My introduction to the Sonic the Hedgehog series came with Sonic Adventure 2 DX for the Nintendo Gamecube, a later entry in the franchise’s timeline. Lacking the nostalgic connection to the original Sega Genesis 2D side-scrollers of the 90s, I’ve come to appreciate the series through a different lens. Having played the classics over the past decade, it’s evident how the franchise gained its iconic status. The original games feature fast-paced, multi-route stages filled with challenges and secrets, and in later titles, varied characters with unique gameplay. While the “Gotta Go Fast” mantra may not shine through as much as others claim, the solid foundation laid by these games has supported the franchise’s evolution over the past 30 years.
After dabbling with the 3D open-world platforming concept with Sonic Frontiers, SEGA’s Sonic Team has partnered with Arzest Corporation to craft Sonic Superstars, a new side-scrolling platformer in the series which goes back to the series’ roots from the Genesis days – both gameplay-wise and character aesthetic wise – whilst also modernising the formula through new challenges, new skills and mechanics. What you end up with is a genuinely enjoyable experience for newcomers and veterans alike, although the gems are more from classic mechanics than the new introductions – which fall to the wayside pretty quickly and would have been better integrated into the core experience.
At its core, Sonic Superstars is easy for anyone to pick up and play. You start by choosing your preferred character (or for those who have friends to play alongside, up to three additional characters). From there, players are taken through a series of diverse, intricately designed zones, each with unique biomes and themes. Ranging from the tropical Bridge Island Zone to the vibrant Pinball Carnival Zone, every area consists of three distinct acts and multiple bosses, each introducing unique gameplay elements. These levels demand a balance of speed and careful navigation, offering a platforming challenge that requires both agility and strategic thinking.
Boss battles, typically at the end of each act, were also rewarding and fair but also were not just a repeat of the same mechanics over, and over again. From dealing with Eggman’s different mechanisations to Fang’s more unique and challenging combat options, I was always left excited about what the game would throw at me next. At its core, Sonic Superstars is enjoyable, and if you have liked any past Sonic the Hedgehog side-scrolling platformer, then you will very likely walk away satisfied with Sonic Superstars.
But while Sonic Superstars thrives on the fundamental experience, its new inclusions are more of a mixed bag, even if shaking up the 30-year-old formula should be encouraged. Collecting Chaos Emeralds is a fundamental element of a Sonic the Hedgehog game, encouraging players to favour level exploration over speed, and find mini-games enabling them to acquire each emerald. The traditional outcome is that by collecting these emeralds, you will be able to use them to become Super Sonic (or Super Tails, Super Knuckles or Super Amy) temporarily gaining invulnerability and fast movement in return for incrementally consuming rings.
This is retained in Sonic Superstars, but obtaining each Chaos Emerald will also enable you to obtain special abilities that grant you a range of other limited-time ‘Emerald Powers’, from generating clones to attack enemies, gaining the ability to climb waterfalls, becoming a flaming bullet, slowing down time and more. These are all optional abilities, which is fine given the optional nature of collecting Chaos Emeralds, although this means that there is never any real need to use them. I feel like having them unlocked through the story (maybe a dedicated act in each of the first X zones) and then having more prominently displayed reasons to use them would make them more worthwhile. It is just that, at the moment, it is too easy to collect the Chaos Emeralds, use their abilities once or twice, and then become so immersed in the next level that you forget to even consider using them. Of course, it was a nice way of encouraging players to slow down, knowing that should they discover and obtain the hidden Chaos Emerald, they could gain something to enhance their gameplay experience, and to their credit, the developers did make a solid effort and ensuring that most of these abilities are useful should you use them.
While not the first time a ‘battle mode’ has been incorporated into a Sonic game, Sonic Superstars has arguably one of the weakest implementations yet. As you progress through the game, you will be able to unlock customisation items allowing you to create your robotic character, which you can use to undertake the challenges of Battle Mode, typically a medley of small challenges such as ‘Survive the Longest on the Field’, ‘Collect as many X as possible’ and ‘Get to the end of the stage the quickest’. I appreciate the customizability of the robotic avatars, even if it pales in comparison to that of Sonic Forces, and I genuinely enjoyed creating my avatar. However, the actual battle mode itself was forgettable, and not something I think I would invest more than an hour into – even with friends.
Concerning audiovisual systems, this is truly where Sonic Superstars thrives, with eleven uniquely designed world biomes with multi-route challenge-filled paths, classically designed characters brought into the 3D space and some real head-banging, jamming musical backing to each level. Plus, while there is something to be said about voice acting typically included in most modern Sonic games, there is also charm in having retro-style silent characters, letting the boings and thwangs of the environment do the talking over a running commentary of grunts, moans and one-liners.
Overall, Sonic Superstars is a fun dozen-or-so-hour experience that thrives with its high production values and being overall a solid side-scrolling platformer Sonic experience. It was welcoming to see the development team try their hands at a few new quirks, some better than others, and in particular I would love to see them do a single pass at the concept in a sequel. Is Sonic Superstars going to win over anyone who hasn’t enjoyed previous Sonic the Hedgehog games? Probably not, but those who enjoy the classic experience will very likely find much to enjoy in this newest offering.
A PlayStation 5 review code was provided by Australian distributor Five Star Games for the purpose of this review.
Sonic Superstars is now available to purchase physically and digitally on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch, and as a digital exclusive on the PC.