Sonic Superstars sprints to stores next week, and while I’ve wrapped up the main adventure and partaken in the other activities, such as Battle Mode, one big highlight eludes my evaluation: co-op.
One of Superstars’ biggest selling points is to take down Eggman with up to three other players. Unfortunately, co-op is restricted to local play. Living alone and working remotely makes couch co-op a tricky proposition, and the only way for me to test this is by using the PS5’s Share Play feature with another editor, but that feature won’t work until the game launches next Tuesday. Until I can get a sense of what it’s like to take down badniks with another person, my general thoughts on Sonic Superstars is that if you’re looking for a Genesis-era throwback, Sonic Team and Arzest have nailed it – for better and worse.
Controlling Sonic and his pals perfectly captures the feel of his classic adventures. As a Genesis kid once obsessed with Sonic, the platforming physics feel on point, allowing childhood muscle memory to take hold. Each character is enjoyable to use, with Amy being the standout due to her ability to double jump and her hammer that destroys enemies. If you were worried about Superstars being a repeat of Sonic 4, you can rest easy. However, that also means old annoyances are preserved, such as the pain of slowly regaining running momentum and the inability to stop on a dime. Basically, any likes or dislikes you have about old-school Sonic platforming return in full force in Superstars.
Superstars’ presentation looks great, and the new zones showcase this with vibrant colors and layers of detail. Although the level design has some fun new platforming twists, it also throws a ton of well-placed, almost mean-spirited hazards that, due to the speedy nature of 2D Sonic, you often won’t – or can’t – anticipate until it’s too late. Expect to enjoy flying through a rollercoaster-like sequence only for it to end abruptly because of a sudden spike pit or enemy you were somehow expected to see coming. I probably uttered the phrase, “How would I have known…?” more than any other, even after relying on traditional cautionary measures, like spin-balling everywhere to plow through potential incoming threats. This trial-and-error design has always been present in the series (and, thankfully, you have unlimited lives now), but modern sensibilities make it stand out more in Superstars.
The new Emerald Powers, abilities gained from finding Chaos Emeralds, can be helpful, but I didn’t feel compelled to use them as often as I hoped. These include Bullet, which rockets characters in a chosen direction, and Avatar, which fills the screen with multiple copies of the player. Outside of the game nudging players to use an Emerald Power in a certain zone (such as getting notifications of concealed hidden rings or platforms that the Vision power can uncover), I often forgot I had them due to the levels neither requiring them nor being challenging enough to turn to. I was content overcoming obstacles the old-fashioned way: with some well-timed jumps and spin-dashes. Plus, some powers just aren’t applicable in certain levels, such as one that only lets you climb waterfalls. The Emerald Powers aren’t bad and don’t hurt the experience, but I wish they felt more integral and less of an afterthought.
The soundtrack is perhaps my biggest bummer. Outside of a couple of tracks, the music is serviceable but surprisingly unremarkable. From Sonic 2 to Sonic Mania, the 2D entries have a legacy of providing toe-tapping earworms, but Superstars doesn’t stack up to the best the series has offered in the past.
Outside of the main adventure, Battle Mode, in which multiple players compete in rounds of various mini-games, is shallow and not fun at all. After completing a handful of matches with a partner, I have no desire to touch it again. Unfortunately, much of the customization is tied to it. Since you control a customizable robot in this mode, you spend special coins collected in the campaign and Battle Mode to buy new parts for this metallic avatar. This includes new limbs, heads, color schemes, and patterns. This sucks some of the thrill out of completing the otherwise fun Sonic 1-style special stages in which you earn them.
Sonic Superstars offers a fun time overall, and it succeeds in providing a nostalgic experience with a contemporary sheen. I had a fun time running through it despite its old-school frustrations, and I’m curious to see how the action holds up with other people running alongside me. I’ll be playing around with it some more until release, so keep an eye on the site for my full review once Sonic Superstars arrives on October 17.