Sonic Superstars review: Stuck in the past

Sonic Superstars review: Stuck in the past
Images via SEGA

Written by 

Joshua Boyles

Published 

17th Oct 2023 17:09

Part of the fun with Sonic games is that you never quite know what you’re going to get. It could be a completely out-of-left-field banger like Sonic Mania, which perfectly captured the rip-roaring speed of the classic 2D platformer.

Alternatively, you’re fully within your right to expect something a bit more… obscure, like Sonic Frontiers - brimming with intriguing ideas, but let down by a frustrating lack of polish.

Sonic Superstars lies somewhere in the middle. Its design harkens back to the glory days of old, and there are some good ideas on show here. However, a combination of frustrating level design and constant interruptions with mechanics that just aren’t fun prevents it from being a worthy pickup for the blue blur.

GGRecon Verdict

There’s something here for fans of classic Sonic fans to enjoy. Playing through each level feels varied, and there’s always the option to retread your footsteps in a fresh pair of shoes.

However, Sonic Superstars ultimately gets bogged down in how it regularly sidetracks the player, tripping them up at almost every conceivable opportunity. There are glimmers of brilliance that occasionally shine through, but the overall experience was a tiresome one to play through.

Seeing quadruple

Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy in Sonic Superstars
Click to enlarge

As another entry in the 2D line of Sonic games, it’s not long before you’re dropped right into the action as either Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy. Just like the classic titles of old, you’re let loose at the start of a horizontally scrolling stage as you rip-roar your way through paths, obstacles, and enemies like a whacky roller coaster.

It’s refreshing to see Sonic Team leave some of the tried and tested locations behind this time around, instead presenting a collection of new environments to run through. Although riffing on a few familiar themes, it was fun to constantly see new traversal mechanics introduced, whether they be leaves and vines to bounce off of in the jungle zones, or the Tetris and Breakout-inspired levels set high in the clouds.

While plenty of variety, it was disappointing to see new stages introduce an interesting mechanic, only to then drop it far too quickly before moving on to something else, and I'd have much preferred to see a few more levels dive deeper into the intriguing ideas that the developers had here.

A great example of the good ideas Sonic Team has had with this Sonic Superstars is exemplified in the boss fights. Taking down each boss at the end of a stage is vastly different from the previous. Aside from a couple of frustrating entries, most of them are exhilarating to take down. A particular favourite is one that’s reminiscent of the Omnidroid from The Incredibles. Remember, the only thing strong enough to damage it is itself…

There are powers that you can collect by finding the Chaos Emeralds in each level, but I largely found them to be rather useless. There are some that help when facing off against enemies, but you’re rarely in a situation where using them is necessary. Often, you’re travelling so fast that the traversal powers can be seen as more of an accessibility feature than a power-up.

That said, there’s plenty of replayability value here with the additional player characters on the roster. Tails, Knuckles, and Amy all have their own unique traversal methods, and it can be great fun to revisit older levels with a different set of skills - although plenty of other gameplay frustrations may put you off wanting to do so.

Stop right there

Sonic Superstars Gameplay
Click to enlarge

The biggest frustration with Sonic Superstars is just how often it wants you to slow down rather than speed up. There were countless times when I finally felt like I was grappling with Sonic’s immense speed, only to be sucked through a Doctor Strange-esque portal into a 3D phantom realm.

These sections have you either falling from the sky to collect coins for no reason or endlessly chasing a golden medal that constantly flies away from you.

The medal-chasing sections in particular are some of the most infuriating mini-games I’ve ever had to complete in a video game, with no real control over where your character goes, resulting in most of the tasks feeling impossible to accomplish.

It’s made all the more frustrating due to constantly being ripped away from the section of Sonic Superstars that is actually fun to play - well, when the occasionally frustrating level designs aren’t out in a way that’s impossible to telegraph when travelling at Sonic’s incredible speed.

Although one of Superstar’s main selling points is the inclusion of local co-op play, I never found it to be fun. After all, Sonic’s main goal is to go fast - but the game’s method of teleporting the other player back to player one if they leave the screen only proves irksome, causing player two to feel unimportant in the grand scheme of the gameplay (which is far from fun).

Archaic by design

A screenshot of Sonic on a green bridge with columns behind
Click to enlarge

The way that the movement and subsequent levels are designed will likely be quite divisive depending on whether you’re a long-term Sonic fan. In Superstars, Sonic Team has certainly taken a leaf out of the original’s book, resulting in a rather floaty feel to the titular character.

If you liked how he felt to control 30 years ago, you’ll likely have no qualms. However, I found the controls to feel rather dated for a 2023 game and would have much preferred a tighter-feeling experience - or even an option to choose between legacy and modern modes.

Level designs can often feel disjointed as a result, with missed jumps landing you in a sticky situation, forcing you to either backtrack a fair way or take the less interesting route. This frustration is compounded by a lack of regular checkpoints, meaning you can expect to see the same sections of each map over and over again if you get stuck.

The archaic design language is occasionally ported over to the visuals, and most definitely the soundtrack. While some stages can look truly stunning, especially at 4K and 60 fps on the PlayStation 5, there are other stages that could be pulled straight from a PS3 game and I’d be none-the-wiser. It’s not in a charming way, either - in the way that the lighting looks notably off.

A grating synth soundtrack might be in place to invoke nostalgia, but it mostly served to irritate during our playthrough, especially as each track restarts from the same position after each regular death. Remember that awful medal-chasing mini-game I mentioned earlier? That’s also paired with an equally dire theme tune to make the experience all the more miserable.

  • Give Cocoon a try - we loved it!

The Verdict

Sonic Superstars Gameplay
Click to enlarge

There’s something here for fans of classic Sonic fans to enjoy. Playing through each level feels varied, and there’s always the option to retread your footsteps in a fresh pair of shoes.

However, Sonic Superstars ultimately gets bogged down in how it regularly sidetracks the player, tripping them up at almost every conceivable opportunity. There are glimmers of brilliance that occasionally shine through, but the overall experience was a tiresome one to play through.

2.5/5

Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.

Joshua Boyles
About the author
Joshua Boyles
Joshua is the Guides Editor at GGRecon. After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Broadcast Journalism, he previously wrote for publications such as FragHero and GameByte. You can often find him diving deep into fantasy RPGs such as Skyrim and The Witcher, or tearing it up in Call of Duty and Battlefield. He's also often spotted hiking in the wilderness, usually blasting Arctic Monkeys.
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