Sonic Superstars brings the series’ 2D formula back in spectacular fashion. It’s brought back physics and momentum that are strikingly close to the Genesis / Mega Drive originals, and combines them with original zones that all offer fun, unique gimmicks. However, boss fights are tedious, and the lack of online co-op stings.
A superb sense of speed and momentum
All characters have their own abilities
Soundtrack is a mixed bag
Dreary boss encounters
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Platform reviewed: PS5
Available on: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release date: October 17, 2023
Sonic Superstars brings side-scrolling action back to the series after a six-year hiatus, yet developers Arzest and Sonic Team have ensured the 2D formula hasn’t lost a shred of speed. Existing series fans can rest assured that they’re getting another quality entry in the Classic Sonic run. And if you’re a newcomer, you’ll find the game’s sense of high speed, tight level design, and support for local co-op play to be uniquely fun amongst today’s platformers.
Superstars is a looker, too, opting for a fully 3D visual style that, while lacking some of the charm of its predecessors’ sprite-based graphics, is nonetheless delightful in its own right, thanks to colorful presentation and strong art direction. Each new zone is instantly distinct and visually striking, and that 3D look helps new mechanics that involve foreground and background layers easily readable.
Chuck in a return to Mega Drive-era physics and momentum to keep longtime Sonic heads happy, several playable characters and plenty of goodies to unlock, and Sonic Superstars feels like a marriage of old and new that’ll introduce a new generation of players to the series, and not just cater to existing fans.
The need for speed
If you’re familiar with Sonic’s initial run of 2D games, one of the first things you’ll pick up about Sonic Superstars is that it’s managed to successfully replicate the feeling of movement from the originals. Sonic (or Tails, Knuckles, and Amy if you’re playing as them) has significant build-up when it comes to acceleration. And when decelerating, he’ll gradually slow down instead of just stopping on a dime. You can use this speed variation to your advantage when it comes to making precise jumps, as having more intricate control over Sonic means you’ll get a feel for just how much speed you’ll need when approaching certain sections.
One of the best things about Sonic Superstars is that every zone affords the opportunity to go all-out in terms of speed. One problem older 2D entries in the series had was that some levels just aren’t built for going fast at all (looking at you, Marble Zone and Sandopolis) and suffered from no shortage of plodding sections that actively discourage going fast.
That’s not the case here, as every level strikes a pleasing balance of speedy sections and carefully-paced platforming. It was rare that I came across a stage that didn’t allow me to outrun the screen at least once, with Sonic and friends disappearing off to the right as the stage zipped past in a blur.
Using Sonic Superstars’ Emerald powers to explore hidden nooks and crannies and uncover secrets felt like the game was rewarding my curiosity, making the hunt for those Emeralds especially worthwhile.
That tight balance of speed versus platforming doesn’t mean that the game’s stages are one-note, though. Speed Jungle, for example, gave me Sonic Rush vibes with its high-speed grinding on vines. Later on, Golden Capital provides opportunities to earn an abundance of rings by completing small-scale puzzles and challenges. It’s one of the most diverse rosters of zones we’ve seen from a 2D Sonic title yet, in terms of both visuals and stage-specific gimmicks.
You might not see everything these stages have to offer on your first playthrough, though, especially if this is your first Sonic game. That’s because Sonic Superstars continues the optional objective of collecting seven Chaos Emeralds to access its true ending. The key incentive here, though, is that each Emerald collected adds an ability, including actions like summoning clones to damage enemies and bosses or enabling you to swim up waterfalls.
This is a marvelous change that encourages replayability, and it makes going back to old Zones via the world map to discover more, helped by these Emerald abilities, a joy. However, collecting the Emeralds isn’t easy, as you’ll need to clear deviously well-hidden special stages in each level. You’re able to head back to prior stages whenever you like, though, so the incentive to explore is always there. The lack of a life system, thankfully, means you’re not risking progress if you die, beyond respawning at the last checkpoint you passed.
Things unfortunately tend to fall apart at the end of each stage, as you’ll be put up against bosses that will test not just your skills but your patience too. Most bosses are remarkably similar in design, requiring you to wait out a series of attacks before you get a window to strike. Some fights later in the game can bog you down for a long while, making it all the more infuriating if you die right before landing the last hit needed to kill off a tough boss.
What doesn’t help is that the boss music throughout the game isn't particularly strong, which can also be said for the majority of Sonic Superstars’ soundtrack. There are some standouts regarding the latter though, such as Speed Jungle’s Mania-esque beats, or Pinball Carnival’s overt funk that’s reminiscent of Sonic 3’s New Jack Swing motif. Most tracks, though, try to emulate the Mega Drive’s soundchip. Sometimes it works, but mostly it falls flat, providing a grating, unappealing sound.
A little help from my friends
When it comes to Sonic Superstars’ multiple, and joyous, playable characters, I’d argue that they are more interesting to play as than the hog himself. Every character has their own quirk that changes how the game will play, too. As in prior 2D titles, Tails is able to fly for a short duration, making him perfect for beginners who want to take stages at a slower pace. Knuckles can glide in a straight line and climb up vertical surfaces; he’s excellent for players who really want to take their time exploring the nooks and crannies of any given stage. Amy is really fun, too, possessing the ability to double jump and swipe at enemies with her hammer.
Co-op play for up to four players is supported here, too, allowing you to explore stages with your friends locally. Sadly, though, there’s no option for online play, so it’s a feature that some players likely won’t get to enjoy. Hopefully, this is something that can be added in via a post-launch update.
Each character also has stages exclusive to them, tailor-made for their style of movement and abilities. What’s even better is that, no matter who you’re playing as, you’re able to switch to a different character to play their version of a stage as and when the opportunity arises. For example, clearing Act 1 of Lagoon City Zone as Sonic then presented the choice to either move on to Act 2, or to give the Amy-exclusive level a try. This is entirely optional, but it was nice to be presented with the choice, which adds a little variety to each playthrough.
Overall, Sonic Superstars succeeds in putting that classic 2D Sonic style back on the map, while feeling largely fresh and offering up several of its own unique ideas. There are some blemishes, mostly the subpar boss fights, inconsistent soundtrack, and a bizarre lack of online co-op play. Still, regardless of whether you’re a Sonic fan or not, there’s a fantastic 2D platformer here perfect for solo or local couch play with friends.
There’s no accessibility options to speak of in Sonic Superstars. The game’s controls are very simple, but given its high speed and frequent requirement for quick reaction times, some on-screen assists would’ve been welcome for those who may need them. Certain things, like options for motion and screen shake reduction, as well as colorblind filters,would have gone a long way to make the game more accessible for a bigger audience, too.
How we reviewed Sonic Superstars
I played Sonic Superstars on PS5 to completion as Sonic, exploring each stage almost fully and collecting all Chaos Emeralds along the way. This complete playthrough took roughly six hours to complete, and involved revisiting previous stages to ensure all Emeralds were collected. I also went back and played through a handful of Zones as Knuckles, Tails, and Amy, bringing my playtime for review up to a total of 10 hours.
Sonic Superstars manages to land itself in our best Sonic games list. Consider giving it a browse if you’re new to the series and looking for more of the hedgehog’s best adventures, including Sonic Frontiers.
Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.