Sonic Superstars Review Roundup: A Slow Side-Scroller

Sonic Superstars has developer Sega journeying all the way back to the beginning of the Sonic franchise, remembering when it was born in 1991 in the 2D tropics. Like nostalgic platformer Sonic Mania did in 2017, Superstars devoutly walks the same path as Sonic the Hedgehog and its early ‘90s sequels. But unlike Mania, it’s the first side-scroller with involvement from the original Sonic Team since Sonic 3 & Knuckles in 1994 (if you don’t count 2022 remaster compilation Sonic Origins). That should make it the perfect bait for forever fans of the world’s only chili dog-chomping hedgehog, but initial reviews of the game—out October 16—suggest that Superstars struggles to reinvent the hamster wheel.

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Sonic Superstars is a reasonable blast to the past

It has sentimentality mastered, though. Kotaku staff writer Kenneth Shepard, in a Summer Game Fest hands-on earlier this year, found that Superstars “feels like it understands the appeal of a 2D Sonic without feeling so strictly beholden by the past that it has to use identical assets or levels to evoke a reaction.” Reviewers agree. Push Square congratulates the game on feeling “great to play, with the characters all behaving just as you’d expect, but the use of 3D models and attractive, colorful environments [giving] it a very fresh look.” In its four (out of five) star review, VGC also commends Superstars’ “dream” visuals and “authentic soundtrack” from Sega composer Jun Senoue.

But siphoning the past only gets Superstars so far, some reviewers say. At IGN, writer Jada Griffin enjoys Superstars’ “incredibly charming” main game modes—a three-story campaign, eight-player battle mode, and timed attack—which “nail the classic aesthetic,” but “have some questionable placements of hazards and enemies.”

“I didn’t feel the speed I’ve come to expect over the past 30 years of Sonic,” Griffin continued, but at least “collecting the [power-giving] Chaos Emeralds is more straightforward than ever this time,” and they newly provide characters with limited skills that restock at checkpoints.

This all lends itself to “a fair amount of replay value,” Push Square said in its review, helped by large, co-op friendly stages and “Sonic [is] as he always is, including the relatively new drop dash, while Tails can fly, Knuckles can glide and climb walls, and Amy can double jump and attack with her hammer.”

But, while “Superstars tries to give proper co-op where all the players are given equal billing,” VG247 writes, “it just doesn’t work.”

“2D Sonic isn’t suited to it,” assistant editor Alex Donaldson continues. “Like the new Emerald powers, going co-op messes with the momentum that makes 2D Sonic what it is.” Still, “While there are some frustrations and an inconsistent air of quality across its 12 zones,” says GamesRadar in its four-out-of-five star review, “it is fundamentally well produced, brimming with things to do and modes to play.”

You can play it when it’s out later this week on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Switch, which is receiving its own 2D side-scroller refresh, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, on October 20.

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Until then, here’s what else the Superstars reviews are saying:

Sonic Superstars is mostly a really good time, and gets better the more that you play it. There are loads of interactive scenery elements and an emphasis on pinball bumpers, which was always one of the best things about Sonic games in the early ‘90s. The quality of background scenery varies, occasionally absolutely wowing, like the sumptuous first level and the absolutely charming voxels of Cyber Station. Conversely, the likes of Golden Capital with its floating platforms and flat walls sometimes look and feel more like the 3DS version of Sonic Generations, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. It at least always runs smoothly on the PS5 version I tested, but if only it could all look and feel like it does in its best moments, Superstars would be an all-time classic.

If there’s one bright spot in Sonic Superstars, it’s the controls. Arzest and Sonic Team wanted to capture the feel of the older titles, which is no easy feat. To say they succeeded would be an understatement. Each character’s movement, from Sonic’s spin-dash to Knuckles’ gliding, is on point, from the responsiveness to the momentum.

It also doesn’t hurt that the sense of speed is captured well when it wants to be […]. Long story short, if you enjoyed the older games or Sonic Mania, you’ll feel at home with Superstars’ controls. I wasn’t a fan of some changes, like Knuckles’ glide having a recovery when it ends, extended if he lands on his stomach, but I digress.

Sonic Superstars comes so close to what a 2D Sonic should be. All of the ingredients are there, it just needs to know how to mix them.

You’d hardly notice this if you’re playing Sonic Superstars the way that is clearly intended: co-op. The new stages seamlessly open up new paths for each playstyle, making every member of the squad feel important. But when you’re blasting through the story mode on your own, it’s frustrating. It can take almost ten minutes of gliding through a level as Knuckles, only to then realize you’re now up against a boss that he wasn’t designed to take on alone. Try as you might, his slow acceleration is no match for the bad guy’s lasers, leaving you feeling completely out of control. If you want to swap heroes, you’ve got to scrap all of your progress in the level so far and go back to the main menu.

One of Superstars’ best features is its phenomenal soundtrack, with music that matches the theme of each stage perfectly. Throughout my 20 hours completing all the story modes and practicing routes in time attack, I couldn’t find one that didn’t have me tapping my toes to their percussive and electronic beats. Nearly every track, with a special shout-out to Lagoon City Act 2, had me replaying their stages just to idle and listen to their music. (I just wish there was jukebox to listen to them independently.)

Unfortunately, the sound design isn’t up to the same standard when it comes to the sound effects of various enemies, attacks, or moving vehicles you will ride. I don’t know who thought listening to the sound of constantly buzzing bees or lasers bouncing off of armor for minutes on end was a good idea, but I ended up muting my TV when I replayed certain boss fights in the second campaign to keep myself from getting a splitting headache.

In its core mission, Sonic Superstars is successful. It recreates the foundation of 2D Sonic—some of the finest platformers ever made—well. Unfortunately, the new elements layered atop that are rather hit-or-miss. I personally don’t think this is anywhere near as good as Mania. But it’s good. In fact, it’s good enough that I expect fan debate about which game is superior to be fairly heated—which is a sure-fire sign that Sega is on the right track.

Super Mario Wonder Review Roundup: Wondrous Acclaim

Releasing on October 20, 2023 for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the latest entry in one of the most recognizable gaming franchises in history. And from the early reviews, it seems like it doesn’t disappoint—in fact, it’s shaping up to be perhaps one of the most memorable Mario experiences yet.

We’ve gathered up a variety of perspectives on Mario’s latest outing and found there to be universal praise for the new Switch exclusive. Overall opinions highlight Wonder’s mastery of the classic 2D platformer form, and point out it’s not just a rehash of old ideas: Reviewers are finding the world-warping Wonder effects to offer excellent replayability and unexpected levels of surprise challenges.

Universally the new worlds are described as lively, dynamic, and full of secrets. The Wonder mechanics and Badge system (which lets you equip new abilities) keep the game alive. And cooperative play means that this experience can be easily shared with friends.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder currently sits at a score of 93 on Metacritic, falling just under fellow Switch exclusive The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and soaring over other highly anticipated 2023 releases.

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GamesRadar: 4.5/5

GamesRadar spoke positively about the new power-ups and the game’s wonder-inspiring visuals, but lamented a lack of unique per-character powers.

Playing Super Mario Bros. Wonder is like your first magical visit to Disneyland. You have no idea what’s beyond that first bend on the roller coaster track or behind the next closed door, but there may well be sudden singing, odd little creatures, and the occasional man in an oversized suit. The addition of Wonder Flowers truly mimics this surprise factor found all throughout Wonder. In each level, there’s at least one hidden Wonder Flower to discover, which always involves a little detective work or some perfect timing.

NPR: ‘a surreal masterpiece’

NPR praised the liveliness of Wonder’s presentation, cooperative play, and change of scenery that the Flower Kingdom offers.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder, ultimately, feels like a flex — proof that Nintendo can still innovate with some of gaming’s oldest verbs: run and jump. It’s a pristine extravaganza designed to appeal to nostalgic players and newcomers who may have only encountered the franchise through this year’s blockbuster movie. Every frame bursts with charming detail.

Inverse: 8/10

Inverse described the level design as a “beautiful thing to behold,” packed with wonderful visuals and interesting new power-ups.

Wonder’s success is built upon the numerous iterations of past 2D Mario titles. The core idea of tight platforming across stages has been nailed down for so long that each new entry is able to iterate in more granular ways, even if it doesn’t innovate on a larger scale. Wonder doesn’t reinvent the wheel that is the Mario game, but it gives it a heck of a tune-up.

CNN: ‘an unexpected return to form’

CNN said that the game presents a wonderful sense of charm, with clever level design and great multiplayer options.

Not only is it one of the best games on Nintendo Switch, but it deserves a place in the pantheon of lauded Mario games alongside the likes of Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3.

The Verge: ‘infused with strange yet incredibly fun concepts’

The Verge said that Wonder delivers a remixed classic 2D Mario action with hidden stages, varying challenges, and the surprising, game-changing effects of the Wonder Flowers.

Even as someone who has played Super Mario since the very beginning, I found myself constantly surprised at the new twists that Wonder threw at me. And this lasts through the entire experience: the final sequence might be my favorite Mario level ever.

Wccftech: 9.5/10

Wccftech praised the game’s visuals, sense of character, and level design, but did note that Mario’s new voice actor “lacks some of [Charles] Martinet’s infectious enthusiasm.”

The first thing that will likely strike you when you hop into Super Mario Bros. Wonder is how gosh darn-pretty the whole thing looks. While the New Super Mario Bros. games sometimes had the cookie-cutter feel of something assembled in an editor, almost every course in Super Mario Wonder feels like a bespoke piece of art offering up lush backgrounds packed with fun details. From mountains made of rocky pipes to clouds mounded up like sundaes, cool snowy peaks lit up by glowing lights, and beyond, Mario’s world has rarely looked this good.

Polygon: ‘Play Mario for the first time a second time’

Polygon said that Wonder offers an excellent classic Mario experience that’s capable of reinventing itself through its mind-bending Wonder mechanics.

The brilliance of Super Mario Bros. Wonder is that the choice is one of “and,” not of “or.” The traditional and the topsy-turvy coexist. Across six worlds, the creators of Wonder offer a menu of familiar stages that, should you like, can be prepared with extra spice — or paired with the family-friendly equivalent of ayahuasca. That particular drug comparison isn’t flippant: At one point Toad licks the ol’ Wonder Seed and suddenly he’s riding a dragon.

IGN: 9/10

As critics, IGN found Super Mario Wonder fun to play.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder establishes a new standard for what 2D Mario platformers should look like. It is colorful, it is alive, and it is joyful. It also managed to surprise and delight me in continually more creative ways thanks to its unpredictable Wonder Effects, which transform levels into something completely different for a brief while.

Eurogamer: 5/5

Eurogamer echoed the game’s seemingly wonderful sense of character and visual delight, but particularly loved ‘sheer density of secrets.’

I am still trying to work out what this means, what impact the Wonder Flowers have on the game itself. Is this a Mario game that offers secrets that are so delightful, but which are so memorable and funny that they stand in for replayability? Is it a game that you enjoy once, twice, and then shelve? I suspect not, because of the sheer density of secrets, and the sheer number of reasons to replay a level – to look for exits, to hunt for surprise moments, to revel in a one-shot character or silly bit of business that is dropped in and then never repeated.

GameSpot: 9/10

GameSpot praised the visual presentation, surprising twists and turns, and online multiplayer, but critiqued occasional repetition around some Wonder effects.

One moment, you’ll be jumping and spinning your way through a traditional Super Mario stage, and the next you may be transformed into a Goomba and hiding from carnivorous creatures that eat Goombas, or seeing yourself only in silhouette, or bounding along to a rhythmic dance. Some of these are genuinely challenging, while others that are played as a cute joke that provide a quick breather. You never quite know what’s coming next.

VideoGamesChronicle: 5/5

VideoGamesChronicle found Wonder’s new additions to the classic Mario formula lifted it above a throwback to the classic games.

Key to the game’s gleeful inventiveness are the level-flipping Wonder effects which, once you’ve located the hidden Wonder Seed on each stage, change the scenario drastically. They transform players into floating balloons, summon a stampede of rampaging bulls, flip gameplay to a top-down adventure, and numerous other unexpected effects that always surprise and rarely leave you without a beaming grin on your face.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is available on Nintendo Switch on October 20, 2023.

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Super Mario RPG Preview Roundup: Faithful And Fresh

Super Mario RPG, the remake of Square Enix’s 1996 2D pixel art classic, will be out on Nintendo Switch on November 17. The charming-looking turn-based game sees Mario and Peach join forces with the dastardly Bowser to stop a mechanical creature named Smithy from destroying the Mushroom Kingdom. Going off some early previews, Super Mario RPG (see on Amazon) is sounding like a promising remake that will give the classic SNES adventure a graphical and mechanical glow-up.

Nintendo JP

We’ve gathered highlights from some early hands-on previews and overall, folks seem in love with the game’s improved graphics, streamlined gameplay, and the wacky energy the remake preserves from the original’s off-kilter adventure.

Here’s what else the previews are saying:

Destructoid: ‘a faithful remake with subtle improvements’

Destructoid’s preview of Super Mario RPG praised the remake for its attention to detail recreating the subtle mannerisms that gave the original game’s cutesy 3D models personality.

That’s not to say that the only alterations are quality of life related. There are also cute visual touches that, while seemingly small at a glance, added a lot to my experience. Mario and his companions now have fun little idle animations while they wait for their turn in battle, which appropriately reflect their personalities. For example, you might see Mario take a couple practice swings while he waits for his turn.

Digital Trends: ‘halfway between a remaster and remake’

Digital Trends said the remake’s quality-of-life improvements free the game from some of the original’s worst mechanical headaches.

In general, Super Mario RPG seems much easier than its predecessor so far—and that’s not a bad thing. It’s mostly thanks to little changes like these that cut away some tedium. Autosaving, for instance, makes it so I’m no longer set back very far after a death. It’s also easier to fix up my party on the fly between battles with a more organized mini menu that groups items together (no more scrolling through 10 mushrooms to find syrup) and a quick ability menu that lets me use Mallow’s healing rain outside of battle.

IGN: ‘recreates a classic while breathing new life into its combat’

IGN was impressed by how refreshingly challenging Super Mario RPG’s streamlined combat turned out.

Timing your attacks and blocks has also been made more important, even against pushover enemies who could be cleared in a single AOE smash. That’s because Super Mario RPG keeps track of how many successfully timed presses you’ve completed in a row, even between fights. I loved seeing how high I could get that number, and you’re rewarded the better you do with small buffs and a slowly charging Gauge meter.

GamesRadar: ‘might just make the SNES classic obsolete’

Dunno about obsoleting an absolute classic, but GamesRadar said Super Mario RPG goes above and beyond improving the original’s graphics.

The most immediately impressive thing about the remake is, of course, the new visual treatment. In general, SNES-era graphics have aged better than pretty much any other retro look, but even I have to admit that’s not really true for Super Mario RPG. The original’s style of pre-rendered CGI sprites looked just fine on ‘90s CRT televisions, but–as with Donkey Kong Country–looks more like a collection of over-compressed .jpeg files when blown up on modern, high-resolution screens. The remake does a genuinely fantastic job of expanding the visual style of the original into something far more robust and detailed.

Nintendo Life: ‘retains that level of excellence that we experienced in ‘96’

Nintendo Life said the game is possibly one of “the most faithful remake[s]” it’s ever played and was particularly tickled by how funny its characters are.

Super Mario RPG is really, really silly. Mario communicates through gestures and re-enacts events to hilarious effect, and NPCs interact with him as though he’s a celebrity, tricking him into jumping and freaking out when he’s talking to them. That lighthearted tone also carries through into the pacing: you’ll go from a town to a dungeon to a short minigame within minutes, and every single aspect of the game feels daft or fun. Rolling down the river on a barrel is surprisingly challenging, it turns out. But we were grinning from ear to ear all the time.

VG247: ‘hyper-faithful, perhaps to a fault’

VG247 wrote that the game makes “subtle, not sweeping” changes that bring the classic RPG to a modern audience.

It’s the same, but just cleaner, sharper. Modern. The same is true of the soundtrack, which sees Yoko Shimomura return to remaster and rearrange one of her most iconic works. The dialogue still has a 90s flair, too, even though it’s a fresh translation. There’s a silly edginess that is very much of that era, and I love it.

Video Games Chronicle: ‘a staunchly faithful recreation of the original’

A warning from Video Games Chronicle: They think that Super Mario RPG will reignite online debates over which Mario RPG is the greatest of all time. Uh oh.

But despite looking lightyears beyond the technical limitations of the original, Switch’s Mario RPG feels exactly how fans will remember it. For the most part, that’s great; the scenarios and characters here are as entertaining and memorable as ever, and deliver an adventure that’s arguably still stronger than any of the Paper Mario games released in the decades since.

And that’s the word on Nintendo’s Mario role-playing remake so far. Super Mario RPG will be available on Nintendo Switch on November 17.

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