In the Mario Kart dominated kart racing genre, it takes a polished, innovative, crowd-friendly product to really stand out. Team Sonic may be the most prolific of Mario Kart’s competition, but we’ve yet to see a Sonic racing game reach quite the creative heights and cultural resonance as any of Nintendo’s first-party generational releases. Team Sonic Racing is a strong effort, combing stellar track design and innovative teamwork design to deliver a solid multiplayer experience, but it’s hindered by its busyness and some frustrating technical faults.
The roster of 15 characters is entirely comprised of characters from the Sonic franchise, as opposed to other Sonic racing games that include characters from the broader Sega universe. Team Sonic Racing’s 21 playable courses are varied and well-designed, if not overly inviting to new players unfamiliar with the twists, turns, and unexpected hurdles.
Standard Grand Prix competitions are exciting enough, but Team Sonic Racing makes its real strength clear: team matches. The controls are intuitive, requiring little tutorial before racers are drifting around turns, absorbing Wisps, and using them to brutalize opponents or assist teammates. Plenty of alternative paths and shortcuts add a layer of depth to the courses, but the crowded, colorful environments can be challenging to navigate even beyond the first few laps. A certain learning curve is to be expected, but too often I’d notch a boost from a successful drift only to slam into an obstacle blending in with the map, even after several hours of play. Still, Team Sonic Racing’s satisfying items and consistent level design ensure a mostly enjoyable time regardless of which mode is being played.
If it weren’t for Team Sonic Racing’s exceptionally strong multiplayer, it would be a competent, if entirely forgettable, successor to the Sega All-Stars family, but the clever focus on cooperative play elevates this racer above the standard. Playing with friends, I noticed a tangible increase in enthusiasm when we switched over to Team Adventure and then Team Grand Prix. Team Adventure presents two teams of three with an unmentionable dialogue-driven narrative, races, and various challenges that include drifting through signposts and collecting coins to earn points, while Team Grand Prix is a variation on Standard Grand Prix that adds a number of elements to encourage teamwork. Both modes are significantly more engaging than the straightforward races in Standard Grand Prix.
In Team Grand Prix, the leading racer in each team displays a yellow path that extends behind them and boosts the speed of teammates that stay on track. This feature is really effective at evening out teams consisting of players at different skill levels, encouraging struggling racers to familiarize themselves with the maps and making it easier to keep pace. For experienced racers, the feature makes it a lot less frustrating to work with new players who might otherwise be holding the team back from winning. Trading Wisps is another successful balancing feature that allows a racer in the first place to make better use of items, and doing so is pleasantly easy and not distracting.
As mentioned earlier, newcomers and trained racers alike will inevitably find themselves stalled by impeding objects both purposeful and otherwise. Fortunately, Team Sonic Racing makes it easy for teams to mitigate their losses by gliding closely past their hamstrung teammates, giving them a temporary speed boost.
There are a number of glitches that range in severity from minor, even entertaining, annoyances, to game-breaking flaws. Thankfully, these instances were few and far between during my time with the game. Otherwise, Team Sonic Racing runs at a steady 30 FPS docked and undocked on the Switch, and aside from the occasional technical blip, there’s little to get in the way of enjoying this budget racer to its full potential.
As a single-player experience, Team Sonic Racing is competent, if entirely derivative, kart racer with a great cast of characters and vibrant, inventive tracks. But in multiplayer modes, it excels and stands out in its crowded field with new and exciting innovations and cooperative features that challenge the tried-and-true formula.