The newest mainline 2D Sonic game from the makers of Balan Wonderworld is here, kind of. Sonic Superstars is a 2.5D game that carries on the tradition of the traditional mainline Sonic games, which began with the Genesis games and ended with Sonic Mania. I was thrilled to hear that the Sonic Mania development team would not be returning to continue work on this game as a fan of the first Sonic Mania. Rather, we have studio Arzest, which has a less than stellar history. Considering how mediocre the most of their games are, I was hesitant to entrust them with a highly anticipated game. Thankfully, as I progressed through the game, the most of those worries gradually faded. Does that imply that this book is worth $60, though?
This is a great game that feels like a logical continuation of the original Sonic series in many aspects. Yes, I’m still bitter, but it probably does a better job of acting like a Sonic the Hedgehog 4 than the official version from a few years ago. The famous Sonic vs. Eggman tale is told in Sonic Superstars, but Sonic has companions Tails, Knuckles, and the original Amy along for the ride. Eggman, on the other hand, employs Fang the Hunter to assist him in capturing animals so that he can fuel his robots.
It’s a bit of a letdown that there isn’t any mystery or twist; this platformer story is as straightforward as they come. Fortunately, the hand-drawn sequences that break up the courses and character interactions in the game are so vibrantly energetic that I fervently hope a silent Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon in this vein gets produced. Even with the length of time we spend on them, the 2D animation we see is so good that the transition to 3D-rendered gameplay is abrupt.
Without a doubt, the main objective of this side-scrolling 2D platformer is to reach the stage’s finish at breakneck speed while gathering rings and Chaos Emeralds. Though I’ve never really believed that old Sonic looked amazing in 3D, I would have loved this to have a more sprite-based approach akin to Sonic Mania. Nevertheless, studio Arzest made every effort to provide as much charm as they could in order to support the stylistic decision. These tiny animations, like Sonic dancing on a cliff’s edge or Amy playing with her hammer, give Sonic and his squad more personality. While playing, there are times when you’ll notice a lot of minor things happening in the background, including your pals fighting bosses and other robots. It makes the game feel much more alive than it otherwise would have, and even while I’m not sure if this appeal was exploited to the point where the aesthetic was justified, I can still respect the effort.
The characters still have a rather stiff, unyielding quality to their movements. The moment the characters first begin to move is when it is most felt. Although the PS5 version of the game plays at a fairly smooth 60 frames per second, there is still a noticeable unnatural stop-and-go movement among the characters that is present in other 3D games. But when the characters gain enough momentum, we get to see the kind of physics Sonic is best famous for. I miss the days when you could perform shuttle loops or curl up into a ball and roll down a hill, gathering speed as you went. Even while Sonic Superstars isn’t quite as good as the Genesis games from decades ago, it’s still “close enough.”
I think that’s the greatest way to sum up Sonic Superstars: it almost perfectly approximates everything. The images are sufficiently similar to support the 3D stylistic decision. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is only barely memorable, and the physics are not near as good as the best aspects of the Genesis games. This is arguably one of the weaker Sonic soundtracks; I’m not sure what went wrong. Perhaps it’s because I recently finished playing Sonic Frontiers, which gave me access to nearly the whole Sonic discography, but I wasn’t very moved by some of these new songs. Themes-wise, they matched the stages. Nevertheless, they had a general generic vibe to them, which is something I never would have said about the soundtrack of a Sonic game. Typically, one or two tracks would stick out the most and even serve as a description of what makes a certain level so memorable. Sonic has always shown the contrary, thus it’s odd that in this instance the level design characterizes the levels more than the music and graphics.
The general themes of the levels range from a casino to a waterslide to a desert. You can use gimmicks to assist you get through almost every level in the game. Some of these gimmicks include sliding on vines like in Adventure games or scaling waterfalls. Although the gimmicks occasionally ran counter to Sonic’s fundamental design principles, they were nevertheless quite memorable. Trying to go through the game as fast as possible has always been the main goal of traditional Sonic. When Sonic is moving at his fastest, you utilize your level of expertise and knowledge to figure out the best route to the finish. Although Sonic Superstars offers a variety of routes, its tricks occasionally prevent it from moving at that fast pace. No matter how quickly I move, it doesn’t matter since, whenever I encounter anything like an automatic hover train, I have to wait or jump when the segment is about to end, or else speed is eliminated. It’s a gimmick interfering with what ought to be enjoyable gameplay.
This interferes with the fundamental gaming philosophy and permeates every level. By jumping through portals, players can gain access to extra metals or rings that can be used to purchase cosmetics in the game store. The issue is that you can unintentionally stumble into these levels during thrilling bursts of fast-paced platforming at certain times in the game, which kills the momentum of the game. In the first few levels, this occurred a few times, and it really began to irritate me. It feels strange as well because these portals can occasionally be accessed through checkpoints; I’m not sure why they’re strewn all over the place to cause obstructions. I’m receiving contradictory signals, though, so perhaps they’re designed to be another barrier that should be avoided.
The main reason this annoys me is that I really think the level design is excellent. To assist you keep your momentum going, there are many of shuttle loops, springs, and hills. Once you achieve top speed, some foes can even be used as platforms to access higher areas, so it doesn’t feel like you’re placing them in cheap spots. There are a ton of other secret features in the game, such as enormous gold rings that you can use to access the Chaos Emeralds. This game reminded me of Sonic CD because it was a little bit more vertical than many other vintage games. All in all, they are enjoyable levels to go through, and I can see myself going back to them several times to take use of as many different routes as I can.
In relation to the Chaos Emeralds, I also enjoy how distinctively included they are into the gameplay. Sonic Superstars distinguishes each Emerald, as opposed to having you collect them all and then become fully functioning only at the end to become Super Sonic. A new power that you can employ with every Emerald in the levels is unlocked. It wasn’t until the purpose of the Chaos Emeralds became evident that I realized how much I had been missing from previous iterations of this game. Once you obtain one through the completion of a mini-game in those aforementioned enormous gold rings, you can use a certain skill that has varying degrees of utility. Some allow you to propel yourself in any direction, while others let you create endless replicas of yourself to assist you deal with adversaries for a brief period of time. Once you use it, or if you get struck, you lose the power boost. Throughout the game, there are checkpoint stations where you can recharge it. Certain skills, like the one that allows you to scale waterfalls, are simply easier to forget about than others and aren’t as useful. Unlike the others that have some fantastic skill-based value if you play with them enough, that ability feels beneficial mainly in specific situations. Nevertheless, this is unquestionably the greatest addition to the game and arguably one of the key elements that makes Sonic Superstars unique.
Is $60 worth of all this, though? No, I would argue. Although there is a good lot of material and replay value in this game, I don’t think it excels in a way that makes the price tag justified. Although it’s better than I anticipated and almost impressive, there are still a few instances where it falls short of being on the same level as previous Sonic games. I only mention older Sonic games because Sonic Superstars is attempting to imitate the high-speed platformers that those games may have set as a benchmark. Although it succeeds in some of its more original concepts, such as the utilization of the Chaos Emeralds, there are a few gimmicks that go counter to this overarching design principle. It’s worth buying if you enjoy Sonic and platformers, but not at the asking price. Hold off for a deal.