Sonic Superstars

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Sonic Superstars'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 13, 2023 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Sonic Superstars is Sonic the Hedgehog’s latest adventure bringing a new standard of play to classic high-speed 2D Sonic platforming.

The Sonic franchise has always been ambitious. Since the Dreamcast days, the series has always been trying something new. It's not necessarily always good, but it's new. Sonic Mania, a throwback to the classic Genesis days, was arguably the best received game in the franchise in some time. After the wildly ambitious Sonic Frontiers, it's no surprise that the blue blur has returned to something that's more by the numbers. In a franchise that went to everything from time travel to werehogs, Sonic Superstars is perhaps the most surprising of all: a by-the-numbers Sonic game that is neither a revisit of older titles nor completely out of the norm.

In Sonic Superstars, Dr. Eggman has once again set out to do evil by kidnapping cute fuzzy animals and locking them into robots. This time, he's aiming for the Northstar Islands and is aided by Fang the Hunter (formerly known as Nack the Sniper) and a newcomer called Trip, a strange girl wearing bulky armor who doesn't seem to be into the "evil" part of being evil. Sonic and his pals need to team up, beat up Robotnik, recover the Chaos Emeralds, and get home in time for chili dogs.

Sonic Superstars lets you select from the "big four" of Sonic characters: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy. Sonic is fastest and can do a drop-dash, Tails can fly, and Knuckles can climb and glide through the air. Amy can do a double-jump, and her hammer lets her damage enemies that the other characters can't. You can choose any character, but there are certain stages that require a specific character to play, such as Sonic having an exclusive race-fight against Fang.

This ends up feeling pretty similar to the other Sonic games, where you can play as all of these characters. Sonic is the default, and almost everyone else feels just a hair better than he does in exchange for a little less speed. Amy was an easy mode, since her double-jump gave her a lot of extra air control and her hammer attacks easily knocked down some of the more annoying enemies. I'm sure speedrunners will prefer Sonic for his greater momentum, but otherwise, you can go wild.

The level design in Sonic Superstars is akin to Sonic 3 and more open as opposed to linear. Each stage has multiple routes through it, with higher routes having fewer obstacles but tending to require more platforming. There are a number of hidden items throughout, including giant rings that you can use to go to special stages to collect Chaos Emeralds and collectible medallions that can be used to purchase custom parts for the Battle mode.

Overall, the level design feels rather nice. The levels are huge and contain a strong mix of different kinds of challenges. Each stage feels distinct, with a lot of interesting gameplay mechanics. One stage has you exploring in the dark, while another constantly goes above and below water. There are even some weird moments, such as a stage full of giant pieces of fruit, which serve as hiding spots for badniks, or a sequence where you must platform while carrying another character on your back. Sonic Superstars constantly feels fresh without straying from what makes it a Sonic title.

The only criticism about the level design is that it is good but not great. The stages sometimes feel like they have too much filler space or repeated tricks, which can make segments feel a little repetitive. The stage design feels a lot smoother than other 2D Sonic games; it doesn't have as many highs or lows, so it ends up in the middle, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering some of the poor Sonic games.

One of the biggest new features in Sonic Superstars are the Emerald powers. In previous Sonic games, the Chaos Emeralds were all or nothing. Either you collected all of them and got access to the super forms of a character, or they were just shiny jewels. Sonic Superstars tries to find a middle ground by granting access to Emerald Powers. Each Chaos Emerald you find (via Sonic 3-style hidden golden rings) now has a special power associated with it. Each power can be used once per checkpoint but replenishes automatically. Once activated, a power is active for a short period of time and can be used multiple times during its active period.

These powers are all significant. Avatar lets you fill the screen with clones who instantly damage any on-screen foes, Water lets you swim in water by turning into a liquid form, Bullet lets you turn into a fireball that can shoot in any direction, Ivy lets you create a growing plant that you can ride up, Vision reveals hidden things, Slow slows things down, and Extra gives you a power that's exclusive to the character you're playing. For example, Sonic gets access to the 3D Sonic's Homing Attack, while Knuckles can shoot a fireball from his fists.

I don't like how the Emerald Powers are implemented. The idea is strong, but they are largely optional and limited in use, so it prevents them from feeling like a natural part of the game. Sonic has used similar mechanics previously (the Wisps in Sonic Colors is closest), but they were integrated in a more natural way. The Emerald powers feel like a way to give you something for collecting Chaos Emeralds (besides Super Sonic), but the end result is lacking.

Avatar is a temporary "kill everything on-screen" button that sounds good in theory, but the actual design of a Sonic game means that you get relatively little benefit from it aside from boss battles. Water is a very cool idea but of such limited use that it feels kind of terrible when compared to Bullet, which lets you skip most platforming challenges. Most of the powers are either useless or incredibly overpowered, and since levels aren't designed around them, they all function as a "super bomb" instead or a natural part of the gameplay. It's great that the Emerald powers are available, but they don't add much to the gameplay and feel like a bonus.

Sonic Superstars also allows for multiplayer, either in the form of co-op versions of the story mode or Battle modes, where you create a custom robot avatar and compete in various challenges, such as racing or collecting stars. Multiplayer has been around in some form since Sonic 2, and it is about the same as in Superstar. It's a neat addition, but I'm not sure that it fits the game well. The varying powers of characters don't mesh well for co-op action, compared to something like Super Mario 3D World or Disney's Illusion Island, where everyone shares the same rough abilities. It does look like a good option for families who want to play together.

Visually, Sonic Superstars isn't super impressive. The animations and environments are all bright and colorful, but they feel a touch basic and plasticky. There's a sense of blandness that prevents them from standing out. The character animations are strong and add personality to non-vocal characters, especially the new character Trip. Likewise, the music falls into the category of good but not great. The music fits the zone design well and is pleasant to listen to, but it doesn't hit the highs of the older games — or the absurd buttrock of Sonic Frontiers.

Sonic Superstars is a fun and thoroughly by-the-numbers Sonic title, which is all it is really trying to be. It is the definition of an average Sonic game, it's competent, and it's often enjoyable. I had a good amount of fun with it, and it's a perfectly solid platformer. It doesn't reach the highs of Sonic Mania, which was always going to be a tough act to follow. If you like the 2D Sonic offerings, you'll have a good time with Sonic Superstars, even if it isn't likely to become a new favorite.

Score: 8.0/10

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