Okay let's get the big one out of the way first, seeing as it comes up every time there's a Sonic racing game. Why is Sega's mascot, renowned for his breakneck speed, reduced to sitting behind the wheel of a car every time him and his crew get together for a racer? Well, if you'd been paying attention you'd know the answer already; it's because Sonic's so fast, if he was to go on foot it'd be plain unfair. So, there you have it in black and white. Let's move on swiftly, shall we?
Team Sonic Racing is Sumo Digital's third racing game built around Sega's characters, though it is a clean break from the previous two games. Unlike Sonic All-Stars Racing and its exquisite sequel Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed, Team Sonic Racing doesn't delve into the wider world of Sega characters. There's no Alex Kidd, no Ryo Hazuki, no Segata Sanshiro, no tracks culled from Skies of Arcadia, Burning Rangers or Billy Hatcher. The focus is firmly placed on the world of Sonic and friends.
It's a disappointing place to start, really, given how so much of the thrill of those games was the fan service, ladelled on in thick, sweet dollops. Maybe it's because Sumo realised they didn't have many more places to go, seeing how deep Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed ran (and it ran pretty close to perfection, too - for my money it's up there with Mario Kart 8 at the very pinnacle of the genre). Maybe it's because Sega needed a Sonic game this year, and doubled down on this particular enterprise.
Either way, for all it loses it does give a new sense of focus to the very core of the game, and Team Sonic Racing also benefits from a makeover of the core mechanics. In keeping with what's a minor trend within the diminished world of the arcade racing genre, success isn't necessarily about being first past the line - instead, it's about working as a team, assisting those around you with all drivers contributing to a score, and with the highest scoring team winning. There's boost - of course there's boost - while you can also skim past teammates to give them an extra burst of speed, all the while building up your team's Ultimate bar, which upon filling gives you an almighty boost.
Yes, like Onrush it's another arcade racer that's looked to Overwatch for inspiration, though Team Sonic Racing is a little more immediately coherent than Codemasters Evo's new game. You're still ultimately jostling for position, the team mechanics just encouraging a little more collaborative play - handing items (14 of which are available, represented by Wisps that return from Sonic Colors) to partners, say, or simply slingshotting each other in an attempt to progress further up the field.
It's indicative, perhaps, of a slightly younger target audience, or at least of a more inclusive game. Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed, for all of its cartoonish excess, always seemed to have a slightly older player in mind with its myriad references to Sega's 90s heyday, and younger players were simply invited along for the ride. Now, with Sonic and company at the core, Sumo Digital seems to have flipped things around.
At the very heart, though, is the same fundamentally brilliant arcade racer, as Sumo Digital has proven it's more than adept at creating over the years. There's a pleasing pliability to each ride, the drift button allowing long, lithe slides with the front nearside wheel popping up when you've reached peak perpendicularity. It's another Sumo Digital racing game that's going to make great use of some of Sega's finest assets, basically, and even if the fan service for older players doesn't run quite so deep as before, I'm more than up for that.