Ah, Sonic. Here we are again. We’ve met recently and frankly, you had some serious explaining to do. After hyping up the wonders of Frontiers you arrived with a game that simply wasn’t good enough. You knew what you had to do. You had the fanbase on your back and well, when such an event occurs there’s only one thing to do. Take Sonic back to his roots.
And by Jove, you’ve done it. Superstars is a blast, if not a revolution. We’re getting there, slowly but surely.
Now as a long-term Sonic fan, you’d think I’d be one of those fans who absolutely loves everything that has the word Sonic placed upon it. For the most part, you’re right. The SEGA Shop has been emptied by yours truly, and I have lots of Sonic things. The games though? The games deserve high scrutiny because well, at £60 a pop, we should be buying something worthy of that price. Sonic Team seem to have finally worked that out and Superstars is an experience quite like any other they have put out and it’s all the better for it.
One thing that’s so very important in Sonic games is how he feels to play. For a series that nailed it the first time out (way back in 1991), there really wasn’t all that much to improve. And yet, they’ve tinkered and prodded the mechanics over the years to such a degree (let’s not talk about bloody Sonic 4) that when it feels as straightforward and clean as this, it feels like a miracle. Guys, for future reference, Sonic 2 nailed his movement, you literally don’t need to add anything else. Superstars feels closer to the classics than most attempts have in recent times (bar Mania, of course) and within seconds of starting Superstars you feel right at home.
The speed, momentum, the height of his jump, the speed of the loops and the force of the attacks, Superstars, co-developed by Arzest (of, um, Balan Wonderland fame, of all things…), feels terrific to play and thankfully it’s across all characters that they’ve balanced this perfectly. Whether it be Tails flying, Knuckles moving up the walls and gliding over huge sections of levels saves you an awful amount of time (though of course there’s every chance you’ll miss a huge amount of collectables). Amy remains the OP character though with her double jump and additional damage meter. Still, it doesn’t really matter, it’s more who you fancy playing as when you start the game. It’s nice to mix it up, but playing as Tails is always my go-to. He’s my boi, after all.
So what’s Robotnik – sorry, ‘Dr Eggman’ – up to in this one? Well, wouldn’t you know it, he’s building some rather terrifying contraptions to stop Sonic and his friends once and for all, locking away sweet little Flickies in robots to impede your progress. This time around though he has friends including, out of nowhere, Fang, who you may know from arcade classic Sonic the Fighters, along with Trip, a new character to the series who I’ve no doubt will be cosplayed to with an inch of their life at future Sonic conventions.
And Superstars have done something that certainly makes it stand out from old Sonic games. It makes the Chaos Emeralds actually matter more than just kicking Super Sonic into gear. When you’re collecting a new Chaos Emerald (in some interesting Spider-Man-esque bonus levels) you’re granted a new ability. You can use these abilities between checkpoints only once including the brilliant clone ability, filling the screen with tons and tons of Sonics, definitely helpful when you’re feeling somewhat overwhelmed in certain situations.
There is also a water ability that allows you to swim through water segments (who knew?), the ‘bullet’ ability that shoots your character into any direction you choose with super speed and force. The vision ability allows you to see hidden items, platforms or rings. The rest are, well, slightly pointless if you’re playing as Tails or Knuckles and as such have very little use (like a huge plant that allows you to get to higher places, something Tails and Knuckles can do without any special abilities needed).
Of course, when you’ve unlocked all of the Chaos Emeralds you can go Super Sonic, or Super Tails, or Super Knuckles and tear through levels with reckless abandon whilst they have the rings available. It’s about as fun as it ever has been and with the game’s gorgeous visual style, looks better than ever.
The aforementioned special levels which allow you to collect the Chaos Emeralds range from terribly simple to absurdly difficult. The Spider-Man-ness of it all requires you to swing from one point to the other to get towards the Chaos Emerald is, well, not fun. Not like they used to be (remember those running stages in Sonic 2? The spherical levels in Sonic 3? Ahhh).
Perhaps there’s an old man complaining about new game mechanics here but as they’ve added another bonus level which requires you to collect giant coins are designed in a similar way to the classic Sonic The Hedgehog bonus levels. If you can do it for the coins why not for the Chaos Emeralds? Yes, I’m asking for something I’ve very much already experienced but it’s pretty perfect, so why mess with the formula? Ugh.
It brings to light once again that whilst Sonic Superstars has fun in spades, it again adds new elements to a Sonic game that simply doesn’t need to be there. With the additional collectables, the overly long levels that feel like you’re never really making any progress and the terribly boring boss levels that are some of the worst in the entire series, you’ll find yourself wanting to, once again, play the classics to get that Sonic hit. That’s not to say there’s nothing to find here. The visuals are sumptuous and the movement of Sonic and his friends are absolutely nailed-on. Sadly in a world with Super Mario Wonders, where the brand new mechanics add monumentally to the gameplay, the lack of usage you get from the new abilities renders them fairly useless.
Of course, you don’t have to use the abilities and play each beautifully rendered level in more classic Sonic styles, but then you’re faced with the levels that are either far too long or far too convoluted. There doesn’t appear to be in-between which leaves Sonic Superstars somewhere where it’s miles better than Sonic Frontiers and still nowhere near as good as Sonic Mania.
For now though, Superstars could have been a lot worse and there’s just enough here to satisfy the Sonic fanboy lurking inside.
Sonic Superstars is a perfectly serviceable Sonic game with beautiful visuals and nailed-on movement of the main characters. The number of collectables and confusing level layouts holds it back from true greatness, but there’s just enough here to keep the fanboys at bay until Sonic and friends return once again.
Sonic Superstars is available now on PS4, PS5 (review platform), Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Developer: Sonic Team / Arzest
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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