Since 1991, Sega’s blue blur mascot Sonic the Hedgehog has dominated the gaming industry with classic side-scrolling adventures, many defining a particular decade or console genertaion. After Sonic Mania re-invented the series again in 2017, the next big 2D platforming game starring our blue hero is finally here. This time around it is 2.5D expereince that while not completely reinventing the wheel, builds off the franchise’s rich history while integrating some new mechanics and designs that propel the series forward. While far from perfect, Sonic Superstars is a worthy follow-up to Sonic Mania and solidifies itself as one of the best platformers in recent years.
Get in the Zone
The game’s story plays out like an alternate take on the franchise’s greatest hits. Bridge Island is a Green Island counterpart, Pinball Carnival plays like Carnival Night Zone from Sonic 3, while my personal favourite was still Lagoon City, a waterpark-style city with loads of slides and running water. If you were looking for more of a challenge, Speed Jungle provides this with twisted vines that allow Sonic to grind across to traverse up and down the lush jungle environments.
The game is comprised of 11 zones, each with a variety of stages from larger, complex runs to short bursts of fun. The levels are sparse with plenty of replayability options, and this also allows you to choose your difficulty. You can even choose your approach based on your preferred characters, and can even stay on top of the level and use characters like Tails to fly through relatively unscathed to the end. Or you can simply follow your nose down and get to the more challenging obstacles that lurk at the bottom of most of the levels. Be warned, it can be quite tough down here.
Each level allows you to choose a different character. The classic Sonic the Hedgehog (and variants of Lego Sonic if you got the pre-order bonus), while Tails can fly for short bursts of time and offers the easier route if you are finding it difficult. Amy comes equipped with her trademark giant hammer to bash away enemies and Knuckles can climb walls and glide. While I switched the characters up for this review, I am an original Sonic fan at heart, so the blue hedgehog was always my go-to, and the Lego variant was always fun for the sake of newer visuals. When you have finished the game, you can replay as different characters offering a great way to keep the game going and having it feel like a different experience.
Scattered through each level are chaos emeralds. You swing on giant rings to chase them and once obtained you gain a new power that allows your character to do some truly interesting things. You can turn into water allowing you to traverse up and down waterfalls, another one creates copies of your character which collect rings and attack enemies, even helping against bosses.
When it comes to boss fights, many are among the most difficult in any Sonic game ever made. Most of my frustration in this game came from these encounters that rely on timed attacks rather than a jump and bash from previous titles. Here there is a rhythm, and if you don’t find it and stick to it, can lead to game over relatively quickly. There are quite a few that are ridiculously hard and become rage-inducing as one small slip-up and you have to start the whole thing over again.
You can play local co-op with a friend able to grab another controller and join you in co-op. It delivers some, well, interesting results to say the least. The camera is unfortunatley not great at following both characters so it can be quite chaotic trying to keep up depending on the skill of each player. There is an online battle mode with 8 players that is also fairly forgettable. You create your own character Sonic Forces style and compete in mini-games. They are frustratingly simple and didn’t provide enough of a challenge or interest to go back to it or keep the game in the pop culture zeitgeist. Time Attack mode will please mostly die-hard fans, however, the lack of online boards to compare scores with feels like a frustrating omission.
The beautiful visuals that have been lovingly crafted for every part of this game are simply stunning. Reviewing this game on the PlayStation 5 delivered a smooth 60FPS experience combined with a bright and gorgeous colour palette that shines from all angles. The blend of 2D environments and 3D-shaded characters seamlessly mix together. This is further complimented by the soundtrack that harks back to the bangers from the first three Sonic games, mixed with a modern influence. Lagoon City in particular is definitoley bringing all the bangers!
Sonic Superstars is a complete delight. It is a satsidfying side-scrolling platformer that takes the best of classic Sonic games and brings it forward to an exciting future for the 2D versions of this refined experience. It’s a shame the boss fights are so infuriating and are generally among the lower points of this game. The ability to choose between characters to play through each level makes it fun and offers a huge amount of replayability for this title. While it’s far from the best Sonic game ever made, it is an incredible way forward for the series that needed to cement itself after the huge success of Sonic Mania.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Gorgeous visuals; Addictive gameplay with a wide array of characters from the Sonic-verse
Lowlights: Boss fights don’t meet the mark; Online play is undercooked
Developer: Sonic Team, Arrest, Sega
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by the publisher.