sonic superstars

Sonic Superstars Review – A Gorgeous Return To Sonic’s Roots

Classic 2D platforming with modern sensibilities.

Between a pair of decent live-action movies, a fantastic celebration of the series in Sonic Mania, and the divisive reinvention that was Sonic Frontiers, the blue blur has had a strange couple of years. Despite this, Sonic has been able to prove that his staying power is immense. Swathes of free downloadable content for Frontiers, a Knuckles TV series, and a third movie in the works all but confirm SEGA’s spiny mascot will always be here to stay.

Where Sonic Mania came to us in a time of uncertainty for Sonic, Sonic Superstars feels like a more confident showing of what 2D Sonic was all about. A true sequel to the seminal original trilogy that had fans clamouring for more. If you can look past the rough edges and a questionable value proposition, Superstars’ core experience delivers on the promise that Sonic the Hedgehog 4 couldn’t, proving that 2D Sonic still has a place in modern gaming.

sonic superstars

Much like the originals and Mania before it, Sonic Superstars is light on narrative, but what’s here is more than enough to set the scene and get things going. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Dr. Eggman is back at it again – this time looking to execute his plans of world domination from the Northstar Islands with the help of Fang the Hunter and series newcomer, Trip.

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It’s mostly told through short vignettes and animated cutscenes that bring Sonic’s sense of playful adventure to fruition. With a core cast of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy, it truly feels like a continuation of those older games. It’s always a treat to see the gang bounce off of each other as they try to thwart Eggman’s plans and it’s neat seeing a character like Fang in a mainline title like this one.

sonic superstars

The old school sensibilities of Sonic Superstars don’t stop there. As soon as you pick up the controller, it’s clear that much like Sonic Mania, Superstars is a modernised take on traditional 2D Sonic. Everything from the physics to platforming challenges and bursts of blistering speed is lovingly iterated upon in a stylish 2.5D perspective. Each Zone offers unique themes, level gimmicks, and pathways to discover in a bid to get the fastest time possible, making for an all-round well paced adventure.

Sonic’s repertoire has also seen a few new key additions that shake up the core gameplay loop. Aside from the brilliant Drop Dash returning from Mania, Sonic and friends have access to a suite of new Chaos Emerald Powers that substantially change how you approach each new obstacle. These slowly unlock over the course of the game’s story mode, with each of the seven emeralds being tucked away in hard-to-reach Special Stages.

sonic superstars

Each one brings something entirely new to the table. The Blue Emerald, for example, allows you to use the Avatar power, flooding the screen with clones that’ll clear the screen of any Badniks while also dealing some good damage to bosses. The Green Emerald, on the other hand, sprouts ivy that allows for rapid vertical movement, meaning you can get to high areas with ease. Liberal use of these powers is encouraged as they refresh every time you hit a new checkpoint post, so you’ll often be able to use them two or three times per Act.

The Chaos Emerald Powers also add a ton of replay value in the same vein as Wisps from Sonic Colours. It’s rewarding to revisit previously cleared Acts to see how and where you can use the powers to improve times, find new routes, and uncover hidden collectibles or Bonus Stages. I have no doubt the community will come up with some diabolical tech for these that keeps time trials alive for some time to come.

sonic superstars

It should also be mentioned that the aforementioned Special Stages that unlock the Emeralds are challenging, inventive and fun to play. You’ll swing from grapple points as you use momentum to carry yourself towards a fleeing Emerald, collecting Rings along the way to make sure you don’t time out. They’re relatively straightforward, but are always enjoyable, which simply can’t be said for Special Stages in prior games.

Sonic Superstars’ assortment of Zones are also excellent. While most explore motifs previously seen in the series, there are a few unique standouts like Speed Jungle Zone and Cyber Station Zone. The former sees Sonic and the gang slingshot off of fauna, grind on vines, and make ample use of harpoon launchers to get to higher paths. Cyber Station Zone is a personal favourite, with a digitised environment that transforms Sonic and co into voxel renditions of themselves while also taking on other cyber forms to progress.

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sonic superstars

Zones aren’t made completely equal, though. Some only have one Act, and others have a bonus character specific Act making for a total of three. These bonus Acts are a nice way to get to grips with a character’s kit and how they might play in a regular level. Where Sonic has his trusty Drop Dash, Knuckles can climb, Tails can fly, and Amy can wallop anything in her way through liberal use of her hammer. It means each Act feels fresh when tackled with a new character, especially in tandem with the Chaos Emerald Powers.

Each level also houses a plethora of Medals that can be traded in for cosmetics at Eggman’s shop, allowing you to create your very own metal competitor for Battle Mode. There’s some neat stuff here, like the ability to create a metal NiGHTS, but it’s disappointing that these creations are strictly limited to the Battle Mode. There’s also a collection of Bonus Stages in each Act that award even more medals, but I became apathetic towards collecting them as the game went on given their limited applications.

sonic superstars

The bosses that punctuate each zone are also a bit of a mixed bag. Some are your typical 2D Sonic boss fights, while others are frustratingly difficult and occasionally obtuse in design. It doesn’t help that Superstars is plagued by some wonky hit detection and collision issues that rear their heads often enough to become an infrequent annoyance.

Outside of the core story mode, Sonic Superstars has offerings of mixed quality. The Mario Party-like Battle Mode feels like something of an afterthought, with simple minigame designs that finish before they can properly get going. The mode that unlocks after rolling credits fairs a little bit better with remixed stages, but doesn’t add as much as you might initially think. A sweet inclusion is the ability to play the story mode in four player local coop, which is a bit of chaotic fun despite some of the level design struggling to keep up with the speed of it all.

sonic superstars

If these extra modes don’t do much for you on paper, then it’s hard to recommend Sonic Superstars at its current price tag. I’m all for a short and sweet experience, but the value proposition here isn’t great for those looking to do one or two playthroughs of the story mode while avoiding the extra stuff. Old-school fans will no doubt get a kick out of the classic feel that Superstars embraces, but the current asking price is steep given its fleeting four or five hour runtime.

The biggest departure from the original games is undoubtedly Sonic Superstars’ visual style, dropping the true 2D found in the glorious pixels of the originals for a 2.5D style that’s reminiscent of the Classic Sonic levels found in Sonic Generations. Despite this, the trademark visual style of the Genesis games still feels alive and well here. The combination of an eye-popping colour palette, incredibly expressive animations, and careful use of character quirks present Superstars as a truly modern adaptation of that original visual style.

sonic superstars

There’s nothing quite like Sonic tapping his foot in anticipation as he idles or watching him transition into a Super Peel Out as he reaches top speed. Each character and Zone is brought to life by Superstars’ consistently vivid presentation, and it does wonders for the larger experience. It should hardly surprise anyone that the original soundtrack is another home run for Sonic with talent like the incredible Tee Lopes and Hidenori Shoji of Super Monkey Ball fame penning an energetic and upbeat score that continues the trend of consistently fantastic music in the franchise.

sonic superstars
Conclusion
While its value proposition is questionable, and its slew of modes are of varying quality, Sonic Superstars delivers a true sequel to the original games where Sonic the Hedgehog 4 failed to. The all-important physics are spot on, each Zone is a thrill to blast through, and inventive new ideas iterate on a tried and true formula.
Positives
Endearing representation of Sonic and friends
Diverse and enjoyable suite of Zones
Chaos Emerald Powers bolster replay value and add fun wrinkles to platforming
Killer original soundtrack
Expressive animation and vivid colour palettes
Negatives
Price is a bit steep for what you get
Battle Mode feels like an afterthought
Some wonky hit detection and collision issues
7.5