I’ve had a week with Sonic Superstars and explored absolutely everything Sonic’s latest 2D adventure has to offer.
Sonic Superstars sees the Blue Blur return to his classic 2D roots, bringing with him his nearest and dearest in up to four player co-op, with new Emerald Powers and a rogues gallery that will surely feature on many future ‘Top 10 hardest Sonic Bosses’ lists.
The most obvious change to the side scrolling Sonic formula is the art style. Gone are the expressive pixelated sprites of yesteryear, replaced with a fully 3D rendered world that closely resembles the look of Sonic Generations Classic Sonic levels.
The game still plays how you’d expect with Sonic and co running and rolling across the screen in two dimensions and while Sonic Superstars does get the momentum of its characters right for the most part, it chooses to focus on exploration over speed for the majority of its runtime.
Sonic Superstars takes players to the newly discovered Northstar Islands and once again pits our band of heroes against Dr. Eggman and returning fan-favourite Fang the Hunter in a race to collect all the Chaos Emeralds.
Does Sega’s latest 2D Sonic game capture the magic of those early Mega Drive outings? How does it hold up after one week of intensive play? Read on to find out.
Table of Contents
Sonic Boom Box
Lagoon City Zone Act 2 is the standout track on a consistently brilliant soundtrack. The smooth bass making way for an evocative piano melody that carries players along its water- soaked ramps and slides.
Every track feels well suited to the level its used in, with several becoming earworms that have failed to leave my head even after shutting the PS5 down. It’s safe to say that musically, Sonic Superstars is a triumph that fans of Classic Sonic will love.
It’s not all great news on the audio side of things however, with several enemies producing repetitive tinny blips that serve no purpose other than to annoy.
There’s even a boss battle late in the game that poses little threat to the player but produces a constant stream of high-pitched beeps, that ultimately made me switch off my audio until the encounter was over.
A lot of the marketing around Sonic Superstars focused on the aforementioned co-op. For the first time in the series history, up to four players can run and jump through the entire campaign together.
While a joint Sonic adventure sounds fun on paper anyone that was ever given the second controller to play as Tails while their older sibling speed through Emerald Hill Zone on the Mega Drive may grimace with memories of falling off screen, being left behind and generally having very little control over Miles Prower.
Unfortunately, Sonic Superstars doesn’t learn from the mistakes of 1992 with the same issues rearing their heads whenever any player decides to put the pedal down. Playing Sonic Superstars in co-op is a chaotic bumble through the levels at best and a frustratingly slow escort mission at worst.
One level early on in the campaign sees a jungle zone shrouded in a deep fog. In single player the murky atmosphere can be navigated through careful exploration but in co-op the camera is too close to the action leaving the majority of the screen covered in fog with players unable to fathom a route through.
While the prospect of multiplayer intrigued me (even as a regular Tails handler during the 90’s), I was disappointed with the experience and spent the remainder of my time with Sonic Superstars in single player exclusively.
Medal Of Dishonour
Sonic Superstars includes collectibles in the form of gold medals. These scarce trinkets are hidden throughout each level in hard-to-reach areas and act as a currency for the game’s multiplayer Battle Mode.
Battle Mode, while slightly more enjoyable than the co-op experience still struggled to capture my imagination for any prolonged period of time and I swiftly bounced off it like a curled rodent spin dashing a red spring.
It feels like wasted potential that your collected medals are used exclusively for customising your robotic Battle Mode avatar. I spent enough coins to recreate Metal Sonic before leaving the game’s shop forever.
There is one very cool integration between the avatar creator and the main story mode that I won’t spoil here, but I fear most players may will not discover the connection until their second or third playthrough. Without giving too much away, it’s definitely worthwhile investing at least a few minutes into the avatar creator before the midway point of the main campaign.
Sonic Origins may have spoiled us with a slew of unlockable content and it’s a shame the same wasn’t implemented here. I would have loved to continue exploring levels for medals if I knew I could unlock original concept art or behind the scenes documentaries. The lack of tangible rewards for collecting medals gave me limited incentive to sniff out more elusive medals or replay any of the mini-games. Thankfully the mini-games themselves are a lot of fun, even if the rewards for playing them lack value.
Sonic Superstars offers up new iterations of the floating maze puzzles from Sonic 1 by making each puzzle a collection of three mazes that now feature switches to control gates as you progress through each one.
Sega have found a good balance across all of the mini-games that punctuate Sonic Superstars by offering different experiences in each of the games available here.
I was always a fan of the floating maze puzzles and despite the visuals in Sonic Superstars not being as psychedelic as the original, they still offer a nice change of pace.
Sonic Superstars also introduces a new type of level called Act Fruit. These levels can only be accessed by spending rare fruit items that can either be found hidden in levels or as a bonus reward upon completing a stage.
Act Fruit levels again offer a great change of pace from the main game. In one you must climb to the top of a vertically scrolling jungle while collecting rings and popping balloons. Another sees your character ricocheting between pinball bumpers as you spin targets around for high scores.
The new Special Stages for collecting the Chaos Emeralds once again add variety to the gameplay, this time by letting Sonic and pals swing between nodes in 3D dreamscape as they chase down the Chaos Emeralds.
Emerald Powers… Activate!
The Chaos Emeralds provide Sonic Superstars’ biggest gameplay change when compared to other 2D Sonic games.
In addition to empowering players with the Super state once all seven have been collected, Sonic Superstars bestows Emerald Powers upon players with every Chaos Emerald they find.
The abilities range from incredibly useful skills such as Avatar, that summons a swarm of clones that flood the stage to wreck bosses and collect rings to Extra, that provides an addition attack option for each character.
Each Emerald Power can be activated at any time but once used, players must seek out the next Star Post to recharge the ability. Limiting the use of Emerald Powers stops skills like Bullet, that gives you an invulnerable dash, from being exploited with over use and adds an element of strategy about when to deploy certain skills in each level.
I found most of the Emerald Powers fun to use initially although I completely forgot they existed for the majority of the second half of the game and would only bust them out after repeatedly failing to beat one of the games many bosses.
Let’s start with some praise for Sonic Superstars roster of bosses. The enemy design is superb from start to finish. In contrast with some of the smoothed out Badnik designs that roam the main zones, every boss in Sonic Superheroes is a gloriously emotive character.
Bosses swing into battle with vigour and visibly wince when attacked. Robotic and mechanised assailants all sport that classic Sonic aesthetic with looks that could have been blast processed back in the 1990s.
It’s a shame then that every boss in Sonic Superstars has prolonged phases of invulnerability where they are impervious attack. Fights can drag on for minutes as bosses pose and flex in the background while you dodge their attacks.
Worse than this are the handful of bosses that can unleash a devastating knock out after several minutes of battle. It is immensely frustrating to slowly whittle a boss down over the course of, in some cases, 10 minutes, to then be killed immediately with a single blow.
It hurts even more then there’s no chance to pick up spilled rings to save yourself, no second chances and no checkpoints. Every boss towards the end of the game could be the one that breaks you and the unreasonable difficulty spikes make Sonic Superstars hard to recommend for younger gamers. The bosses here are so tricky that we had to make a guide to help our fellow speedsters beat every boss in Sonic Superstars.
Sonic games have always had bosses that can destroy you in a single hit. The final boss music of Sonic 2 lives in my head rent free as a constant reminder of this. Importantly, dying in the climactic battle against Dr. Robotnik back in 1992 might only cost you a few seconds of your time. It’s now 2023 and losing ten minutes of progress to a cheap shot is unacceptable and disrespectful of players’ time. I have places to be and I’m getting old!
Record Breaking Speeds
Outside of the story and multiplayer options, Sonic Superstars offers a Time Trial mode for players to test their knowledge of each level and their dexterity to travel through each zone.
Having dabbled in Sonic speed-running in the past I threw down my best time in Bridge Island Zone Act 1 and was happy to post a time under the one-minute mark.
So good, thought I, until I discovered that, at the time writing at least, the online leaderboards are utterly broken, with multiple players claiming the top spot for each zone with a completion time of zero seconds.
Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be investing more time in perfecting my runs across the Northstar Islands until Sega can fix the leaderboards. After a week with Sonic Superstars, a fix can’t arrive soon enough!
Gotta Go Fast… Eventually
Your first time through Sonic Superstars may feel a little slower than what you’d expect from a Sonic game. I only truly managed to get a sense of the blistering speed that Sonic is known for during my third or fourth replay of each level.
This is due to level design that seems to relish punishing players unfairly. I often found myself slowed to a crawl after an unseen enemy managed to attack me before they appeared on screen.
Enemies and level hazards are deviously placed to regularly derail any momentum, speed or enjoyment you might have built up as you explore Sonic Superstars. After a week with Sonic Superstars this became less of an issue on repeated playthroughs but it sours the initial impression of several zones that just come off as frustrating.
Despite the ill-conceived hazards and infuriating enemy placements, I still had tremendous fun riding the water slides in Lagoon City and being transformed into a voxel-based hedgehog in the glowing neon of Cyber Station.
When Sonic Superstars isn’t knocking you back it excels with a sense of speed and spectacle, especially in its set pieces. There’s a section in Pinball Carnival Zone that had me grinning from ear to ear as Sonic zipped between ramps as the camera pulls back to capture the beautiful flurry of fireworks exploding in the background.
The zones themselves are all brand new and offer creative twists on several classic Sonic stages. Pinball Carnival is a clear homage to Carnival Night Zone from Sonic 3 and Sky Temple riffs on Sonic & Knuckles Sky Sanctuary, complete with crumbling platforms and floaty gusts of wind.
Visit The Beautiful Northstar Islands
Each level within Sonic Superstars is stunning to look at. The new locations giving a fresh view of 2D Sonic that offers much more than a palette swap or another rendition of Green Hill Zone.
Every level feels alive with different weather effects that see snow falling in Frozen Base Zone and sand clouds swirling through Sand Sanctuary. The lighting is beautiful too with brilliant sun beams penetrating through loops before subsiding to warm orange hues later on.
The playable characters have transitioned into the new art style successfully with their characteristics fully preserved and every one of their smooth animations clearly readable, even at top speed.
From a performance angle too, Sonic Superstars absolutely nails it, at least on PS5. I’ve played for over 20 hours with no slow down even when rocketing through a level with a full assortment of graphical flourishes flooding the screen.
Sonic Superstars is a glorious looking game with a phenomenal soundtrack. Characters are full of personality and the momentum of each playable hero is so close to the faultless Sonic Mania that I would struggle to find any issue with it at all.
The level design is eventually acceptable but downright unfair on first inspection and long-winded boss battles and offensive sound effects add to the frustration.
The much-touted co-op doesn’t stick the landing and the in-game economy is woefully lacking in rewarding content to unlock.
I am still enjoying Sonic Superstars despite its issues. I had a lot of fun blasting through the Northstar Islands during my week with Sonic Superstars, even if I had to make the journey alone.
After one week with Sonic Superstars, it’s clear that Sega looked to recapture the magic, speed and excitement of those classic Sonic titles. While it absolutely nails some of the core pillars of the classic Sonic experience that will please and delight long-term fans of the Blue Blur, there are a few too many annoying niggles that keep Sonic Superstars from being an essential purchase for everybody.
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Theo first fell in love with gaming when he sped through Green Hill Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog back in 1991. Theo has previously provided reviews, news coverage and articles for The Games Cabin and enjoyed producing comedic Let’s Plays on his own personal YouTube channels.
A huge Kingdom Hearts and Metal Gear fan, Theo enjoys deep gameplay mechanics and complex storylines. A completionist by nature, Theo has earned over 140 platinum trophies including top digital trinkets for Stardew Valley, The Witness, Bloodborne and a plethora of GTA games.
Outside of gaming, Theo can often be found riding his motorbike, headbanging at gigs or out in the countryside exploring nature and marvelling at the ‘realistic graphics’.