It’s fair to say the Sonic the Hedgehog series has seen something of a resurgence over the last few years. From the well-loved Sonic Mania, Sonic movies, and even the risky-but-it-works Sonic Frontiers last year, Sonic has had a good streak of games as of late. Now, Sega returns to the classic 2D formula with a unique art style that tries its best to mash old-school Sonic with newer mechanics. The end result with Sonic Superstars is a solidly fun but very uneven experience.
Sonic Superstars is exactly how it looks: a modern day take on 2D Sonic. If you’ve played any classic Sonic game, you know what to expect. Diverse stages, weird boss fights, a mixed bag of platforming (more on that in a moment), great music, and, of course, lots of coins. This modern take on 2D Sonic introduces a new art style, a mix of 2D gameplay with 3D visuals. There’s also the addition of Emerald Powers, a special power up you can use after collecting certain Chaos Emeralds from bonus stages. These range from slowing down time to making a whole bunch of duplicates of yourself that rush onto the screen to destroy enemies.
Whereas a game like Sonic the Hedgehog 4 tried, and failed, to add something new to 2D Sonic, Sonic Superstars nails what makes the old games beloved, while trying to add something new. It’s overall gameplay is absolutely solid, which is a big deal. The aforementioned Sonic 4 was notorious for feeling equal parts floaty (where the character strangely felt like it floated way too long when jumping) to way too heavy. Regardless of the character you choose, Sonic Superstars nails it’s moment to moment gameplay. Running and jumping feel a little slower than those classic Genesis era Sonic games, but it simply feels good to control each of the characters, although I must admit I mostly played as Sonic.
It also helps that Sonic Superstars looks really nice. I personally liked the new art style; it feels fresh while still feeling like the old school Sonic. Environments are rich in details, characters are super expressive, and the cutscenes are very well executed. It’s a huge improvement over Sega’s previous attempts with 2D Sonic (think Sonic 4 or Sonic Forces) and honestly makes the whole experience quite memorable. The cherry on top of its great visuals is the music. Older Sonic games had absolutely great soundtracks and, thankfully, Sonic Superstars follows suit. While not every track hits, the overall soundtrack for Superstars is top-notch. Trust me, you’ll be humming a few tracks from this game every time you step away from it.
While Sonic Superstars does well at being a modern day take on 2D Sonic, not every new addition works. Emerald Powers sound like they would make a really fun addition, allowing for unique gameplay changes while you play. The problems are that getting the Emerald Powers is more annoying than it is fun, and they aren’t very useful. To get the power ups you have to complete the Bonus Stage. The thing is, finding those stages in levels isn’t easy. Obviously, that is part of the challenge but I found myself accidentally finding a Bonus Stage in the most random of spots, rather than feeling like I found it in a truly clever location.
Then, once you get the power ups, their use is…mixed at best. Sonic Superstars limits when you can use the power ups and, 9 out of 10 times, you can’t use the power up in the spot where it could be useful. The game flashes an icon at a random point on each stage where you can use the power up, and nowhere else. This kind of defeats the whole point of having this feature, as I don’t care to use, say, multiple versions of myself in the middle of the stage on four enemies. It’s not useful to limit when I can use this, especially when it was such a pain to find and then collect the power up to begin with.
The other major issue I have with Sonic Superstars is its wildly uneven difficulty spikes. I’ve seen major difficulty spikes in games before, but Sonic Superstars might be the most whiplash I’ve had in a long time. The biggest issues are the mid-stage and final boss fights. Mid-stage boss fights typically aren’t that difficult, and you can easily figure out how to defeat the enemy without taking much or any damage. In Sonic Superstars, the mid-stage boss fights are harder than the end-stage bosses. In fact, defeating Dr. Eggman at the end of each stage is really, really easy; you just jump up and hit him on the head of his robot. His attacks aren’t hard to figure out, and you beat them with ease.
Mid-stage boss fights? It’s pretty unclear how to beat the bosses when they start up, and they are laser focused on hitting you and ultimately defeating you. It’s a strange and very uneven experience that feels like someone at Sega accidentally switched the code by mistake.
Then, there’s the last Eggman boss fight. It’s hard, like way too hard for its own good. It takes 13 hits to his head to defeat him in the end, and you can’t simply jump on his head every time to damage him. Without spoiling the boss fight, let’s just say they change up how you damage him during the fight. The overall experience comes off as annoyingly difficult rather than a rewarding challenge.
In the end, Sonic Superstars is a fun, modern take on the classic 2D Sonic formula. Its solid moment to moment gameplay, fun new visual style, and great soundtrack make for a very fun experience. The game falters a bit in the new addition of Emerald Powers, which aren’t fun to collect and aren’t useful when collected. The major difficulty spikes in mid-stage bosses and end bosses make for a frustrating combat experience rather than a rewarding one. Still, Sonic Superstars manages to pull together an experience old and new Sonic fans—or 2D platforming fans in general—will get plenty of enjoyment out of.