One of the bright spots of being locked in my house for four weeks (and counting) with my kids is that we have played a lot of board games. One of them, involving a hedgehog and his mates moving rather quickly, that I thought I’d write about here.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Battle Racers is, somehow, the second Sonic racing board game I’ve reviewed in the last year, and they’re not even related! Different designers, different publishers, the works. About the only thing they’ve got in common is that they involve Sonic, racing and plastic miniatures and...OK, that’s actually quite a lot in common.
Where Crash Course was a very quick, simple and accessible affair, though, Battle Racers is a bit more serious, with a minimum age of 14 (which meant my nine and seven year-old kids struggled), more rules, more bits and a generally meatier experience.
It’s better for this, but also worse.
Better in that this feels a bit more like a racing-themed Sonic game, rather than Crash Course’s Sonic-skinned racing experience. In addition to simply getting around corners and across the finish line first overcoming a handful of obstacles, here it really feels like a simulation of precision video game platforming, as you juggle acceleration and elevation, running and spinning, while also having to time jumps to land on the heads of enemies that pop up all over the course.
Also better because the miniatures are amazing! I was playing with the full suite of them, including the expansion packs containing Shadow and Eggman, and they’re all large, detailed, colourful and wonderfully tactile to pop along the course. This would be half the game it is without them.
And...when the fun of using nice big miniatures is such a big part of the fun, that’s also a problem. This is a game that tries to be both a racing game and a platforming game, only it falls short in both areas, which are at times in open conflict against one another.
As a racing game, it’s got some cool ideas about maintaining a base level of inertia, as you can adjust how far you move along the course each turn based on cards you play (or events that happen to you). Going flat-out all the time isn’t ideal, because running into enemies or obstacles (like spikes) will cause you to spill rings, which in this game are a lot more valuable than they are in any video game.
But overall the racing game premise is an odd fit for this license. I know Sonic goes fast, but it’s not the only thing he does, and shoe-horning all of his platforming tricks into a race undermines them by turning what could have been cool strategic decisions into mere speed bumps in an ever-onwards sprint.
Which is a shame, because those platforming tricks, and the way they were implemented alongside inertia and momentum, were such a strong thematic fit for the universe! I’d have loved to see this half-attempt at actual Sonic level traversal and combat transplanted into its own dedicated board game scenario, rather than sacrificed in the name of going fast.
For all its smart ideas, Battle Racers just wasn’t very fun as a racing game, or that exciting either, the two things you need most from the genre. Take Flamme Rouge (which I’ve reviewed previously) as an example: it’s flexible, strategic, allows for some fantastic jostling for position then never ceases to get amazing as everyone dashes towards the end.
In Battle Racers, the platforming stuff that’s supposed to be a thematic fit (and would have been otherwise!) ends up getting in the way as often as it presents a challenge, and getting through a race left me feeling more frustrated than anything else.
Straight racing isn’t the only way to play this game, though. There’s also a boss mode, which you can either play solo or cooperatively, and this changes the situation dramatically. In boss mode, instead of every player just trying to get to the finish line, you’re all trying to get to the finish line along with an AI-controlled boss, and if the boss beats you, you all lose.
Boss mode has still got a lot of the same problems as the main game, but with the addition of a boss to worry about—and they mess with the game by drawing enemies to them and constantly dealing out hurt to competing racers—it tips the racing vs platforming scales a bit further towards the latter, making for a more interesting experience.
Boss mode on its own isn’t enough to get me to recommend Battle Racers, though, unless you are really into Sonic and want some nice miniatures, because as a racing game it’s just not at the same level as superior genre examples like Flamme Rouge, Formula D or the very cool and upcoming Drift.
If you are really into Sonic, though, maybe you’ll be more forgiving than me of this game’s shortcomings, because while I didn’t much enjoy this as a racer it is, if nothing else, a great adaptation of some of Sonic’s defining platforming features.