Sonic Superstars, a spiritual successor to the universally acclaimed Sonic Mania, is here to bring 2D Sonic back into the spotlight. Sonic Frontiers, which was released last year, received a mixed reception, leaving fans and critics divided on the new open-world model introduced to the series. While it may not have been executed perfectly, it still managed to inject something fresh into the franchise. As we eagerly await the future of 3D Sonic, Sonic Superstars is poised to reignite the love for classic 2D Sonic adventures.
Sonic is in a weird place right now. While his outings on the big screen have received almost universal acclaim, with a third movie already on the way, his gaming career is once again experiencing somewhat of a downfall. This is mostly due to Sonic Forces’ lackluster reception in 2017, and to Sonic Frontier’s mixed reception in 2022. Both games failed to capitalize on the franchise’s resurgence in popularity, as they struggled with critics and fans.
Sonic Superstars returns to 2D gameplay for the first time since Sonic Mania. After talks with Sonic Mania developers fell through, the task to develop a new 2D Sonic game was given to Arzest, which was founded by Sonic co-creator Naoto Ohshima. While fans were eagerly waiting for a Sonic Mania follow-up, the fact that development duties were carried over to another studio means that Sonic Superstars has a lot to prove.
As for almost every 2D Sonic game, the plot is nothing more but an excuse to put our heroes into action. This time, Dr. Eggman has decided to seek help from Fang the Hunter (originally known as Fang the Sniper, or Nack the Weasel), an old antagonist who was last seen in a cameo appearance in Sonic Mania. The two antagonists, along with Trip the Sungazer, want to capture the Northern Star Islands’ giant animals to build a powerful army, and of course, our heroes will be the ones to stop them.
Sonic and his friends, namely Tails, Knuckles, and Amy, must then once again collect Chaos Emeralds to defeat the bad guys, the only difference being that they will need to explore the new zones provided by Northern Star Islands.
As we said, the plot is nothing more than an excuse to put the gears into motion. As usual, more complex narratives are left only for 3D Sonic games, which have provided interesting plotlines in the past. Honestly, we didn’t care much for the lack of a real narrative in Sonic Superstars. Simply put, the game doesn’t need it: it tries to be a fast-paced, old-fashioned Sonic game, so a greater focus on narrative would have probably felt out of place here.
That being said though, fans will surely enjoy some cameos and references to old games, starting from Fang himself, who is finally back after a decades-long absence (outside of cameos) as a primary antagonist.
If you’ve played any Sonic game, you’ll know what to expect from Sonic Superstars. This is a fast-paced, side-scrolling platformer, where players need to traverse levels (called zones) to progress in the game. While there’s little new to say about the core gameplay, given that we’re talking about a 30-year-old franchise, Sonic Superstars does bring some new elements to the table, which are worth exploring in-depth.
First of all, there are four playable characters at the start (which will become five as there is one unlockable character): Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy. Their core abilities reflect what we’ve seen in past games (such as the Sonic Advance trilogy): Sonic can roll into a dash after a jump, Tails can fly, Knuckles can glide and climb, and Amy can double jump and use her hammer to defeat enemies.
While this is nothing new for the franchise, it does still give every stage a different feel based on the character you decide to use. Moreover, each character’s abilities are expanded through Chaos Emeralds. In the past, collecting Chaos Emeralds had no real impact gameplay-wise, as they only served a narrative purpose. This time around, however, each Chaos Emerald will grant players a new ability, such as the ability to swim up waterfalls. The seventh and final Chaos Emerald will unlock character-specific abilities, which makes it even more important which character the player chooses.
Other than that, the game plays mostly like a classic Sonic game, but we’ve noticed a greater emphasis on platforming and exploration instead of speed. This may be due to another new feature introduced in Sonic Superstars, which is multiplayer.
Up to 4 players can drop in the campaign at any given moment, a first for the franchise. While playing with friends does sound like fun, this kind of co-op action doesn’t feel very at home in a Sonic game. This is because Sonic games are speed-based platformers, and the camera will try to keep up with the fastest player, leaving others behind and generating chaotic situations very frequently.
The greater emphasis on exploration was probably an attempt to slow down the gameplay a little bit to make the multiplayer experience better, and while it surely has helped, multiplayer still feels like an odd addition, and many players will lose their patience after a few co-op stages.
Besides the main campaign, there’s also a PvP mode where players can build custom robots to partake in competitions, which include races, battles, collection competitions, and the last man standing. While this multiplayer feature can be a nice distraction, it’s nothing to write home about, and we doubt that it will keep players engaged after they’ve finished the main game.
Sonic Superstars tries to re-create the classic Sonic games’ feeling, adopting a spectacular 2.5 visual style. Whether you’ll prefer this or the original visual style, it’s up to your taste, but we must say that we were truly captivated by this new interpretation of the 2D games.
The art direction is quite good as well. While the game is set in an entirely different place, many locations call back to areas explored in past games, which is a nice touch. There’s also an incredible visual variety, which makes the campaign feel fresh from beginning to end.
The main campaign will take around 4-5 hours to complete it with one character. Of course, playing the main campaign with every character is the only way to fully complete the game, which will take around 15-20 hours.
After this, there’s hardly any reason to play through the game again. A few optional paths are scattered throughout the stages, along with extra stages and collectibles. The problem is that most collectibles consist of cosmetics for the PvP mode, which isn’t a great incentive given that the PvP is lackluster at best.
Sonic Superstars tries to make classic 2D Sonic feel fresh again, spicing things up with multiple playable characters, new abilities, a never-seen-before co-op multiplayer, and a greater emphasis on exploration. Indeed, this game feels like a step forward for a franchise that has been trapped in the shadow of its glorious past for far too long, but it also feels like Sonic Superstars isn’t that spectacular comeback fans were waiting for. Still, this could be a great (re)starting point for the franchise.
- 2D Sonic in all its glory
- New abilities for every character
- Visually impressive
- Co-op multiplayer feels too chaotic
- Lackluster PvP multiplayer
- It’s not the spectacular comeback fans hoped for