Games: Team Sonic Racing's multi-player fun leaves Mario eating dust
Team Sonic Racing (Multi)
WHAT have Pac-Man, Woody Woodpecker, Looney Tunes, Digimon and The Muppets got in common? Like any gaming franchise worth its salt, they've all tried to horn in on Nintendo's karting racket.
Scores of pretenders to the throne have come and gone since Mario Kart both created and championed a genre in 1992, and despite scores of pretenders ransacking the Nintendo property, few have managed to emulate its precision-engineered formula.
The only exceptions of note, in fact, are Crash Bandicoot and Sonic. And just like buses, you wait ages for a new karting game, then two come along at the same time: a remaster of the sublime Crash Team Racing hits the virtual asphalt on June 21, but not before Sonic's latest lesson in kartography.
A spiritual successor to the sublime Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, which revelled in all things Sega, Team Sonic is content to focus purely on the rapid rodent, with characters and levels culled from the relatively bland Sonic series.
Yet, while its stable mightn't be as iconic as Mario's, Team Sonic Racing's 21 tracks are every bit as vibrant and well-designed as they were in All-Stars. A bit of kart and character customisation adds some spice while the sun-kissed colour palette screams classic Sega.
Unlike Mario's solo shtick, however, TSR tasks players with racing as a team, sharing power-ups and helping your buddies. Breaching the chequered flag first is still important, but true success lies in aiding your three team-mates through slipstreaming, passing items and earning the Team Ultimate Boost, which grants invincibility and a massive speed boost.
Of course, the team conceit really comes into its own with flesh and blood homies, and with a couch-full of participants, Mario Kart chokes on Team Sonic's candy-coloured dust. The mate-strapped will still eek some joy from a by-the-numbers solo campaign, but TSR is all about on and offline cooperation.
The entertainment-property-in-a-kart concept has seen all manner of trademarks stuffed into cartoonish conveyances for a quick buck, but Team Sonic Racing is the closest anyone has come to beating Nintendo at their own game. Mediocrity has sadly been a constant for the Sonic franchise in recent times, but TSR is a rare highlight in a year that'll no doubt end on a depressing low when the terrifyingly misjudged Sonic movie lands.
Gentlemen, start your hedgehogs...