Sonic is one of gaming’s most recognisable mascots. He’s grown so big that he probably can’t even just be referred to as a gaming icon anymore, given the amount of various merchandise, animated series’ and Hollywood movies he’s now appeared in. But still more than any other, he’s featured in many games over the years, the quality of which, as many Sonic fans will tell you has a massive scale of difference. But here with Sonic Superstars, SEGA have taken the famous blue hedgehog and his friends back to their roots to deliver a 2D Sonic title that while isn’t perfect, honours where the series came from and delivers an experience Sonic fans have wanted for a very long time.
When it comes to story, the plot of Sonic Superstars is pretty simplistic. But that’s typically been the norm when it comes to most 2D side-scrolling Sonic titles. Dr Eggman is up to his normal tricks again, this time terrorising the new area of North Star Islands along with his henchmen Trip and Fang, so it’s up to Sonic and his friends to collect the Chaos Emeralds, take down the enemies trying to stop them and ultimately put a stop to Eggman’s latest plot. It’s a simple and straight to the point plot as mentioned, as Superstars is a title very much focussed on gameplay first and foremost over some other Sonic titles which focus on deeper narratives, darker themes and character interactions. Much of Superstar’s story is either implied or told through some really well animated cutscenes which are gorgeous to look at and really help set the tone and setting of the game right from the intro movie.
Superstars lets us experience a new locale known as North Star Island. It doesn’t reuse stages from previous Sonic games, each zone and the individual stages within are brand new and come with their own unique gameplay gimmick, but Sonic veterans will be able to spot that there are zones that are very inspired by stages that have existed in previous Sonic titles. I liked that this allowed Superstars to be something new and fresh while still offering a familiar experience for those that have grown up loving the 2D Sonic titles from the 90s. Each of the stages that make up the individual zones have various routes that can be taken to reach the end and there are plenty of hidden paths and secrets to find which does encourage multiple playthroughs of the same stage to not only try and find everything, but to fight to obtain a better completion time.
In Superstars, the Chaos Emeralds are obtained by completing a mini game that is presented to you upon locating a giant golden ring hidden within specific stages. The mini game takes place in a 3D environment and requires you to swing from a tether in a space-like area aiming to get closer and closer to the moving emerald with the goal of chasing it down and obtaining it. I found the mini game to be quite finicky with its controls and it’s hard to gauge the depth of the stage and the items you can swing from. This was because in this area you progress forwards on a 3D plane which was a strange choice given the rest of the game utilises the classic 2D camera.
Finding the Chaos Emeralds doesn’t just grant Sonic the ability to go Super. In Superstars, discovering the Emeralds grants Emerald abilities that can be utilised within the stages to be able to access new areas, solve puzzles and even assist in dispatching tougher enemies or weakening bosses. They can be quick selected via the ability wheel and allow you to do things that really have an impact on gameplay, such as creating duplicates of yourself, grant vision that highlights hidden items, time slowdown and bullet directional changes among numerous other things. They’re each quite diverse in how they can be used and can be called upon at just about any time if you have the resources needed to activate them. But best of all, they’re available to all playable characters in Sonic Superstars, not just Sonic this time around.
As just mentioned, it’s not just the Sonic show. You’ll be able to play through each stage as either Sonic, Knuckles, Tails or Amy and each character comes with their own strengths and abilities that make them feel unique over others. Such as Knuckles’ ability to glide and climb, Tails’ ability to fly, and Amy gets a larger attack radius and the ability to double jump, making her a great character for people that may be new to the series or for younger players so that they can have a smoother experience getting through the stages. While each stage can be completed by any character, it’s clear some stages were made for particular ones in mind. And clever utilisation of specific characters combined with specific Emerald powers is critical to be able to see absolutely everything Superstars has to offer. Without spoiling too much, there’s even reason to jump in after completing the core stages as Superstars does offer more playable characters than just the core 4 that open up after finishing the main story for the first time.
Superstars also has drop in, drop out 4 player couch co-op which was a surprising feature. It’s a mode that I’m glad was included, as it allowed me to have my son join in on the adventure rather than just watching me play, but it is far from a perfect system. In this mode, all players share the same screen, it’s not split screen, so the game tries to determine based on the level layout, which player is designated as the leader and then when they progress too far from any accompanying players, they’re teleported back to the current position of the leader so that the flow of the game can be maintained. This is great in my use case as it allowed me to keep playing, knowing that my son wouldn’t be left behind and would essentially be dragged along for the ride. But in the situation where the 2 or more players playing the game are capable and want to be able to adventure at will or explore varying paths in a stage, you’re unable to because at each moment the game is trying to reassign the leader player and ensure nobody gets left behind. It’s a system that is cool but far from perfect and one I’m unsure of what could be done to make it better, but fingers crossed SEGA manage to make some tweaks to the groundwork that’s been established when the next Sonic title rolls around.
For the most part I found Sonic Superstars to be a pretty solid return to form when it comes to 2D Sonic titles. There are some tweaks that could make the Emerald stages and co-op, sure. But the biggest flaw I found in the game unfortunately came with its bosses. Outside of a small few, I didn’t really enjoy any of the boss encounters that Superstars threw my way. The design and pacing of the encounters needs a lot of work. Where the core game is based mainly around speed, many of these encounters clearly aren’t. The bosses often come with small windows of opportunity to actually deal damage, occasionally have obtuse requirements that are needed to be discovered via trial and error and result in frustrating loops of repetition doing it all over again when you unfortunately end up overcome by the boss. There’s no way to speed through these encounters as many of them feel like a waiting game, sitting around for your window of opportunity and when compared to the design of the rest of the game and even many of the sub bosses found in other stages in the zone it highlights just how poorly paced the boss design is overall.
Overall, Sonic Superstars is a nice return to most of what made 2D Sonic so great in the 90s. It has fun and unique zones to explore, Chaos Emeralds and abilities to find and earn, and the addictive replay value of trying to discover each stage’s secrets and most efficient path all while having an amazing soundtrack to enjoy while you do it. It broadens the scope thanks to its multiple different playable characters and the ability to mix and match their skills with the Chaos powers. While it’s co-op mode and the boss battles could use some work, Superstars is still a game that I’d recommend whether you’re an existing Sonic fan, or someone jumping into 2D Sonic for the first time.
A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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