Racing along in Shadow the Hedgehog’s sleek sports car, I was nearing the head of the pack, drifting around corners to gain short speed boosts and using block-shaped wisps to leave behind as hazards. I was able to scrape by in first place – but victory was short lived. As it turns out, my two teammates on Team Shadow had fallen behind. I neglected to keep an eye on their place, and because of this, another team managed to finish in 3rd, 4th, and 5th – and secured the gold cup. Clearly, I needed to shift my priorities into a different gear.
If you aren’t playing as a team in the aptly named Team Sonic Racing, expect the coveted gold up to remain out of reach – but how exactly do you work as a team during a race. Back in the days of Mario Kart 64, I often played with a friend who had difficulty keeping up, and so our solution was for him to run interference from the back lines, causing havoc at the cost of getting lapped if it meant I’d stay in the lead. Sonic Racing has a different approach that if executed properly – can elevate everyone instead of just one good player. Each allied car creates clear and distinct trails that cover a good distance, and following in the slipstream of a teammate will earn you a sizeable boost.
This means you’ll need to always be sticking at least a few positions near your crew, to give them more possibilities to get behind you, surpass you, and gain boosts from them. There’s a good feeling of give and take that prioritizes efficiency – especially because the teams in my demo were always comprised of one speed-focused car, one technique oriented car, and a heavy-class car. Being able to boost my heavy teammate and have him smash into other racers was a fun use of a slingshot that paid off nicely, and certain types of racers provide perks when drifting for a certain amount of time.
One problem I ran into was when two of our team started to gain the lead, and the last car got pummeled into near last place. Risking my neck to drop down to a mid position didn’t feel like it was worth it, and there wasn’t a lot of ways to really help the struggling racer. SEGA seems to have made a few concessions though: You can “gift” the items you get on the track to another member of your team, which they can accept or decline. What makes gifting so rewarding is that the items will triple in quantity if the gift is transferred, letting you get three missiles or speed boosts instead of one. Gifting also adds to your Ultimate meter, a shared meter located at the back of your car that grows every time to perform a team action – like using a slingshot maneuver and skimming past your allies. With a full Ultimate meter, anyone can activate it to get star-like powers across your whole team that let you move faster and plow through rivals with ease.
“Risking my neck to drop down to a mid position didn’t feel like it was worth it.”
Despite this, I still feel like a string of bad luck (which is always in abundance with 12 racers and hazards everywhere) can force your team apart, and if you don’t get the right items to send to your struggling friends, you’ll either have to take a big risk and drop behind to support, or hope for the most points at the end of the race. You get bonus points for the amount of rings collected and teamwork abilities done, but usually, getting separated too far will cost you the race, no matter where your best teammate places. Still, it’s nice to know that helping your teammates out can tip the scales in your favor even if not everyone crosses the finish line in a good place.
There’s still a lot I’m hoping to see in the full game, like customization options that can further differentiate racers (the initial stats did little to differentiate themselves, and I rarely noticed them at work on the race track). The offensive and defensive items like wisps also felt a bit lackluster, covering familiar ground like missiles, boosts, and traps. Still, there’s a good foundation here, even without the abundance of wacky characters and transforming cars from Racing Transformed.
Brendan Graeber is an Editor at IGN, and still thinks that Sonic should be only one racing on foot. Follow him on Twitter @Ragga_Fragga.