Nine years ago Sega and developer SumoDigital put Sonic and many other iconic Sega characters behind the wheel with Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing and then improved upon the formula with 2012’s Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed. Now the team is back at it again but with a new take on the series titled Team Sonic Racing.
We sat down with Sumo Digital Designer Ben Wilson and Studio Design Director Derek Littlewood to chat more about the game and what to expect.
Q: Now this isn’t the first time Sonic’s been in a kart racer. Sumo Digital developed the last two, All-Stars Racing & All-Stars Racing Transformed. What do you have to say to fans that might see this as a departure for the franchise?
Ben: The thing that’s different this time around is that it’s a fully Sonic universe game for the first time…. We’ve been able to do some things we hadn’t really considered doing before, like story mode and also bringing attention to some of the lesser known Sonic characters that weren’t in any of the All-Stars games.
There’s also a new dialogue system in this game, which we didn’t have in any of the previous games. It felt like a natural fit for this group of characters who all have existing relationships, rivalries, and friendships.
Derek: I’d also say, I wouldn’t overstate how much of a departure it is because we built this game on the core of what made All-Stars Racing and All-Stars Racing Transformed great. It has that same great handling system, and that great racing experience in there. If you played those games before you will be able to pick up and play Team Sonic Racing very easy and very quickly.
But the thing you will start to learn, and I think where it becomes really interesting, is when you start learning about playing as a team. It’s not just about your individual racing skills but it’s about how you use those in tandem with your team in order to finish in first place.
Q: Earlier you mentioned dialogue, are you talking about dialogue in the story cutscenes or are you talking about dialogue when they are racing? I noticed sometimes I’d have a Shadow on our team and he’d be like “give me that wisp? (Team Sonic’s Racing Items)
Ben: Depending on who a character is talking to, the dialogue line will have some little tidbit of Sonic history or a nod to a character’s relationship. That’s a really cool way to give a little fan service for the people who will pick up on that.
Q: Now I didn’t have a chance to have two Sonics on our team or even three on our team, because you can have multiple, is there a moment where Sonic gives an item to another Sonic and is like “Thanks Sonic.”
Ben: Do we have any voice lines like that?
Derek: They don’t directly address themselves. That actually, surprisingly, we had a lot of conversations about how we could legitimately support having multiple Sonics within a game in the canon Sonic universe. That’s why when you start a race, you see the characters appearing out of these sort of wormholes, and that is implying that they are popping in from these alternate universes.
That’s something that was very important to Sega, to justify why you might have, for instance, a race that has 12 Sonics in it, which is a thing you can do in the game. Even details like that were given a lot of thought to make sure it fit within that Universe.
Q: Did Sega ever tell you what was the maximum amount of universes you could have for Sonic characters, did they put a limit on it?
Derek: I think the laws of physics were also in play at that point, so we maxed out at 12.
Ben: The current generation of hardware can only handle 12 Sonics.
Derek: 12 different universes with Sonic in them at the same time, yeah.
Q: Now characters each have their own stats based on: acceleration, boost, defense, top speed, and handling. At a glance, you know what the other four are. What does defense do for your characters?
Ben: The main thing that defense does is affect how punishing a spinout is. How long you are immobilized. If you have a higher defense character you’re not going to be spunout for as long as a lighter, more flimsy character.
Q: Does it also affect your ability to bump other racers, and have more control over who wins that power struggle when you’re clashing?
Ben: A small amount, that’s influenced by that yeah.
Q: So what ended up being your favorite element when designing the game and putting it all together?
Ben: The most interesting thing, obviously team racing as a concept hasn’t really been taken in this direction before so that was a really interesting thing to work on because it was such a new problem that didn’t really have a precedent. Coming up with solutions for how do we make a racing game that’s all about teamwork and figuring out through different ideas and iteration how to make it something that not only makes sense in the context of a racing game but also something that’s easy to perform while racing and easy to understand what is going on at a glance. Solving that very complicated problem over the course of the project has been really interesting to me, personally.
Derek: I think for me it was being able to work on a project that has couch co-op as the core of the experience. I grew up gaming in the 90s playing Super Bomberman, the original Mario Kart, all those sorts of games, and then moving on to university I was playing Goldeneye, and then moving on I was working on Timesplitters at Free Radical. To be able to work on a game that brings together the best of split-screen gaming, local gaming, but also you can play that online and has systems in it that really support playing cooperatively together while competing with other players, was just a fantastic opportunity and something I really, really enjoyed being able to do.
Q: Speaking of Mario Kart, a big thing that took the internet by storm after 8 launched was the Luigi death stare, do we have any characters that have an element like that when they pass other people?
Ben: We have angry Tails right?
Derek: We definitely have angry Tails. (Laughs)
Ben: You’ll know when you hear some of his dialogue.
Derek: I get it with Omega more than anyone else. With Omega, he’s a robot, but he’s the most sarcastic robot, when he puts you down in this incredibly robotic way it just feels like, it’s like the best slam you could come up with. It hurts, it really hurts. I think Omega has his own take on that.
Q: Ok final Question, What would you guys say to people who have never played a Sonic racing game, what is your elevator pitch to get them into Team Sonic Racing.
Derek: I think it’s the perfect time to start because it’s an opportunity to play together. Particularly if you’re playing with other people who know karting games or know Sonic karting games particularly better than you, it’s an ideal opportunity to get to start to play these because you can work together as a team and help compensate for each other’s weaknesses and use each other’s strengths to win as a team together. It’s a great, great time to start.
While some traditional racing fans may be upset about the “win as a team” mechanic, the team hopes it’s a great way of bringing people together instead of apart. Our initial impression of the game new underlying team system is that it’s simple enough for all audiences to understand at a glance but will be complex yet intuitive for those who will be attempting to master it. Team Sonic Racing will launch on May 21, 2019 for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
As the Director of Partnerships, Gaming at FANDOM, Jada is an Avid Gamer who roots for villains in Games & Movies. Her main fandoms are Zelda, FF, DMC, D&D and most things Marvel/DC. She always Maxes STR & LCK and lives life on hard mode while searching for Pizza & the next difficulty level.