I’ve always been deeply fond of the classic 16-bit Sonic games. Seeing Generations and Mania revisit what made the series shine so brightly was a joy and the prospect of another all-new 2D game styled after the originals has had my anticipation high. There was some worrying on my part, considering that Sonic Superstars was developed by Arzest, who have put out multiple underwhelming games over the years. While it’s true that the game doesn’t do much to shake the series up, this is a faithful, entertaining game that has some fun new wrinkles and does a good job at delivering what I wanted from it.
As Sonic Superstars is styled after the classics, there’s not much story going on. Dr. Eggman is working with Nack the Weasel for his mad scientist shenanigans and Sonic and company have to stop him. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are all playable with their typical skillsets, but Amy Rose joins in too. Sonic can drop dash (enter a spin dash upon landing,) Tails can fly, Knuckles can glide and climb walls, and Amy can double jump and has extra attack reach when her hammer is swinging. A fifth character unlocks upon beating the game that can double jump and climb, mixing parts of Knuckles’ and Amy’s movesets.
The game plays out over a period of 11 main acts with at least one level. The majority have three, however. At most, there are only ever two main acts, with the third being reserved for a bonus act of sorts, or an act where the level is built for one of the four initial characters. Once you beat the game, a second mode unlocks for the fifth character. Levels are modified to allow them to make use of their unique abilities, adding a certain amount of extra replayability. Beat that mode and a final story mode unlocks that’s required for the true ending. It’s not a particularly long game, as a general playthrough might take about four hours, but considering the bonus mode and true end, the game could feasibly take seven-to-eight hours.
Take me back
Gameplay-wise, Sonic Superstars plays just like the classics of yore. You’ll run and jump, spindash, and navigate tricky courses to get to the end, with each major act culminating in a boss battle. The level design here is mostly good, although not really up to par with the classics. Regardless, they’re fun levels with varied gimmicks. There’s this part where you turn into a rabbit (or maybe a mouse?) and climb upward, but it’s quite unfair and you can’t really see where you’re going.
The biggest sore spot I have with the game’s levels is that many of them are quite derivative. There’s a sand zone, pinball zone, a machinery zone, ice zone, green starting zone, etc. It’s mostly very familiar. There are some unique inclusions, however, such as a zone where you routinely turn upside down or jump between the fore and background. A late-game zone also adds zero-gravity sections and pivots midway with an extremely cool act that has you run through it while time is reversing. While Sonic Superstars‘ levels probably won’t often be mentioned among the best of the best, there’s plenty here to admire.
The bosses can be more of a mixed bag. Some are kind of cheap or overlong, with the last couple really dragging themselves out with no checkpoint in sight. That being said, I still had fun fighting most of them and some are fairly clever. Sonic Superstars mixes it up by featuring fast sections, automated sections, and slower ones, too. Even though it’s short, it’s still well-paced all the same. There are also two new mini-games that, admittedly, aren’t great. You’ll need to collect all seven Chaos Emeralds via one of these by swinging through 3D spaces.
However, the emeralds all have their own powers this time, such as spawning clones to throw themselves at enemies, slowing down time, or giving each character a unique ability. I didn’t use these much, although a couple of them can be useful during the more egregious boss fights. It’s refreshing that there’s something new to see, but these aren’t all that different from Wisp powers. Additionally, I didn’t like how unlocking the fifth character basically made Amy feel useless, as they have her main ability and more, making her less useful by a fair margin.
Visually, the game is exactly what you’d expect from the series. Everything is bright and colourful and the 3D characters are as cute as they are well-animated. There are animated cutscenes too that are really lovely, even if they don’t look quite as good as what we’ve seen previously. The biggest issue I have with Sonic Superstars overall is that it’s sold as a full-price AAA game despite its short length, which is unnecessary. A more minor quibble is how you can earn medals through gameplay but all they’re used for is buying overpriced costume items.
Sonic Superstars is a fairly worthy follow-up to the classics that fans will be happy to add to their rotations. It’s quick, it’s colourful, and it has all the gameplay elements fans expect, despite not doing much that’s new or markedly different. As a fan, I’m pretty satisfied by this retro throwback that brings a lot of old and some new. The gameplay is as fun as it ever was, demonstrating just how timeless it really is.
Sonic Superstars: Sonic Superstars might not be drastically different from its predecessors, but it's got all the quick gameplay and colorful characters fans want. You can even juggle the sign at the end of the act again. – Andrew Farrell
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