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.
Pre-order Sonic Superstars: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop
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.
Pre-order Sonic Superstars: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop
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.