Forget Sonic 4 ever happened: Sonic Superstars feels like the true successor to Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
We mean that quite literally. It’s clear that when putting Sonic Superstars together, SEGA went back to the original games and tried to replicate the feel of them perfectly. The result is a game that feels like classic Sonic, but with its snazzy 3D visuals it looks altogether modern. This is how SEGA envisions its future 2D Sonic games, and while some of the charm of the pixelated outings is lost, it makes sense overall.
In Sonic Superstars, Dr. Eggman, or Robotnik for us old-school fans, has once again concocted a dastardly scheme. This time he’s recruited the help of Fang in his pursuit of the Chaos Emeralds, but of course Sonic springs into action to thwart his plans. Sonic’s accompanied by his friends, too – Tails, Knuckles and Amy. You’re free to play the game as any of them, each with their own unique abilities. Or you can play in multiplayer, with up to four players each taking control of their own hero. We can’t recommend it, though. But more on that later.
Jump into the main story mode of Sonic Superstars and you’ll find that it mostly plays out like any classic Sonic the Hedgehog game. You move from zone to zone, running stupidly fast, jumping or spinning into enemies, and negotiating a wide range of gimmicks and obstacles. There are a number of things done a bit differently here, however. Some zones, for example, have just one stage for you to complete. You’ll find others with three stages, too, with one of them only being accessible if you’re playing as a certain character. A handful even have special fruit stages for you to complete, giving you the chance to earn medals that can be spent in the in-game shop.
What’s really neat is that every zone here is brand new. Some are reminiscent of zones from previous games, sure, but ultimately they’re all unique in their own way. As ever, though, the first zone in Sonic Superstars is the best, being bright, colourful and allowing you to pick up considerable speed. We wouldn’t call any of the zones here dud, necessarily, but the quality does decline the further you get in. Perhaps most troublesome is the fact that many have gimmicks that considerably slow you down and catch you out. In the pursuit of providing a challenge, it sometimes feel like everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at you.
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The stages here are sprawling affairs, taking a leaf out of the book of Sonic CD. There are many routes through them, meaning even after you’ve played them countless times you can still stumble upon something new. There are multiple special stage types to encounter as well. Find a giant gold ring to jump into and you have a chance to nab yourself a Chaos Emerald, providing you can figure out how to catch one while swinging between blue spheres. It feels more like a case of luck than skill. There are also special stages reminiscent of those found in the original Sonic the Hedgehog, giving you the opportunity to nab some medals, and others where you can simply grab some extra rings. Are they altogether a bit intrusive? Maybe, but at least they provide some variety.
One of the strongest aspects of Sonic Superstars are its boss fights. Or at least on the whole. Here, you’ll find yourself facing off against a boss at the end of nearly every stage rather than zone, meaning there are boss fights aplenty. For the most part tacking them is fun, with you needing to learn their attack patterns and find openings to attack. There are some, however, that feel a tad too drawn out. Even worse, some of these drawn-out bosses are genuinely tough, and if you die during their later phases you’ll have to start right back at the beginning again. It’s not fun having to play through the same five minute plus sequence time and time again just to learn how to avoid a late encounter attack.
Sonic Superstars has some other issues, too. The Chaos Emeralds, for example, are now useful for more than just turning Super. Each Chaos Emerald you acquire grants you a special ability, like being to climb bodies of water or reveal hidden platforms and rings. All of these skills feel superfluous to the experience. In fact, it’s easy to forget that they even exist. The only one we made use of was the Avatar skill, which causes the screen to be filled with clones of your character. Even then, we only used it to cheese our way through a boss that was giving us real aggro.
As alluded to earlier, the co-op aspect of Sonic Superstars is particularly disappointing. Local co-op is available, but like Sonic games of old, only the primary player will have a good time. If the others don’t keep up, they’ll quickly find themselves off-screen, having to constantly respawn to get into the action again. Thankfully more fun can be found in Battle Mode, where players can put together their own robotic avatars and compete to complete objectives across multiple rounds, online or off. Still, it’s hardly anything noteworthy. It’s best to approach Sonic Superstars as a single player game, then. And with multiple characters to play as, a Time Attack Mode, and some surprises being unlocked when you complete the game, there’s a decent amount of content.
It’s safe to say that Sonic Superstars is one of the better Sonic games available. In fact, it might even be the best Sonic game since the original trilogy, outside of Sonic Mania at least. It can be a bit chaotic at times, and some bosses need some fine-tuning or at least some checkpoints between their phases, but Sonic fans are likely to appreciate the classic feel and wealth of new zones. Just don’t buy it on the basis of its local co-op features, or you’ll likely be seriously disappointed.