Sometimes I wonder what SEGA would be like if they never left the console business. If the Dreamcast wasn’t a failure, and if Sonic functioned a bit more like Mario does on Nintendo consoles, with 2D and 3D entries every once in a while. Sonic Superstars is the answer to that question. While it is certainly a throwback to the blue blur’s classic games, it also feels as if SEGA hasn’t missed a beat since the 90s.
Superstars is light on story, but it does have gorgeous animated cutscenes to bookend the adventure. Eggman has teamed up with Fang and the mysterious Trip to take over the world once again, and it’s up to Sonic and friends to stop him. You do that by running, jumping, and bashing buddies through tons of Zones and Acts with up to four players. Each character has their own unique abilities. Sonic can drop dash, Tails can fly and swim, Knuckles can climb up walls, Amy can double jump and attack with her hammer, and the final unlockable character can double jump and stick to walls or ceilings. Controls are a bit heavier than the Genesis games, but it’s really only a difference die-hard fans will notice, and characters otherwise all play the same. You can reach just about every part of each level with any character; it’s just that certain characters will be able to get to some spots easier.
Each Zone has one to three acts, usually two, with a third either being exclusive to a single character or a bonus stage accessible by spending a collectible pear. While things start off simple enough in a green hill zone-esque stage, you’ll be constantly encountering new and interesting gimmicks like grinding on vines, navigating a dark forest, turning into a mouse from Chu-Chu Rocket to climb up a pathway, flipping the level upside down, and many more. I was constantly delighted and surprised for my entire playthrough, and always excited to see what would happen in the next Act. There were even a few moments that made me gasp and think “You can do this in a video game?!?!”.
The level design really is fantastic, and while the game is fairly long it’s still very replayable with tons of paths to discover in each Act. That’s to say nothing of the multiplayer, which I wasn’t able to experience in time for this review, but I will definitely go back and play the whole game with three friends the moment I get the chance. Unfortunately, that might be a bit difficult since the main story only has local multiplayer, no online, and I own just two PS5 controllers. I really hope online co-op is added in the future, because you can play the battle mode online, which we’ll discuss in a bit. Even on my own, I’m looking forward to playing the entire game again or just doing time attacks in some stages.
A major reason to go back and replay levels are the Chaos Emeralds. Collecting them all will let you use the super form, provided you have 50 or more rings (only Sonic and the secret character actually transform though), but each individual emerald provides a power. Selected with the right stick and used with Square, you can summon a bunch of clones to attack any on screen enemies and collect rings or medals, slow down time, turn into water to climb a waterfall, dash in any direction as a fireball, and more.
To be honest, I forgot about them for quite a bit of the game, but that makes some amount of sense as they’re supposed to be optional. Instead, I mostly used them when prompted by the game. For example, in an area of a level with invisible objects, the game will automatically select the Vision power and pressing the button will let you see hidden rings or platforms. This doesn’t happen too often to break up the experience, but just as a nice way to discover new routes you may not have thought of.
When you do remember to use them, these powers can be super useful against some of the harder bosses. During my first time fighting the final boss, I was only able to beat it with smart use of the powers. That being said, most fights aren’t very hard anyway and Amy can break them with her double jump. I don’t really see this as a negative though, just another reason to replay the game with each character.
What is a negative as a lifelong fan is the fact you can only get one emerald per Zone. No more memorizing where each big ring is in the first few acts and zipping through the game as Super Sonic, which was one of my favorite ways to replay Sonic 2, 3 & Knuckles, and Mania. I really don’t understand this restriction, as there are ways to use powers you get later on in earlier levels. If you enter another special stage in a zone you already collected the emerald for, you actually play the next stage anyway, with the Emerald replaced with 5 medals.
Speaking of, the special stages here are a lot of fun. These have you swinging through space to catch the emerald, and later ones can get pretty tricky. There are other types of bonus stages you can find either by collecting 50 rings and hitting a checkpoint or accessing hidden portals. These take you to short auto-scrollers to collect even more rings in the clouds or a straight up recreation of Sonic 1’s special stages (which still make me very nauseous) to earn medals. There is no lives system in Superstars, so collecting 100 rings will also earn you a medal.
Medals can be spent in the shop to customize your own robot character, which is playable in Battle Mode. Battle Mode is… weird. It puts you in a series of challenges against other players or bots, like surviving for as long as possible, a deathmatch, and a normal race, with the objective of earning the most points by the end. Playing solo feels super half-baked and janky, the deathmatch minigame especially. You can’t select events either; it seems to be completely random each time. It’s safely ignored in favor of the main game, but a more basic, split screen race mode like 2 and 3 had would have been better.
I am a lover of pixel art, but the 3D of Sonic Superstars still looks excellent. Characters are adorable and expressive (even recreating some sprites one to one), while environments are gorgeous and easy to read, a surprisingly difficult feat in the realm of 2.5D platforming. I never had trouble distinguishing the background or foreground from what I was able to interact with.
On top of that, there’s a breadth of level themes that are a delight to witness, like a casino carnival or ancient golden palace. Using Emerald powers can make things harder to parse, however, especially with the blue clones power. With multiple versions of yourself glowing blue on screen, it can be easy to lose track of your actual character when you are also glowing blue. There are also some noticeable performance drops and visual glitches even on PS5, like framerate dips in a loading screen or a fire effect staying on screen after the attack should have finished. Still, it’s a smooth 60 where it counts.
Special praise needs to be given to the soundtrack. Jun Senoe and Tee Lopes return to score Superstars and they do an amazing job. A lot of the songs sound like they’re coming straight out of the Genesis’ sound chip, and while I do wish there were more non-chiptune tracks, it’s hard to argue against so many bangers. I don’t think it’s the best the franchise has to offer, but it’s still really good. Sonic has never had a problem with music, well, except when Bioware was involved, and this is no exception. I still can’t get that Bridge Island theme out of my head… With sound effects on the other hand, there were more than a few times I felt as if sound was missing from cutscenes. For example, when Eggman pounds his Eggmobile in frustration there’s just silence. It’s a weird oversight in a game that otherwise sounds fantastic.
As a final note, here’s Editor Dominique’ McClain on the PC version.
Sonic Superstars on PC delivers an exhilarating experience with an upbeat and colorful opening. From the cartoon-animated stories to the seamless transitions to 3D gameplay, the game sets the tone for a brand new adventure within the world of Sonic. It is clear that the game builds upon the success of its predecessors. All animations were smooth and bursting with vibrant energy presenting a humorous story in each clip. While racing through each board at lightning speed, taking in the visually stunning graphics was a treat. The attention to detail from the pixelated sound effects to the graphic transitions and Sonic’s iconic idle animation added a delightful touch of nostalgia to the gameplay.
Each board offered a thrilling experience, zooming through the saturated worlds, running through loops, sliding on grind rails and vines, and collecting as many coins as your character could hold. However, with the speeding up came the slowing down. While the game’s physics felt smooth, there was a sense of slowness as each level made sure to make you sit back and enjoy the scenery. Portaling to different dimensions to obtain Chaos Emeralds to gain new abilities was just as fun as dashing through walls and bouncing on enemies. Sonic Superstars is a great attempt to blend the charm of nostalgia with fresh game mechanics making it an exceptional addition to the Sonic franchise. It is an adaptable title that offers a compelling mix of the old and the new while presenting a fantastic time through a new world of Sonic.
David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.
Dominique' McClain is an enthusiastic content writer and enjoys all things video games. She's highly obsessed with Lord of the Rings and loves dragons. You can chat with her on Twitter @Dommy_Bomb.
Sonic Superstars represents some of the best 2D platforming has to offer. It has constant surprises while still offering a ton of room for mastery. The game is a delight from start to finish and beyond.