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This review is written with the Switch version in mind and may contain spoilers for Team Adventure Mode. Please keep this in mind if you keep on reading.
The mascot kart racing genre is normally dominated by the famous plumber and his friends and enemies and after the release of Mario Kart 8 (for the Wii U and eventually re-released as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch) it would be hard to tell who would knock Mario off of his karting throne. While there have been imitators who have tried and failed to even come close, Mario's two main rivals in the karting genre are Crash Bandicoot - who is getting a remastered version of Crash Team Racing next month - and Sega's All Star Racing series. Although the latest entry in the All Star Racing series is completely Sonic focused, as it is called Team Sonic Racing.
Compared to Mario Kart, Team Sonic Racing (or TSR from now on) lacks a bit in content in terms of racers and racetracks. MK 8 started off with 32 tracks in the base game, which was increased to 48 by the time MK 8 D came out, while TSR only has 21 tracks at the start, including eight tracks which first appeared in Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and one which first appeared in Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed - although that number can possibly increase when DLC comes out. Also, MK 8 D has a roster of 42 total characters while TSR only currently has 15 before any DLC.
However, TSR has a bunch more customisation options compared to MK 8 D, with each racer having four different options for the front, back and tires of their car, for a total of 135 different customisation options for the cars compared to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's 76 - and that isn't even including the 'Legendary' versions of the non-default customisation options which are golden and, if all three options on a racer's car are Legendary, turn the whole car gold. And that's before we get to the custom paint jobs - there are at least 28 different 'themes' of paints, each consisting of four colours which you can paint onto the car in one of twelve surface types. With certain car mods, there's an additional glow which could be one of the four colours from the theme or a fifth light blue colour exclusive to the glow option. There are also at least 14 types of vinyl which can be applied to the car, and at least 45 horns.
Now, to unlock these additional customization options, you need to unlock them by using the credits which you earn in races to buy Mod Pods. A decent team race would earn you at least 20 credits at normal difficulty, which is enough to buy two Mod Pods as they are 10 credits each. Each pod can contain a new part for a car, a new paint job theme, a new horn, a new vinyl or a single Power Up Box which you can use before a race to gain a slight advantage over the opposition.
Now, while TSR does offer solo racing where it's everyone for themselves, TSR works best when it comes to the Team Racing events. In this, racers are grouped into teams of three - in Team Adventure Mode, these are fixed as Team Sonic, (made up of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles) Team Rose, (Amy, Chao and Big) Team Vector, (Blaze, Silver and Vector) Team Dark (Shadow, Rouge and Omega) and Team Eggman (Metal Sonic, Eggman and Zavok, with the NPC Egg Pawns and the final boss also a part of this team) - and they have to work together to score the most points as a group. It is indeed possible to come in first but not win overall if your teammates place poorly, after all.
Thankfully, when racing as a team, there are various manoeuvres which you can perform to help out your team, including a way to help them recover quickly and also the ability to pass on your items to your teammates to help them out. And this is encouraged as doing so builds up a Team Ultimate gauge which, when filled, allows for the team to use the Ultimate, giving them a burst of speed and invincibility for as long as the Ultimate lasts. A well-timed Ultimate can even turn the tide of a race in favour of your team. While this isn't exactly new - Crash Nitro Kart did have a team-based mechanic which charged up a bar when you were close to your teammate - TSR is by far the best implementation of such a function.
The items which you can use are based on the Wisps which first debuted in Sonic Colours, with each one having their own use - like the Orange Rocket acting as a fast straight projectile, the Crimson Eagle acting as a slower homing projectile, and the White Wisps acting as Boosts. These also tie into the teamwork aspect, as each of the three Types of racers - Speed, Technique and Power - have access to Wisps from Item Boxes which the others can't. For example, a Speed Type like Sonic has access to the Red Burst Wisp, which leaves a trail of fire behind them to spin out opponents who touch it, while a Power Type like Omega can get a Violet Void Wisp which can absorb nearby Rings, Item Boxes and other Wisps while also slowing down nearby opponents. But by transferring Items, a Technique Type racer like Silver can get both of these and use them normally. Meanwhile, other Wisp types, like the Rocket, can be 'upgraded' when transferred from a single Rocket to a three-pack. And you can transfer them back, even if you have used two of them already.
Controlling the cars feels quite good, with the ability to drift around corners to build up boost, tricking while in mid-air to gain more boosts as long as you land it right and firing off Wisps in front or behind you. Each Type also has a slight advantage over the others in certain regards, with Speed Types able to counter Wisps even if they don't have one, Power Types able to bust through obstacles with ease, and Technique Types able to handle offroad areas without slowdown. Whenever I did crash or fall off, it was not because of the controls, but due to my driving line being off.
The menus are easy to navigate by being crisp and clear, and as for the Heads Up Display during a race... Well, I have heard people complain that it can be a bit cluttered at times, although personally, I feel it gives just about enough information. True, you need to glance to the other corners to see how well or poorly your teammates are doing, and you can only see the position of you, your teammates, and the overall position of all of the teams, but it doesn't show too much. For one, you don't need to see what item a teammate has, only if they have one to possibly share, which is what TSR does.
Now, Team Adventure Mode, which is the main story mode of the game. While it serves as a good way to learn how to race in TSR, the story can be a bit hit and miss at times. Part of me questions why Big is written to act like a big child, but I couldn't help but feel like despite this, the interactions between the cast worked. Especially with the host of the racing series, Dodon Pa - who at first everyone assumed might be working with Eggman due to his moustache and his laugh (which is always one 'ho' more or less than a classic Eggman laugh) but, as it turns out, he's relatively harmless and only does the races to help out his newest invention. Which, of course, Eggman wants to use, and so he gets help from both Metal Sonic... And surprisingly Zavok as well, who is willing to work for him (and even manages to kidnap Dodon Pa during one of the later races on Eggman's behalf) despite the events of Sonic Lost World. Thankfully, you don't need to watch the cut screens of the story if you don't want to, and in fact the story stuff is optional (as you need to press Y on a Switch Pro controller to play the story scenes and the event instead of A to just play the event) so you don't need it to enjoy the mode. Although they do explain a few things in it, like why Vector is not with the rest of Team Chaotix and is in a team with Silver and Blaze.
Team Adventure Mode's events boil down to your general Team Race events - both single races and a Team Grand Prix near the end of each of the first six chapters - as well as Ring Challenges (based on the Ring Race from All-Stars Racing Transformed) where you need to collect as many Rings as possible before time runs out, Daredevil events where you have to skim Star Posts without touching them, Destruction events where you have to destroy targets set on the track with a combination of your car and Rockets, and Traffic Attack (which comes from All-Stars Racing Transformed) where you need to dodge moving traffic and try and pass through gates formed by them. Each of the first six chapters ends with a Survival Race, where at the end of each lap, the slowest racer(s) are knocked out until after the end of three laps, only the fastest three remains, and you need to survive the race to progress. By the start of the fourth chapter, Eggman would start to 'cheat', leading to the memorable (to me at least) Egg Pawn Assault events where you can use Rockets (and even slamming into them) to take on waves of Egg Pawns against the clock.
And finally, in the final chapter, Eggman really kicks things into gear, leading to the Showdown Races where the team you choose to race as faces against nine members of Team Eggman - of which at least six are just Egg Pawns. Thankfully, the Egg Pawns by themselves are unable to use the Team Ultimate stuff, so in reality, you only have to worry about the team with the members of the normal Team Eggman who may use an Ultimate.
So far I have only played a few games online in a private room, but using it I have been able to try out some of the online game modes. And while there are some I wish could have been added from Team Adventure Mode - for example, the Survival and Showdown Races - the others boil down to the same basic idea of the better you place, the better you do ranking wise. My only real complaint other than that is that you can't invite people to play your room on the Switch version - this is a feature which I would have loved to see included.
All in all, TSR is a good game which stands out from other kart racers and is a good game to play with friends to help build up your friendships when playing the Team Race modes. I just hope that there would be DLC which will give more racers, more tracks and maybe even the ability to take on some of the Team Adventure modes to compete against others across the world - especially the Egg Pawn Assault one, but the others would be good to see as well. That, and I would also like to practice the otherwise multiplayer-only modes like King of the Hill with CP Us before going online. Although Time Attack is included, with the system being lap based and with three Boost Wisps at the start of each lap.
There had been a few glitches and one crash while I have been playing, and the lack of tracks and offline game modes outside of Team Adventure Mode does mean I do feel like it may get a bit stale without DLC, but the team racing works well, and it is always satisfying using a Team Ultimate near the end of a race to secure a victory.
Still, despite all of this, Team Sonic Racing gets a solid 8 out of 10 from me. This is an 8.5 for the Team aspects, but 7.5 for the Solo aspects, which while a welcome addition, feel as if they were added on at the last moment.
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