It’s been five years, practically a generation, since Mario Kart 8 has imposed himself at the top of the food pyramid of kart games, cannibalizing the genre as a Lewis Hamilton moustached, unreachable, simply too fast and spectacular to dare a reaction. The Deluxe edition, fundamental to launch the sprint to the success of Switch in 2017, has practically filled every imperfection, like a new engine developed in the middle of the season, making the work of the engineers of Sumo Digital even more unpleasant, a team that boasts on its curriculum a superb work on the Ferraris of OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast and that has long since put itself at the service of the one who, on paper, should be the fastest driver of all: Sonic.
The British racing team has finally provided him with a competitive means, devoted to drifting more fluid and clean, so as to think to have soaps instead of tires, hiring also the two historical companions to give him a strong hand, Tails and Knuckles. A perfect trio to compete in the Team Sonic Racing championship organized by the mysterious tanuki Dodon Pa, revisiting the concept of three-way collaboration at the base of Sonic Heroes and applying it to a fresh, fun arcade racing, which finally tries to openly challenge the Nintendo monopoly.
But where can you hit your old rival to make him falter? On the model of driving maybe? No, even if, as you will read, the gap has been drastically reduced. Still too perfect “the one there”, with its curves drawn in the pixel, that antibacterial cleanliness in the collisions, that feeling of softness that give back the animations to the huffing of the analog. No, Sumo Digital has decided to aim for the nerve exposed, the single player modes. You can’t even talk about challenge, because there’s no competition here. The adventure that serves as the main scope of the work is delicious, long (especially aiming at 100%), seasoned with surreal dialogues (well dubbed in Italian) to slide a wonderfully pretentious plot, with the sole aim of launching the player into a whirlwind of events. Challenges, races and championships (which can be tackled in three levels of difficulty), always embellished with secondary objectives in the form of stars and keys, as classic iconography commands, while earning tokens to be used as currency to unlock new power-ups, for a bit of healthy tuning. A variety that allows you to enjoy the work of Sumo in all its facets, as if they wanted to dissect it to show the versatility of a medium capable of igniting the soul bringing back the memory of muscle to the golden age of racing SEGA. Team Sonic Racing’s Hot Head mode is just one example of how technical the title can be, forcing us to slide grazing near the poles cleverly arranged for the tracks, like giant slalom. The more you can master the maneuver, the more the score will rise dramatically to the platinum medal. Also fantastic are the sister variables, Ring Challenge and Traffic Attack, both reinterpretations of the classic races against time, which are very reminiscent of the Cardiopalma mode of OutRun 2006, where the iconic rings and moving checkpoints become transfusions of time (and points) to fill the hemorrhage of seconds. It’s those challenges that push you to sink your hands into the driving system, to discover it, taking its apparent simplicity to the limit. Two triggers, one to accelerate and the other to drift (you don’t stop here, let’s be clear!), a great desire to find the right rope points, brushing endless skids to load up to three degrees of turbo (as in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe), and find the shortcuts of each track. And it’s worth training, because the races are anything but simple, based as they are on both individual talent and generosity.
The team nature (five, led by Sonic, Amy, Silver, Shadow and Eggman) of the races is what really makes the difference, a brilliant idea that obviously explodes loudly when you go online. The first of the trio becomes a captain, leaving behind a perpetual trail of light that his teammates can suck to load a passive turbo, ready to sling it once it comes out of the embrace of the trail. It’s beautiful! Because it triggers team mechanisms that can make a real difference without ever being invasive, such as the continuous sharing of Wisp, spirits of the series that are used here as the classic weapons kart game (missiles, bombs, blocks, spines, nothing particularly innovative), to get out of trouble our ally or receive a hand, complete with short and excited dialogues accompanying. All actions that will load the bar of the superb turbo, a devastating three-way maneuver that will see the team start at crazy speeds, as tricolor arrows capable of spurting opponents and changing the fate of the race in a few moments. InTeam Sonic Racing you win and lose together, also because at the end of the race the points that will determine the winners will be the sum of the three placings. This is how the developers have managed to create a product capable of running on their own wheels, without being satisfied with being yet another clone. The variable Survival closes the circle of races (the last ones in the row will be eliminated at every lap), with a couple of “attack” modes to add to the individual ones, one with fixed targets and the other with the robot henchmen of Eggman, of course always ready to put a spoke in the wheels. Lots of stuff to play, you know.
A POWERFUL BUT DELICATE ENGINE
And Team Sonic Racing is also a lot of stuff to look at and listen to, with a visual impact colorful, wonderful, full of moving elements, giant beings in the background, turbo blinking, explosions, accompanied by a soundtrack of the highest level, as per SEGA tradition, ranging from rock to electronics to fusion jazz in teriyaki sauce. Beautiful, rich, well-arranged tracks that help to create a festival atmosphere, with track design synchronized to their fast-paced rhythm. The tracks are many, well differentiated (magnificent those set in the casino), baroque, fat, built using the verticality of certain environments, ignoring the gravity and often finding himself upside down and then plunge on hot air balloons suspended in the void. Death laps, traps around every curve, lasers that target the straights, poker chips in full chicane; there is really everything, so much so that, putting even opponents who swarm around, sometimes it is difficult to read the situations, being not known how to spin hit by “something”.
It is pleasant chaos, however, typical of the genre, able to suffer a frame rate that on paper should be granitic, but that in practice struggles, puffs, coughs like a flooded engine. He tries to resist, preferring to sacrifice the audio may be, creating tangible delays in the sound feedback, but in the end, everything slows down. Never dramatically, but you can hear it clearly, undermining the feeling of speed. This is perhaps the only real fault of Team Sonic Racing, it’s being still a bit ‘dirty, rough, with collisions sometimes a bit’ spans in the air, with annoying consequences. By now, however, very little is missing to make the leap in quality, the formula has finally been centered in full and, waiting for the now imminent remake of Crash Team Racing, we can already foretaste what the next generation of karting titles will give us. Sumo Digital is confirmed at the top when it comes to racing arcade drums, explosives, which put the good drifting in front of everything. SEGA, you have so many franchises of the genre still in the pits, I think about the right mechanics to get them back on track I would have …
Team Sonic Racing is a delightful arcade, perfect match between the high school of Mario Kart and the OutRun theorized by Sumo Digital in 2006. If the gap between the two rivals has narrowed considerably, Sonic wins the challenge of variety with his hands down. A long-lived adventure mode, full of challenges that reveal all the qualities of the work, with a fun and surreal storytelling, supported by brilliant game design ideas, that resize the individualism of car racing to enhance the cooperation between teammates, whether they are AI or, even better, human. A few too much dirt in the collisions and frame rate still keep Sonic away from the first step of the podium, but if this is the road and if you continue to tackle it with such soft drifts, the challenge promises to be very hot and with sweet implications for the players.