Sonic Superstars - Rolling with the Homies
Sonic Superstars, the latest outing for everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog is here, and it’s a return to the game’s 2D roots. The good news? Sonic is still going extremely fast, and fans of the series will find this to be a refreshing return to form. Unfortunately, he might be going a little too fast for his friends to keep up with him – which is a problem in a game with such a focus on the addition of a multiplayer campaign mode.
From the moment our hedgehog heroes roll onto the scene, it’s clear that this is going to be a familiar tale. A series of short cartoon cutscenes animated with nostalgia in mind are a little sketchy when it comes to the details, but do a good enough job of wordlessly conveying the overall plot of the game. Eggman is trying to take over the world again, and seems to be kidnapping and experimenting on tiny adorable animals along the way. He’s joined by his lackey Fang, who does most of the actual kidnapping, and Trip – a new and mysterious character who has been recruited by the evildoers, but whose heart doesn’t really seem to be in it. The plot isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but surely nobody’s playing classic Sonic for the nuanced narrative.
Up to four players can play through the campaign together – a first for the series, and for me it was quickly clear why. The four initially playable characters each come with their own abilities – Sonic goes extra fast, Tails can fly, Knuckles can climb walls and glide, and Amy has a rad and powerful hammer – meaning they make their way through the levels using different tactics that play to their strengths. When playing alone, this makes for a challenging and slightly varied experience – those wanting to explore might use Tails, while those wanting to speed through the course might rely on old mate Sonic. When playing with friends, this mostly makes for chaos – and not the fun, controlled kind.
No matter how hard you might try to work together as a team to move through the levels at a roughly matched pace, the inherently zoomy nature of Sonic levels makes that very hard to achieve. The course wants to propel you forward, and if one player happens to activate a spring, or a boost, or any kind of catapult, then everyone gets thrown forward – mostly by way of transportation. The game tries to zoom you to catch up with whichever player it’s focusing on at the time (which seemed somewhat inconsistent), so if you aren’t the fastest, you’ll spend half the level just being pulled along by a friend without getting to experience much of it. It can be frustrating, confusing, and hard to follow – at least until you get to the boss levels, which are actually great fun with pals simply because they take place on a single screen, which solves most of the co-op problems.
But the problems with story mode are mostly exactly that – co-op problems. Playing in single player feels exactly like Sonic should, with the addition of new abilities shaking up the formula a little. Hidden inside the levels are special stages containing Chaos Emeralds, all of which can grant Sonic and friends new powers to be used throughout the levels. Some of these powers allow you to traverse the world in new ones, some are great for destroying enemies, and some show you hidden secrets – but they do need to be used sparingly. Abilities regenerate at every checkpoint, but I rarely found myself thinking to use them outside of boss battles, and even then it was only really as a way to speed up a fight. These abilities never feel particularly crucial to the gameplay, and it would have been nice to see them playing a larger part in the level design.
For better or worse, Sonic Superstars feels like a classic Sonic game. For those feeling nostalgic for the good ol’ days, this will likely come as welcome news. But for me, a person who rarely had access to a SEGA when I was young, there are aspects of the formula that can feel more than a little punishing. Boss fights are satisfying, but one wrong move can mean losing a ton of hard-earned progress in a fight and being sent back to the start of the battle, with checkpoints non-existent once you’ve entered the encounter. For the most part this is fine, and the raised stakes make victory feel much sweeter – but for some of the longer battles, it feels a little unfair. Especially when loss is due to a missed input, or a momentary glitch – most of which I encountered during these boss fights. I played on PS5, and while it was mostly smooth, there were also times I absolutely lost fights due to bugs and unresponsive controls – it only happened a handful of times, but enough to inspire frustration.
Overall, Sonic Superstars can offer a ton of fun – as long as you’re looking to play it on your own, and are searching for that classic Sonic experience. Levels feel fresh but familiar, the soundtrack is still filled with bangers, and the addition of the new character Trip extends the campaign and enhances replayability. If you’re looking for something new, and are tempted by the new abilities, or potential for co-op, or even the battle mode – then this is harder to recommend. Go in expecting the classic with a couple of added extras, and your time with Sonic will be action-packed and enjoyable.
Player 2 reviewed Sonic Superstars on Playstation 5 using a code kindly provided by the publisher.