Sonic Superstars Review: A Fresh Take on Classic Sonic
Sega’s latest offering, Sonic Superstars, carries a straightforward pitch: it’s a direct sequel to the beloved Mega Drive/Genesis Sonic games. While Sonic 4 did make an appearance (although not always a welcome one), and Sonic Mania earned its reputation as arguably the best Sonic game to date, Sonic Superstars comes forth as the fourth installment in the 2D Sonic series, exuding an air of nostalgia and anticipation.
The ultimate question at the heart of this review is how Sonic Superstars stacks up against the beloved Sonic Mania, especially considering that Sega chose to develop this 2D Sonic game in-house, rather than bringing back the minds behind Mania for a direct sequel. This choice becomes a central point of discussion in assessing Sonic Superstars.
Sonic Mania was primarily about refining and perfecting the 2D Sonic experience offered in the Mega Drive titles. In contrast, Sonic Superstars takes a different approach, delivering a relentless stream of new gimmicks, ideas, and mechanics designed to elevate and modernize the classic Sonic formula. The pivotal question is whether these new elements prove to be successful or fall short.
Sonic levels have never been strangers to gimmicks, and many of these familiar elements make a comeback in Sonic Superstars. In fact, if you can remember a unique level feature from Sonic 1 to 3K, you’re likely to encounter it here. However, these mechanics are often reframed, providing a fresh twist on the familiar. For instance, the Sandopolis Act 2 gimmick returns, but instead of managing lights to ward off evil ghosts, you’re now tasked with pressing switches to reset a giant robot that ominously stalks you in the background, ready to deliver an instant demise once fully charged.
Sonic Superstars leans heavily into gimmicks for each individual level, more so than any other 2D Sonic game, creating stages that stand out not just within the game but also in the broader Sonic universe. These mechanics, at times, enhance the gameplay, but in certain instances, they feel like they interrupt the platforming action. Overall, Sonic Superstars manages to strike a balance, drawing valuable lessons from Sonic Mania and its Mega Drive predecessors in terms of level design.
The most significant mechanical addition in Sonic Superstars is the introduction of new powers that can be unlocked by collecting Chaos Emeralds. While acquiring all the Emeralds still comes with its rewards, each specific Emerald now unlocks a unique skill that can be triggered a limited number of times. These skills can be replenished by passing checkpoints, yet they don’t always seem to make a substantial impact.
Thrown for a Loop
The issue is rather straightforward. Chaos Emeralds aren’t awarded at set intervals or randomly; players must discover giant rings and enter special stages to obtain them. While the special stage is enjoyable and even surpasses its counterpart in Sonic Mania, there’s no guarantee that you’ll locate a giant ring or successfully complete the special stage. Consequently, levels must be designed to be navigated without the use of the special Emerald Powers.
Additionally, many of these powers tend to be inherently slow, which can impede the exhilarating momentum of zipping through levels. While a small icon occasionally hints at opportune moments to use a specific power, the incentive is often lacking, as the rewards are typically low-impact coins and collectibles. Speedrunners may discover creative ways to utilize these powers for an entertaining gameplay experience, but for the average player, they may not add much.
The same dynamic applies to cooperative play. While Sonic has had co-op elements for a while, it has never been truly a co-op game; it’s been more of a sibling experience where player 2 could follow along as Tails, serving as a semi-active participant. Superstars strives to establish genuine co-op gameplay, where all players share equal billing. However, this approach doesn’t seamlessly meld with the 2D Sonic experience, as it disrupts the momentum that characterizes Sonic gameplay. The utilization of split-screen for cooperative play would likely be more conducive to an enjoyable multiplayer experience.
Orange… Hill Zone?
The Battle Mode in Sonic Superstars introduces a competitive setup for up to four players, and it allows players to create their robotic Sonic character. Customization options for this character can be unlocked using in-game currency earned during the main game.
One notable aspect of Sonic Superstars is its boss encounters, which stand out for their creativity and, in some instances, unexpected challenges. While this challenge may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the bosses featured in the game are among the finest in the Sonic series.
In terms of aesthetics, Sonic and his companions are impeccably designed, although some may wish the game were a 2D, sprite-based experience. Nevertheless, Sonic Superstars presents a convincing representation of ‘classic’ Sonic in a 3D environment. The key art and in-game visuals capture the essence of classic Sonic, and the world design generally reinforces this nostalgic vibe. However, some stages may appear basic and lacking in detail.
This dichotomy between excellence and inadequacy is a recurring theme in Sonic Superstars. Some stages boast outstanding music, on par with the series’ most iconic tracks, while others fall short, often due to uninspiring drum samples reminiscent of the Mega Drive era. Sonic Superstars thus becomes a game of extremes, oscillating between brilliance and mediocrity, reminiscent of the stark contrasts found in the Sonic Adventure games.
The core of Sonic Superstars, the platforming, accomplishes its mission effectively. It faithfully recreates the essence of 2D Sonic gameplay, offering a feel and handling that aligns closely with the Mega Drive games. While developers claim a 1:1 recreation, there are subtle differences that players may notice. However, these variances do not detract from the overall experience, as the physics and level design contribute positively to the gameplay.
In conclusion, Sonic Superstars successfully rekindles the spirit of classic 2D Sonic platformers. However, the introduction of new elements presents a mixed bag of hits and misses. While Sonic Superstars may not surpass Sonic Mania in the eyes of many fans, it certainly holds its own. The potential for spirited debates about which game reigns supreme serves as a testament to Sega’s progress in keeping Sonic relevant and enjoyable for both new and long-time fans.
Sonic Superstars is available on various platforms, including PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
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