Admittedly, I’m a newcomer to both Sonic and Racing games. While Sonic R lives fondly in my memories as one of the greatest games ever made (Yes, I can feel the Sunshine) I’ve never played any of the Sonic Racing games long enough to actually have a valuable opinion of them outside of the fact I really like the idea of Shadow the Hedgehog driving a muscle car.
With Sonic Racing exclusively on the Apple Arcade lineup, there’s a lot to love with this game. For one, there’s the advantage of being on Apple Arcade- your monthly sub pays for the game, so you won’t have to worry about pay-to-win features keeping the game afloat. While its fellow Apple Arcade member Fantasian might have been a full on JRPG experience, Sonic Racing is still designed to be a bite-sized experience- which is absolutely where it’s at its strongest.
Like its parent game Team Sonic Racing, Sonic Racing is a team-based racer, where you and two bot-controlled racers made of iconic Sonic characters go head-to-head against another player’s team of racers.
I really like the setup of this, since it lets you have what is ostensibly a 6-man race without any of the problems of connecting to 5 other people- you only have one opponent, which means only one risk of disconnecting. Yet rather than be a 1v1, the bots add some nice flavor to it, still giving you people to overtake.
This isn’t always the case though, since one of the game types lets you duke it out with 3 other players. But for the most part the game was very much built around the idea of this 1v1+2 racing, and it works out that way.
There’s also the advantage of it being a team game- you don’t have to place first to win. You get a pick of Sonic characters for your three-man lineup, all with their own stats. If you so desired you could totally set up your bot to win, and have your character be built around collecting the game’s Wisp powerups and smiting anyone who gets too close to them.
When You’re Super Sonic Racing, There’s No Time To Look Around
I really like the control scheme for Sonic Racing for how simple it is. Literally just tap the direction to steer your car, and as long as you’re holding it your car will drift in that direction. Admittedly, if you’re any kind of racing fan you’d probably want something more complex. That isn’t me, and I’m glad that it’s a lot more simplified for this reason.
That being said, the game is still quite skill based. You want to collect rings to speed up your car, as well as hit boost pads and avoid obstacles which will slow you down. The collision on the boost pads is *really* generous. Just clipping the boost pad will activate it, so there’s a lot of strategy to be had around hitting the boost pad efficiently to take back a lead.
There’s also the game’s Wisps, which act as items. Admittedly, I wish they were more straightforward in telling you what they did. At a glance you couldn’t tell, and you’ll need to go back to the menu to confirm what each one does.
Ability-wise though, they’re plenty great. I’m especially a fan of the Red Eagle, which fires a missile at anyone with the audacity to overtake you. The effects of getting hit are where I’m most curious about the game design. Unlike its contemporary, Mario Kart, you don’t spin out for very long. Whether an intentional balancing feature or not, it makes it so Wisps are more of a tool to take back the lead, not a crutch. If you don’t time that missile at a time when you have the tools to overtake, it just becomes a way to let your opponent know you dislike them instead of a way to take the lead.
Mid-race, you get Wisps at a pretty generous rate, with some maps feeling like you never really take a corner without bumping into yet another chance to get more items to help you get ahead.
You can also get more Wisps via an in-game shop, where you trade in tickets won after every race to upgrade your Wisps and make them more powerful. There’s a part of me that’s a little turned off by this since, for example, my opponent’s Red Eagle might be better than mine, but ultimately I quite like the system since a lot of the game is still bound to your actual racing skill instead of some God-Tier powerup.
It plays into another part of the game, which is its rubberbanding. While it’s not as blatantly obvious as some racing games, it never feels like any one car is too far ahead since there’s boost pads and rings scattered everywhere to always give you a fighting chance. I really like it since you can make some truly clutch plays and steal the lead at the last second if you really wanted to.
Collecting More Characters
Of course, a big part of party racers is the cast of characters. There’s a lot of characters from mainline characters like Sonic and Shadow to more niche picks like Omega, Vector and even a car piloted by a bunch of Chao from the Sonic Adventure games.
These are all unlocked by gameplay, with characters being unlocked every time you advance a League via enough wins, rather than any kind of in-game transactions. While it’s definitely a net positive that they did it this way, there’s certainly some downsides since you’d have to actually win enough races to unlock the characters you want. I’m lucky enough that my favorite racer, Metal Sonic, was unlocked fairly early on- but if you wanted someone like Silver or Omega, you’d probably have to put in a fair amount of time before you unlocked them.
You can also get these via daily rewards, with free characters like Classic Sonic, Shadow and even the aforementioned Chao-mobile being given as free rewards if you keep playing. It’s a nice way to make sure that even players cursed with terrible driving aren’t locked to the default Sonic-Tails-Knucles lineup,
Feeling The Sunshine
All in all, Sonic Racing is a fun pocket experience for anyone with 5 minutes to kill that’s also free of a lot of typical Free-to-Play time wasters. Add that with the fact that the game looks really good- the bright colors look great on a good display – and you’ve got a fun way to kill time that’s also not entirely mindless in its execution.
It’s also an utter delight for Sonic fans- there’s some great Sonic music in here, making it really feel like a full-blown Sonic Racing title like Team Sonic Racing or AllStars Transformed. If you’ve any fondness for the history of racing titles under the fastest thing alive, you’ll probably love Sonic Racing.
It’s got some gripes for sure- if your favorite characters are deep in the niche you won’t get to play them (Sorry, Infinite fans), but the game’s got enough going for it that if you’re a casual Sonic fan looking to kill some time this will probably be your top pick.
Game reviewed on an iPhone 13 ProMax
- Looks great
- Just the right amount of skill required
- A great cast of Sonic characters
- Albeit limited roster (I am an Infinite fan)
- I wish the Wisps were more intuitive to what they do