SEGA's Sonic Superstars is the latest addition to the supersonic hedgehog's adventures, and it's one of the 2D-only outings that has always suited him best.

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most iconic mascot characters in gaming history. Okay, I accept with a heavy heart that maybe Super Mario, in some circles, if we adopt certain criteria, might have been more popular and influential. Maybe. Though I can't help but wonder, as much as I'm all for the right of self-determination of any wonderful creature, what's super about a short plumber.

Familiar places...

In any case, Sonic has written his own history, and has his own fan base. So every new release attracts interest, especially when it promises to be both a return to its 16-bit, 2D roots and an evolution of the formula to more modern standards. In short, it's putting everything on everyone's plate, so it remains to be seen what it delivers.

On the graphics aspect, we have a fully 3D engine (actually, it's the Unity engine, not a dedicated Sonic engine, as SEGA used to do), with 3D models for all the characters, but which delivers a purely side-scrolling 2D platforming game that could have been released in the glory days of the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.

...and familiar situations.

That's the great thing about Sonic Superstars, that in terms of level design and controls, it's one of the highlights of the series, looking down on the ultimate love-letter to Sonic classics, Sonic Mania. The eleven available zones include both familiar locations from the series' long history, often interspersed with new gameplay elements, and new areas to explore. I really enjoyed Sand Sanctuary and Cyber Station, while Lagoon City partially tested my patience with the long underwater sections, and this despite the fact that with a combination of luck and skill, I probably managed to follow the, relatively dry, high road. Speaking of which, most levels have multiple paths to the final road sign, which is definitely a positive for the replayability of the title.

In these 11 zones, Sonic (and his friends, who I'll get to later) do what Sonic does best, which is run around like a madman and collect rings. Of course, since the concept of lives has been removed, collecting 100 rings rewards you with a token that can be used to customize your online character - and I'll get to that, you guessed it, later.

Gotta catch’em all!

Sonic Frontiers, a very different game of course, also had a script. Here there is no such thing. The evil Dr. Robotnik is very bad, so we have to take him down. That's it. If there's another goal, it's, classically, collecting the seven chaos emeralds that allow Sonic to become Super Sonic. The emeralds we try to catch on special levels, fully 3D, that could have had better controls - we're essentially web-slinging like Spiderman from node to node while the emerald runs away from us. While the general concept of "go towards the emerald" is something even a small child can understand, it's not always clear how to move when you're actually approaching, nor why when you're in range, sometimes you catch it, and sometimes you don't. Still, it's rather easy to pick up all seven emeralds even on the first playthrough - I say this while I didn't make it, I missed one.

The new addition regarding chaos emeralds is that we don't have to collect them all to make them useful. Each one gives us a unique power, which we can use at any time and is refreshed in every star post. As an example, we can summon our clones for extra damage to anything on the screen or transform into a water elemental that can climb waterfalls. These are all tasty and welcome, but I'd like to see them used as more structural elements of getting through some obstacles - I understand that the main problem for something like this is that the designers can't be sure if and which powers the player has available.

And yet, it's friendly!

Although I've mentioned Sonic exclusively, Sonic Superstars offers from the beginning the possibility to play with 3 other well-known heroes. Tails, the fox with twin tails, with which he can fly for a (not so short) time, and Knuckles, who can climb vertical surfaces as well as glide, we've seen them many times before. A more rare addition as a playable character is Amy, who with her ever useful double jump and hammer (practically giving her a slightly larger radius on her spin jump) is marginally overpowered. After the first completion of the game, a new friend is added to the party, combining the powers of Knuckles and Amy, but I won't reveal more about him.

Beyond the pure single player of course, Sonic Superstars has two different multiplayer options. Unfortunately I didn't get to try the clearly more interesting one, the 4-player co-op from the same couch. Logically it must be a huge mess, in a good way. Otherwise, there is the option to participate in online battles. I made about 20 attempts for the purposes of this review, but only 3 times did I find human teammates, all the others I only started with opposing bots. The battle modes are simplistic, barely qualifying as anything more complex than mini-games, and overall, I don't think anyone would miss the online mode if it wasn't there. I hope we don't see a future attempt to monetize our online character customization feature for a weak online mode in a game that already costs 60 euros.

First among bots. It still counts.

But somewhere here I have to mention the bad news. The key aspect of boss fights has followed a design philosophy that can make them, instead of fun challenges, tedious exercises in patience. Many of Act 1's levels have mini-bosses that are closer to what we're used to. However, Act 2's bosses have very long times at which they are invulnerable, lots of attacks that cause instadeath even if you have rings, and a small reaction window when they finally become vulnerable. The fact that they don't have their own, exclusive, Act but you have to go through e.g. the whole Act 2 if you get tired and decide to try later doesn't help. The final battle with Dr. Eggman took me over 3 hours, almost doubling the time of the first playthrough. Protip: feel free to use as many emerald powers as you have available. Of course, some will exclaim "git gud", which I did anyway, the point is that I didn't enjoy it.

How I hate you, you awful Robotnik!

The end result is of course positive. In fact, Sonic Superstars is almost perfect, at least in single player. And it's a shame that it sticks to "almost" because of the tedious boss fights that don't match the fast-paced pace of the rest of the game. Here's hoping for a Sonic Superstars 2 that touches perfection in all areas!


Many thanks to Zegetron for providing the review code.

Go to discussion...

RATING - 86%


Can’t touch this!

Sonic Superstars is a complete and fun return to the 2D roots of the series. With strong level design and impeccable controls, it could claim a place among the best of the year (and what a year!) with a less tedious boss encounter design.

Νικόλαος Δανιηλίδης

Great Old One, hardware enthusiast, game collector, man of culture.

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