple Wisp makes large purple spikes appear around your kart.
This lets you plough into opponents and damage them: fairly straightforward stuff, really.
Mario Kart equivalent – Triple Shell (if you weren’t allowed to fire them)
Grab the ivory Wisp and you’ll be able to zap your opponents with lightning bolts.
This is a pretty rare one: I think I only got it once during my entire play time with the game.
Mario Kart equivalent – Lightning, obviously
The orange Wisp is one of the more common ones, and it’s a good job too, because it’s probably the most fun.
It’ll let you fire a rocket straight in front of you, taking out anyone it hits.
Mario Kart equivalent – Green shell
The next level up from the orange Wisp, the crimson one homes in on enemies before it hits them.
Obviously, this means a direct hit is far more likely.
Mario Kart equivalent – Red shell
Not only are white Wisps purer than untouched snow, they’ll also give you a nifty speed boost.
There’s a real oomph to this boost, making it really satisfying to pull off, especially when you get three of them.
Mario Kart equivalent – Mushroom
Are you rubbish? Struggling to fight your way out of the back of the pack? Say hello to the yellow Wisp.
It’ll give you instant boost and make you invincible for a limited time.
Mario Kart equivalent – Star
This odd little sod makes a load of stone pillars grow out of the ground further down the track.
Conveniently, they grow just in front of the leading racer, and stay up for long enough to give them (and a few of the cars behind them) problems getting past without hitting one and spinning out.
Mario Kart equivalent – None
Just in case you aren’t happy enough with the rockets or the eagle, the cyan Wisp just gives you a ruddy big laser instead.
The result is the same – your opponent is put on their arse – but it’s a laser, so there’s that.
Mario Kart equivalent – None
Sometimes an opponent is right up your backside and is showing no signs of falling behind.
The red Wisp should put paid to that: it leaves a trail of flames behind you for a while, causing anyone to cross its path to spin out.
Mario Kart equivalent – None
You know, the last time I checked, black holes weren’t a legal technique approved by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.
Still, it counts here: the violet Wisp creates a void around your car that absorbs rings and item boxes, while slowing down any enemies in the way.
Mario Kart equivalent – None
Often appearing in groups of three, the black Wisp lets you chuck a bomb in front of you, which will then detonate after a few seconds.
Like many other weapons in the game, it can also be dropped behind you should you so desire.
Mario Kart equivalent – Bob-omb
What do you do with a massive blue cube that doesn’t really have any purpose other than to sit there all big and square?
Simple: you drop it behind you or lob it in front of you, leaving it on the track for folk to crash into.
Mario Kart equivalent – Banana
With Sega clearly running out of colours by this point, the jade Wisp turns you into a green ghost for a while: this lets you avoid all attacks and obstacles (rings too, though).
It also lets you nick another Wisp from one of your opponents, meaning you can follow up with another power.
Mario Kart equivalent – None
Finally the magenta Wisp uses its rhythmic powers to make enormous purple musical notes fill the screen.
This makes it difficult for other players to see what’s up ahead, potentially causing them to crash.
Mario Kart equivalent – Blooper
Power-ups score – 3 out of 5
It’s a decent enough array of items, but the use of Wisps to depict them can make things really confusing for a while. It’ll take you a few hours before you start to remember what each of them does, because it isn’t immediately obvious based on their character design alone.
How it plays
This section is a mini review of the game. It’s available in both video and written form, so you can choose how to enjoy it. My recommendation is the video, because you’ll get to see the game in action too. But if you’d rather read it, or can’t stand my bassy Scottish accent, the entire script from the video is underneath.
Team Sonic Racing is the third Sonic-themed karting game to be developed by UK studio Sumo Digital, and at first it clearly shows.
Anyone familiar with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing or its follow-up Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed will be able to immediately get to grips with Team Sonic Racing, since its handling model – complete with obscenely long drifts – feels very similar here.
That said, this one does have its own personality, partly because it’s the first Sonic-only entry in the series (you’ll find no Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5, Golden Axe or any other Sega characters here), but mainly because of its new team-based mechanic.
Although you can take part in solo races, the majority of Team Sonic Racing’s action consists of team events. Rather than simply going it alone, you’re part of a three-character team whose total performance determines how you finish.
This can initially seem like it would be a problem: theoretically, if your partners are shite then they can stop you winning no matter how well you play. If you finish in 1st but your partners finish 11th and 12th, you’ll end with fewer points than another team finishing 2nd, 3rd and 4th.
The reality, though, is that you do get some say in this through the game’s item-sharing mechanic. Any time you pick up an item you’re able to offer it up to any of your partners who may need it most.
Similarly, if you’re struggling, you can press the item share button and ask your partners if either of them are willing to give up their power-ups in order to help you out and move you further up the pack.
It’s a clever way to solve one of the biggest problems in the karting genre: picking up useless power-ups when you’re in 1st place. Now instead of just dropping them randomly or firing them into empty space, you can give them to another racer to improve your total rank.
Doing this also boosts your team meter, which when full allows you to unleash a massive burst of energy that essentially turns your trio invincible and gives them a huge speed boost for a while. These can make or break a race and are great at pushing all three team members to the front of the pack, so teamwork does very much make the dream work in this instance.
Team Sonic Racing also offers one thing most other karting games don’t have: a single-player story mode. In it, a mysterious tanuki called Dodon Pa invites Sonic and his pals to take part in a series of Grand Prix races, and while it isn’t exactly clear why all is soon revealed.
Truth be told, the story’s a bit pish, but it at least gives the game a chance to mix things up with a selection of one-off challenges that have you drifting through gates, collecting rings, shooting enemy robots and the like. These are easy enough to pass but surprisingly difficult to get platinum trophies on, meaning even experts will take a long time to clear this mode.
All this combines for an interesting little racer that admittedly doesn’t quite have the grandiose feeling of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which boasted morphing vehicles, mutating tracks and characters from more than just the Sonic franchise.
Despite this, it’s still got it where it matters: it still feels satisfying to play and fans of the previous games who don’t mind an all-Sonic sequel will still find plenty to like here.
Review score – 11 out of 15
29 out of 40
A strong performance for Sumo Digital’s latest sends it to the top of the Kartography leaderboard… for now, at least.
I’d imagine that had Sumo’s previous Sonic-themed racing games been covered already they’d probably be sitting ahead of it, but that’s for another time.
What’s clear is that if you’re looking for a solid current-gen karting game that doesn’t include any plumbers, Team Sonic Racing is very much near the front of the pack.
In order that I could write this article, I received a digital copy of the game from the developer. The content of the article and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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