I think most people would agree that the Sonic the Hedgehog games that have released over the last couple of decades haven’t always been fantastic. For so many people the original Sega MegaDrive 2D platformers were the thing that made them fall in love with the wonderful world of video games, and having to watch their favourite hedgehog go through the dark days of Sonic 06 won’t have been easy. It felt like recent offerings like Sonic Mania and Sonic Frontiers were a sign of things getting better for the blue blur though, and I was hopeful that Sonic Superstars would provide another fun dose of speedy platforming.
You probably won’t be too surprised to hear that Dr Eggman is up to his old tricks again, and is capturing little animals and making nasty robots in Sonic Superstars. This time he’s got a couple of new recruits helping him though in Fang, who you might recognise from the arcade game Sonic the Fighters, and brand new character Trip. It’s up to Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy to race through some levels and beat up some bosses to save the day as ever, and hopefully grab a few Chaos Emeralds as they go.
From the outset you’ll immediately notice that the controls in this Sonic game just feel right. The height of the jump, the momentum as you roll through loops, and the bounce height off enemies feel exactly how you remember them in Sonic 3 and Knuckles all those years ago. I immediately felt right at home speeding through the early stages of the game, and it’s hard to get across how important those perfect Sonic controls are.
It isn’t just Sonic that controls well either, the whole cast of iconic characters move just the way you want them to with their various movement abilities. Tails’ flying is as useful as ever, and gliding around as Knuckles is a great way to deal with enemies that are in the horizontal direction. My girl Amy is the character I’ll always pick though, with her glorious extra jump that also provides a bit of protection against damage. More than ever it doesn’t really matter who you choose to play as, mainly because of all the special abilities you’ll unlock by collecting the Chaos Emeralds.
Unlike in other Sonic games, when you collect a Chaos Emerald in Sonic Superstars you’re granted a new special ability. The abilities can be used once between each checkpoint, and have a variety of powerful effects. The first you get is the clone ability, which fills the whole screen with an army of Sonics that damage anything they hit, which amusingly die repeatedly if they bump into something hazardous. It’s a really helpful power for dealing with enemy filled screens and bosses, but it leads to the first big problem with the game.
Because the clone ability would deal with bosses in seconds if left unchecked, almost all the bosses in Sonic Superstars let you get a single hit in before disappearing into the background and waiting for you to dodge a few moves. This means every boss fight takes so long as you wait for more opportunities to do damage, and just makes them such a chore. It doesn’t feel like you should spend more time dealing with badly paced bosses than playing through the entertaining stages, but unfortunately that’s what ends up happening. The final boss is one of the worst experiences I’ve had with a game in years, and felt like it took me hours of misery to beat.
The boss fights aren’t the only thing that outstay their welcome either, there are also way too many bonus stages (many of which aren’t particularly enjoyable). To collect the Chaos Emeralds you’ll have to find giant golden rings that teleport your colourful avatar of choice to a bizarre Spider-Man style grappling mini game. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason in how you make your way to the emerald in these bonus stages, but I at least didn’t have to replay them too much to beat them. Alongside these distractions there are also Sonic 1 style spinning bonus stages, which are admittedly more enjoyable but still disrupt the core gameplay way too often.
Most of the issues with Sonic Superstars stem from all the unnecessary additions to the game, which unfortunately includes most of the powers you unlock. For some characters the ability to do multiple dashes in any direction, or growing a plant for some vertical movement is pretty handy, but Tails and Knuckles simply don’t need it. Then there’s the ability that allows you to see secrets for a while, which throughout the entire game only actually revealed anything helpful once.
Although I had a lot of issues with Sonic Superstars, it’s still a fun game. Racing through the stages and bouncing off robot crabs is as fun as ever, and the different themed worlds are fit to burst with exciting elements. There’s the mandatory casino level full of pinball style antics, deadly factories full of crushers, and even the water level is a blast with its geysers and waterslides.
You can also play through all of Sonic Superstars in co-op, which is a cool feature. It’s a great way to experience the game, although it’s also the reason for quite a lot of the slower moments you’ll encounter as you play. There’s also a battle mode to play with friends (or the AI) too, but it’s pretty throwaway with bland minigames like collecting stars or racing through a very basic small stage.
Sonic Superstars simply has too many frustrating elements to deal with. Rolling through the actual stages is often a lot of fun, but having to deal with tedious boss fights and constant mini games gets old fast. If you’ve got a friend who loves Sonic you’ll probably have a decent time playing through the main story together, but otherwise this isn’t quite the game fans like myself were hoping for.
Racing through the stages is a lot of fun
Sonic and company control great
Co-op is a great way to experience the game
The boss fights are a chore
There are too many bonus stages
Some of the powers are disappointing
Battle mode feels tacked on