Today, Traveller’s Tales is best known for taking extremely popular franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Batman and converting them into cute little Lego versions of themselves. The end result is an enormous dynasty of titles which earn the company cubic butt-tons of money with every new release as gamers clamor to see what license TT will acquire next. I’m rooting for Lego H.P. Lovecraft myself, but that’s neither here nor there. What is important is before Traveller’s Tales figured out a way to vacuum money directly out of consumer’s wallets, they had to do things the hard way. And today in 1997 saw the release of one of those lesser-known efforts: Sonic R for the Sega Saturn.
It’s surprising it took this long for someone to look at a character like Sonic, whose key descriptor is “he moves really, really fast,” and decide that he belongs in a racing game. But that’s just what Traveller’s Tales did with this “totally not a Mario Kart rip-off” for Sega’s flailing 32-bit console. The story is simple, because who needs a story for a racing game? Sonic and his friends (and enemies) set aside their personal differences and agree to hold a contest to determine who or what is the fastest thing on two feet. Bets are made, racing locations mapped out, it’s a quick 3-2-1 countdown, and they’re off chasing that checkered flag through five different courses.
Sonic R went for the gold, but a variety of glitches and bugs, not to mention a confusing system that flat-out rewards cheating by cutting out whole swaths of the track all conspire to apply the drag chute to this one well in advance of the finish line. There’s really nothing like watching your AI opponents cut directly through what should be a solid wall or winding up in last place because you turned at the wrong place and the game did nothing to correct you. Races in Sonic R are confused, disorganized chaos compared to rival franchise-themed racers from Nintendo or Sony. Not the worst game on the Saturn, and one of your only choices if you’re looking to play a Sonic game on the system, but there’s really nothing to recommend it over the other, better racing titles in the system’s library. Heck, even the two-page ad isn’t all that interesting. See for yourselves: