A brief history of Sonic racing games
Wednesday, 10th April 2019, 1:24pm (UTC), 0 Comments
Sonic is a character that seems like he'd fit the racing genre of video games like a glove. And the truth is that the upcoming Team Sonic Racing is merely the latest in a long line of Sonic racing games that span almost his entire career. Some stick to the traditional karts, others have kept Sonic and co purely on foot, while the rest have taken to the likes of hover boards and even transforming vehicles! And indeed, the Sonic universe is full of great locations pre-built and ready to host great racing tracks, including lush green hills, nefarious factories and casino cityscapes filled with slots. So while we get excited about the latest installment, lets look back at how the blue blur has tackled the genre in the past..

Sonic Drift Series

Sonic's first foray into racing came to the Game Gear in 1994, with the Japanese only release of Sonic Drift. Sega's answer to Mario Kart featured characters Sonic, Tails, Eggman and Amy Rose racing karts around tracks inspired by the zones found in Sonic 1. Given the limitations of the hardware, Mode 7 scaling could not be used of course, and the resulting tracks felt rather bland and inferior to Nintendo's counterpart. The game was followed by a sequel the following year - this time released worldwide - Sonic Drift 2 (or just Sonic Drift Racing in Europe). This added long time favourite characters Knuckles and Metal Sonic plus the rarely seen Fang the Sniper. Unfortunately it fared little better with reviewers, who complained of the game's handling.

Sonic R

During the long gap between Sonic Team's Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic Adventure, British company Traveller's Tales were asked to fill the void during the late nineties with spinoff Sonic games such as Sonic 3D and this on-foot racing game for the Sega Saturn, which released in late 1997. Sonic R, one of the first fully 3D polygonal Sonic games, features 5 initial characters and 5 courses. While this was minimal compared to most rival mascot racers at the time, it's worth noting that these courses were huge - brimming with multiple routes, shortcuts and secret rooms in which various collectables were hidden, and used for unlocking more characters, which gradually replaced the core lineup as more challenging AI opponents. The handling could be argued as a little awkward, but those who truly "got" this game enjoyed some great replay value thanks to collectables and a variety of time attack modes. It's also perhaps best known for its cheesy sound track. "Can you Feel the Sunshine", anyone?

Sonic Riders Series

In the following decade, Sonic Team themselves would have a stab at the racing genre with Sonic Riders in 2006 (GameCube, XBox and PS2), which was followed by Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity in 2008 (PS2 and Wii) and 2010's Sonic Free Riders for the XBox 360 Kinect. These games featured Sonic and friends taking to hover boards in order to thwart a band of miscreants called the Bablyon Rogues. There are some nicely designed courses on offer that employ variety and specific challenges depending on the type of character you have chosen (speed, flight or power). The hoverboard aspect encouraged the developers of the first game to think of various mechanics to mix up the racing action a little, but these largely served to complicate gameplay and make it much less of a pick-up-and-play experience. The sequel dropped these in favour of an entirely new set of complicated features that failed to turn heads. The series was completed by the motion-controlled Sonic Free Riders, which asked players to twist and bend their bodies in real time with the characters to navigate around the tracks. This wasn't an entirely reliable form of control however and again the game failed to hit that core casual market by offering an easy-to-use experience.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Series

Arguably the most successful attempts to date were the efforts from arcade racing experts Sumo Digital, first with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing in 2010 for XBox 360, PS3, PC, Wii and mobile. While strictly more of a Sega racing game, the Sonic series is still by far the most prominently featured, but the characters also race alongside heroes from the likes of Chu-Chu Rocket, Super Monkeyball, Billy Hatcher, Space Channel 5 and even Shenmue. This time it's pure, simple, accessible racing with no unnecessary gimmicks and a great handling system. Players race across tracks inspired by the various games, including several from Sonic Heroes. The popular sequel, 2012's Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed does one better by allowing the vehicles to automatically transform between car, boat and aircraft when the situation calls. This leads to some genius track design that often changes from lap to lap. Add to that even more classic Sega IP such as After Burner, Golden Axe and Panzer Dragoon, and more courses inspired by Sonic levels such as Starlight Carnival from Sonic Colours and even Sky Sanctuary from Sonic & Knuckles, and you're looking at one of the best mascot racers ever made!

Team Sonic Racing

Also handled by Sumo Digital, this upcoming racer (for PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC) uses the same engine as the All-Stars games, but differs in that it only concerns the Sonic series and adds an exciting new team-based mechanic to make racing a more co-operative experience. Players will be able to form a team of three to race across new tracks inspired by the Sonic universe, but coming in first place will not necessarily get your team the win. Victors are determined by a points system that also takes other factors into account such as rings collected and average position across the finish line, so you'll need to think much more tactically. Those desperate for a more co-op nature to racing games should be very excited! Originally due in 2018, the game has been delayed to May 2019 to ensure top quality, which should only be good news! Let's find out next month if it can match the dizzying heights of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and claim the title of best Sonic racing game ever!

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