Published on November 2nd, 2023 | by Gareth Newnham
Sonic Superstars Review #PS5
Summary: Sonic Superstars may ditch the Pixels, but its the Mania sequel we were all hoping for.
Sonic Superstars going up against Mario Wonder was the kind of headline-grabbing move that PR execs love but that we all knew would end with Mario knocking the Hedgehog out in the metaphorical fifth.
What I wasn’t expecting was for the blue blur to put up such a fight. Sonic Superstars can hold its head high as one of the best entries in the long and fraught series and the first in a long time that captures the magic of the series MegaDrive heyday and builds on those foundations rather than wallowing in nostalgia.
In short, Sonic Superstars is the 2D Sonic series fans have been waiting far too long for. Developer Arzest has built upon Sonic Mania’s superb physics and inventive level design by augmenting them with modern 2.5D visuals and a whole slew of inventive twists, tweaks, and ideas. It may not look like it, but this is very much the Sonic Mania sequel we’ve been waiting for, under the hood, at least.
It’s light on story, but that’s not a problem. Sonic and friends are hunting the Chaos Emeralds and Robotnik, with the help of Fang the Hunter and his buddy Trip ( The first new character from famed Sonic designer Naoto Oshima since the 90s) are after them too. And that’s it. That’s all it needs to be. And thankfully, Arzest seems to understand this.
The other thing Superstars nails is the ebb and flow of traditional Sonic. Speed once again feels like a reward for competent platforming or part of a flashy set piece rather than just the ‘gotta go fast’ mentality that seems to have dominated the series’ 3D efforts for what feels like decades at this point.
This is augmented by superb level design, with each act replete with multiple routes through, secrets to find, and some honest-to-goodness platforming challenges at times. Superstars is also packed with great twists, new ideas, and some fantastic stand-out moments that see the Dev teams play with gravity in several acts, rewind time in Egg Fortress, and see Sonic transform into pixelated animals in Cyber Station, as well as provide some familiar feeling remixes like the Green Hillesque Bridge Island, and even make an enjoyable water stage (probably the highest praise you can throw at a sonic game)
Each of Sonic’s friends is along for the ride in Superstars, and each play as you remember, Tails can fly, Knuckles glides and climbs walls, and Amy can double jump and smash enemies with her hammer, just like she could in Sonic Origins Plus. There’s also another character unlocked at the end of your trip through Superstars, but I don’t want to spoil it.
Each feels as you remember them from previous Sonic games, and in a clever addition, there are several levels specifically designed for each character that make better use of each of their unique abilities.
The biggest addition, though, is the new emerald powers that are unlocked by nabbing a chaos emerald in a hidden mini-game where you have to swing from point to point trying to catch the gem before the time runs out, though the first few levels are fairly easy, getting the last few emeralds is a lot trickier.
There’s a bevy of powers you can use once per checkpoint, including being able to zap around as a fireball, turning into water so you can zip up waterfalls, revealing hidden rings and platforms, and, my personal favorite, the one that creates a load of clones that collect and hit everything in sight ( an utter godsend on some of the more irksome bosses).
Though, to be honest, much of the time, I completely forgot about them because the level design is so damn good you’re just happy zipping around the environment without them. (But seriously, save the emerald powers for the bosses.)
As you would expect from a Sonic title, the soundtrack remains a highlight, with great tunes that sound both fresh but keep the general tone and feel classic tunes from the 16-bit era, with standouts including Pinball Carnival and Speed Jungle; this feeling extends to the visuals as well, as Superstars manages to maintain the feeling, bright tones and fun of the old MegaDrvie titles while bringing everything bang up to date. I love pixelated Sonic, but I can understand why SEGA wants to go beyond that.
The only minor quibble I had with Story mode was the boss battles that cap off most stages. They truly are a mixed bag; some are absolutely brilliant and are just the kind of thing you would want from a modern 2D sonic, tense, fun, and satisfying to best, while others, mostly the ones you need to run through, seriously outstay their welcome, and employ the kind of cheap tricks that make you want to chuck your controller through the TV, but thankfully you no longer have to worry about running out of lives, so they’re more of an inconvenience than a game-ending pain.
Story mode can also be played in four-player coop, though to be honest, I found it far more enjoyable solo since it was far too hectic and easy to lose your fellow players in co-op since, for some baffling reason, everyone is limited to a single screen, rather than using a split screen or a dynamic system like th the LEGO games do.
The other main multiplayer offering is Battle mode, which sees you taking on a series of challenges, including racing through certain zones, playing tag, and trying to collect the most coins. This includes online and local play or against bots if you’re feeling antisocial.
However, the whole package, both online and off, feels a bit dull, which is a shame considering how much effort was put into the huge amount of avatar customization options available for the cute little robot you control in what is otherwise a mode that can best be described as fun for five minutes.
Sonic Superstars is not without its faults; the bosses sometimes overstay their welcome, and the multiplayer feels a little underbaked in places. However, Arzest has accomplished something many Sonic fans doubted could ever be done. Successfully create a modern 2D Sonic that not only retains the feel of the MegaDrive/ Genesis originals but builds upon them in meaningful and exciting ways, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where the blue blur heads next.