Sonic Superstars Review (PS5) – Sonic Superstars marks the return of classic 2D Sonic in the first original outing since the unfortunate release of Sonic 4 and over 5 years since the lauded Sonic Mania.
It also marks the first time that Sonic has ever been a fully co-operative experience, with up to 4 different players able to join in the fun.
In a time where Sonic is returning back to the front of public attention thanks to movies, TV shows and orchestras, a game that allows absolutely anyone to experience the blue blur with a friend (or three) feels like it’s landing at just the right time.
Lying beneath these new inclusions is a Sonic game that embodies the very best of Sonic’s history, while also slipping into some bad habits along the way that hold it back from true greatness.
Sonic Superstars Review (PS5) – Racing Back To The Roots Of Sonic
A Return To Form
Sonic Superstars strips away the melodrama that Sonic often finds himself attracted to and instead has him and the team charging through new zones from the outset; it doesn’t take long for the player to take control of whichever character they choose and start charging through levels.
There’s a bit more of an overarching narrative here when compared to other games – with the return of classic Sonic villain Fang, as well as the addition of newcomer Trip, there’s a small bit of intrigue as you go through the game.
Similar to Sonic Frontiers, SEGA has provided some prologue material on their social media channels, which hasn’t been included in this release (for some unknown reason). I would recommend watching those before jumping in.
The main game also features animated cutscenes that serve as nice rewards for reaching particular parts of the game, really helping with a sense of story throughout.
The entirety of the classic Sonic recipe is on show from the very beginning here. From the physics to the design of the characters, painstaking detail has been put into every facet of Sonic Superstars in order to make it feel like the Sonic 4 that we never truly got.
One of the most important aspects of any Sonic game is how he and his friends actually move. With a character so well known for his speed, being able to control that speed in an enjoyable way is important.
It’s a relief that Sonic Superstars doesn’t try to fix what isn’t broken and instead makes use of the physics engine that was created for his previous outing in Sonic Mania.
This ensures that this new game falls in line with previous entries to make sure that even in spite of the now 3D graphics, Sonic Superstars will be easy to jump into for those familiar with other 2D games.
Performance also sticks to a rock-solid 60 frames per second, allowing for silky smooth gameplay, transition animations can be a bit choppy but it’s a small blemish overall.
A New Coat of Paint
This transition to a 3D style of visuals is also a big departure for a series that has largely stuck to 2D pixel art. For the most part, this transition to a 3D art style feels well realised and generally looks good throughout the various zones you travel through.
The entire cast maintains their classic designs (with alternative costumes offering some impressive variety) and these are translated well from their pixelized counterparts.
Environments are similarly detailed in a vibrant way, with some impressive touches in the background that really emphasise a sense of being a 2.5D experience. Certain levels contain set-pieces that rotate around the player as they run and platform through, there are definitely some other cool moments throughout that I won’t spoil here.
The use of a connected world map similarly adds a nice sense of forward progression, with easy access to every previously completed zone, or the option to tackle character-specific challenges or bonus stages unlocked with collectables found throughout levels.
The soundtrack that accompanies these levels should also be noted – as a collection of various artists who have contributed to Sonic over the years come together to help score this new adventure.
These new tracks capture the classic sounds of Genesis-era Sonic while also bringing whole new flavours that we’ve not heard before, with special mention definitely belonging to Tee Lopes who once again lends his talent to a large number of themes.
In spite of this attempt to jump from pixel art to 3D models, the environments and characters of Superstars never quite reach the heights of Sonic Mania’s equivalent. There are impressive moments here, but these moments exist in the shadow of Mania’s borderline perfection of Sonic’s trademark style.
There’s more flexibility for costumes with these models, but nothing matches the expressiveness of good pixel work.
Turning Tradition on its Head
This game does far more than simply introduce a new art style and call it a day, Sonic Superstars tackles some of the longest-held traditions of the Sonic franchise and rethinks some major conventions.
This appears in both the introduction of complete and fully featured cooperative play as well as the introduction of specific Emerald powers, using the Chaos Emeralds in minute-to-minute gameplay.
Cooperative play is absolutely the big selling feature of this game, and it feels well-developed across the board. There’s a risk with a game so closely linked with high speed that co-op gameplay could be frustrating or just not fit, and while there are moments where this can emerge, there’s still fun to be had through that.
Luckily, measures have been taken to make sure that the flow of gameplay is never interrupted in case one player falls behind the pack. As well as removing lives from the game, players who fall behind can immediately catch up with the press of the button. While there are definitely some moments of frustration and room for improvement, the inclusion is largely harmless.
This makes sure that newcomers can still progress through the game with their friends, without worrying about bringing the team down – absolutely perfect for younger siblings.
This addition and small change means that Sonic Superstars is undoubtedly the most approachable out of the 2D Sonic games so far, with a far less punishing approach to learning various platforming challenges and boss battles.
Along with making the game far more approachable for the average newcomer, Sonic Superstars also introduces new elements to the series that serve as interesting concepts that are explored throughout. The most noteworthy of these additions are specific powers associated with the Chaos Emeralds.
Chaos Emeralds still serve their normal functions as they always have in 2D Sonic, but in addition to this, each one you collect unlocks a new power for you to use. These range from combat-focused abilities such as Avatar, to traversal-based ones such as Ivy or Vision. These change the way that levels can be explored, and open lots of opportunities for experimentation.
That isn’t to say that the method of unlocking these powers is exactly intuitive; similar to games in the past, large rings are placed throughout each level, and each one takes you to a special stage that is actually in a 3D environment. These challenge players to try and swing off grappling points to chase the goal.
These start off easy, but soon descend into the frustrating as I found myself being confused at why exactly I wasn’t able to reach an emerald, despite being literally on top of it in some cases. While I was eventually able to work my way through, having to restart a level to have another go at something that feels out of my control, was definitely frustrating.
Some of these powers can make light work of the various bosses, and the option to explore different approaches without punishment was a refreshing change of pace from previous outings.
These also help to allow characters to further differentiate themselves from one another, to truly make each playthrough that much more varied – as well as making the argument over who gets to play as your favourite even more heated.
For all of these new innovations, the game also slips into some troublesome habits as it continues on. Some characteristically irritating level designs rear their heads towards the latter half of the game, with some baffling design decisions that feel far closer to trial and error than encouraging actual skill-based platforming.
Similarly, for all of the high-speed action that lies waiting in these new zones, the archaic boss design also threatens to slow down the pace of the game.
Some bosses have long periods of time where the player is actually punished for wanting to beat the boss faster, being met with long moments of invincibility. These moments dampen what is otherwise a great time all in all.
I want to see more bosses take advantage of Sonic’s speed, not slow him down. These issues are synonymous with classic Sonic design, so it’s a shame that in bringing classic Sonic action to a new generation, his strangest habits have followed him like an ugly shadow. (Not that Shadow though).
This emphasis on multiplayer is made abundantly clear as most of your rewards for completing special stages in the main campaign are currency for various forms of customisation in battle mode.
This mode pits you and either local or online opponents against one another in various randomised challenges. These range from combat-focused challenges to survival and almost too obviously, racing. These inject a healthy dose of competitiveness into a game that is more focused on cooperation and is a great change of pace.
While there isn’t the most variety in the world here, the ability to play against friends both locally and online – as well as randomly matching up with others – is a great addition and certainly gives the game legs to stand on.
It’s possible to play these modes in single-player, but far more value will come out of sharing a controller with your friends – with that sentiment fitting the entire game.
Sonic Superstars is available on PS5 and PS4 on October 17, 2023.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.