Sonic Drift 2

Sonic Drift 2 / Sonic Drift Racing (ソニックドリフト2) - Game Gear, Gamecube, PlayStation 2, Windows, Nintendo 3DS (1995)


This entry is part 21 of 22 in the series Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic Drift 2 came out a year after the first game, and got a Western release this time (though only Europe seemed to notice that the name would cause confusion and renamed it Sonic Drift Racing). The game makes numerous changes to bring it closer to Mario Kart in terms of madcap racing antics, but the implementation clashes poorly with the drifting mechanics and creates an irritating sequel.

The story is yet another Grand Prix that doesn’t offer much in the way of explaining what’s going on, but we do get introduced to a trio of newcomers: Metal Sonic from Sonic CD, Fang the Sniper from Sonic Triple Trouble (who isn’t referred to by his Western name of ‘Nack the Weasel’ in the localized versions of this game, oddly enough), and Knuckles the Echidna from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles.

In terms of gameplay, Sonic Drift 2 overall plays the same as its predecessor. You drive into the screen, drift round corners, pick up rings to use character-specific abilities, and can grab monitors to use other power-ups. Sonic, Tails, Amy, and Eggman return from the first game and have the same stats and abilities, but you can now play as three new characters. Metal Sonic is both the fastest and the worst at handling, and has the ability to use a super speed boost (but at the cost of three rings instead of two); Knuckles is an all-rounder and can punch rivals if they’re nearby or bounce into the air otherwise; Fang is about as fast and poor at handling as Sonic, but he can throw oil balls that bring other racers to a halt.

The power-ups have seen a substantial increase in focus, with many new ones being introduced. These include mines that you can throw at other racers or leave behind you, a star that causes all the other racers to stop dead, and a ball that reverses the direction of steering. You can now hold onto items and use them whenever you need to, but only if you pick them up from a monitor.

The three modes from the first game return: a “Free Run” mode to try single tracks by yourself, a “Versus” mode for multiplayer, and the “Chaos GP”, which has been tweaked a bit. When you come first place in a race, you get a Chaos Emerald. This means that in order to get the best result, you have to come first in all six races, instead of just getting the most points. If you win the Blue GP with all six Emeralds, you’ll take on a specific character in one last race (if you play as Sonic, Tails, Amy or Knuckles, you go up against Eggman; if you play as Eggman, Metal Sonic or Fang, you’ll race against Sonic).

However, getting first in any of the races will be a problem, because the AI has become significantly more proactive in trying to win. They’ll use their power-ups more frequently, and will constantly be on your tail. But this isn’t to say that the game is satisfyingly challenging, because the way the AI manages to keep up with you is dishonest and unfair.

The other racers display really blatant rubber-banding, which is where they’ve been designed to constantly be near you. As a result, they’re always rushing up towards you out of nowhere and overtaking you at the last possible second. This is already pretty bad, but they often use abilities without needing to pick up rings or monitors. They can even hop over mines and small obstacles, a thing that you can’t do at all.

What makes it even worse is that the game is much harsher when it comes to crashing. If you so much as graze another racer’s backside (something that will happen a lot given how tight the track is), you’ll end up in a crash that stops you for several seconds. And while you can try and do the same to anyone who’s coming up behind you, they often end up ignoring you altogether, and you actually slow down a little bit!

This culminates in an endlessly frustrating racer where you end up winning or losing, not because of your skill or lack thereof, but because of whether or not the AI decides to cheese through the race. Racing games, even kart racers, should ideally contain a balance of skill and luck, but this game goes way too far in preferring luck over anything else.

It’s especially a shame because Sonic Drift 2 does a good job at fixing the previous game’s biggest fault: the repetitious levels in both visuals and mechanics. The race tracks are now based on a variety of locales from Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and many original places, and they never repeat locations as much. The environments now influence the track designs, which makes for more interesting races where you’re driving through sandy dunes on the Desert Road or through thick puddles in the Rainy Savannah. Some of the tracks don’t even loop, instead going for long linear stretches where you’re not allowed to get complacent with the level layout.

Unfortunately, this attempt at variety is hampered by the inclusion of hazards and enemies that litter the cramped roads, which you’ll end up crashing into just as often as other racers. The short horizon you have is now a major problem since you barely have time to anticipate and dodge them, and while you have the option to turn off the enemies, you can’t turn off the hazards (which is ridiculous, since there’s far more hazards than enemies).

There’s not much else to discuss when it comes to the racing mechanics. The controls are still responsive, and drifting should ideally be a fun challenge, but when the game conspires against the desire to win by any degree of skill whenever possible, it’s not worth digging into. Despite all the changes made, the only thing to have really improved in Sonic Drift 2 is the presentation.

The graphics are the same as they were before, which is to say that they’re good. A quick and smooth framerate that ensures the game at least plays functionally, big character sprites, and a smart of use of color to distinguish the various elements from each other make for a visually attractive game. This is enhanced by the greater variety of environments, some of which even have animated backgrounds such as skies flashing with lightning.

The music is a better effort. Composed by Masayuki Nagao and Saori Kobayashi (the lead composer for Panzer Dragoon Saga and Orta), the tunes use the instrumentation and melodies to inform the mood of each track, with the Rainy Savannah and Emerald Ocean themes being particularly good. However, most of it still tends to a bit too generic and slow for the kind of speed these races go at. Interestingly, the invincibility theme is a rearrangement of the title theme from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, a game infamous for having a dozen or so composers. Nagao is one of the credited composers, so it’s likely that he was responsible for the original theme and its rearrangement here.

Sonic Drift 2 may appeal more to those who prefer their kart racers to be more along the lines of Mario Kart, but it doesn’t veer enough in that direction in a well-made way to justify scrapping the first game’s niche, but unique appeal.

Series Navigation<< Sonic Drift

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