Review: Sonic Superstars

Jump up, Superstars

Well, this is nothing if not a showcase of how expectations can either benefit or denigrate my experience with a game. Super Mario Wonder disappointed me, because I had expected an easy top-marks prospect and ended up with something I found a little lacking in places. Sonic Superstars, though, I didn't expect much of at all - it's no secret that Sonic is a patchy series, and the last 2D game - Sonic Mania - just didn't hit me the way I wanted. I measured my expectations and what's surfaced for me is probably my favourite Sonic game since Generations. In fact, I may be tempted to go even further back and call this one a console top five, and that's big.

See, this is an interesting little game, it's a game that I'd normally criticise for not being confident. The inclusion of Super Powers given to your character when they collect Chaos Emeralds feels a little bit like a design crutch, at times. Want to get three to five free hits on a boss? Activate Avatar and watch an army of Sonic (or Tails', or Amys. or Knuckles') soar across the screen dealing damage. A test of your jumping skills? Activate Bullet and zip across it harmlessly. But the level design and general philosophy here seems to be "hey, it's cool". Like, do what you want, maaaan. It's all good. So rather than lacking in confidence, I'd say this game has some real swagger.

Visually, it's excellent. I've played it on PS5, PC and Switch, and of course the latter is the ugliest when docked, but all run at a gorgeous and consistent 60 frames per second. Played in handheld mode, the Switch version is something of a miniature marvel, looking and running beautifully. Aesthetically it's a very clean, nice-looking game in general - it sort of reminds me of the recent Spongebob game, Cosmic Shake. The music's a very mixed bag, with some Tee Lopes bops and rather too much Jun Senoue Sonic 4-sounding noodling. I don't personally dislike it - Press Factory is a banger - but many others take issue with these compositions and I understand why.

As for the actual game though, it's good. The game's physics are seemingly lifted directly from Sonic Mania, so your chosen character actually behaves in a way that makes sense. The levels are vast and filled with alternate routes, enemies, items and traps. They're rather wonderful, frankly, though the back half of the game is festooned with instant-kill drops and crush traps. Thankfully these don't get sprung on you, but it is rather unforgiving. You have infinite lives, so it's ultimately just attrition. You will need them, especially for the boss fights. They're generally one of the weaker parts of the game, but given the Avatar power can trivialise them it's really not so bad.

There's plenty here to see and do and the new character, Trip, is delightful. The whole game is encouraged to play in multiplayer, but don't. It's dreadful. One player will constantly be run off the screen and while they can quickly warp back, it doesn't feel good, doesn't flow. There's a battle mode, too, which casts players to perform certain tasks to a time limit, but me and my friends didn't enjoy this mode in the slightest. Stick to single player for Superstars.

I'd call this a wonderful little Sonic, better than Mania by virtue of being all-original, plus throwing in a bit of old-school Sega fanservice towards the end. The Special Stages are cack, but aren't they always. While some aspects of the game fail to deliver - primarily its multiplayer - the core 2D Sonic gameplay is about as good as it's ever been. What that means to you, I've no idea. To me, it's excellent.