It's been six long years since the last time Sega graced us with a racing game. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was released in 2010, surprising folks by being a pretty decent kart racing game featuring Sonic and other character from Sega's stable.
Developer Sumo Digital followed that game up in 2012 with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, expanding the list of vehicles to boats and planes. Transformed was a damned good racing game and the eclectic cast of characters preceded Mario Kart 8's DLC grab bag cast, with racers like Shenmue's Ryo Hazuki, Shinobi's Joe Musashi, NiGHTS, and Space Channel 5's Pudding. Unfortunately, the series went quiet following that release, leaving fans begging for more.
Now Sega is delivering on half of that desire. The publisher has announced Team Sonic Racing, a rough follow-up to the Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing series. Developer Sumo Digital is even back in the saddle. Unfortunately, the lack of "All-Stars" in the title will clue you into the fact that this game is a Sonic-only affair: no Shenmue, Total War, or Shinobi this time around. It's disappointing, but let's try to move beyond that. I had a chance to sit down with the game at a pre-E3 event to see if Team Sonic Racing could overcome my bitterness.
One thing that I noticed immediately: if you've played the previous Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing games, you should feel right at home with this new title. The handling of the karts—yeah, it's karts only again—feels remarkably similar to the first two games. I only had a few races with my demo unit, but by the second lap of my first go-around I had drifting down again.
A major change is hinted at in the game's title: Team Sonic Racing can be played solo, but you're always racing in a team. Each team is comprised of three characters who race in tandem. For the demo, I only had the choice between Team Sonic (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles) and Team Dark (Shadow, Rouge, and E-123 Omega). Each member of a team has a focus: Sonic and Shadow are Speed racers, Tails and Rouge are in the Technique category, and Knuckles and Omega are Power racers. You chose which one you want to go with and the CPU takes control of the other two.
So what does team racing entail? Each race has 12 entrants, split across four teams. (The game is playable in four-player splitscreen locally, but there's no indication that local multiplayer allows you to be on the same team.) When a race kicks off, the pole position is like normal, with your chosen racer jockeying ahead of the pack. You don't want to leave your team behind though, because you can draft off of (read: race behind) your team members in order to gain boost power. Establishing a good drafting rotation can keep your whole squad in the top of any race.
Team members can also gift items to one another. Items in Team Sonic Racing are all based on the Wisps first introduced in Sonic Colors. They come in 14 varieties with offensive and defensive applications. There was nothing particularly surprising in my demo, with the usual assortment of missiles and speed boosts.
Using team actions slowly fills up your team's Ultimate meter. Once it's full, you can pull off your Team Ultimate, which is essentially like powering up your entire squad with Invincible Stars from Mario Kart. It's a big speed boost too, making the Team Ultimate well-worth it in terms of pole position. Against the relatively easy AI in the demo, good driving and a Team Ultimate handed me the Top 2 spots in the race. (Knuckles was lagging behind, the bum.) Your overall score is determined by the placement scores of your team members, so it's possible to miss first place and still take home the trophy.
Sega and Sumo Digital are promising a full suite of offline and online modes, including Grand Prix Mode, Exhibition Mode, Time Trial, and the campaign-based Team Adventure Mode. The final roster is currently slated to have a total of 15 playable characters, so you can start guessing who's going to make the cut now. I'm expecting Team Chaotix myself.
I can't offer a recommendation because I still have a ton of questions after my demo races. I saw one course, which looked great, but I have no clue what the track variety look like. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed pulled ideas and concepts from everything Sega to populate its wonderful tracks, but Team Sonic Racing is stuck to the Sonic universe. It's a bit of a monkey's paw to see something like Sonic & All-Stars Racing return with such a limited focus, but I still enjoyed my hands-on. I just need to see what Sega shows off in-between now and the game's launch.
Team Sonic Racing is coming to Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch this Winter.