Review: Sonic Superstars – A Retro Revival

Taking It All the Way Back

When Sonic Superstars was first announced, I immediately thought it would be a slower-paced, multiplayer-focused game similar to Super Mario Wonder (which was announced around the same time). The trailer showed a retro-looking Sonic and his pals making their way through familiar-looking levels, assisting each other with unique abilities along the way. The visuals and music were both popping, so I thought I would reach out to Sega to see what type of Sonic the Hedgehog game it would actually be.

With 2017’s Sonic Mania, Sega teamed up with Christian Whitehead and Headcannon Games to give retro Sonic fans a remix of classic Sonic levels, with the game itself feeling like the ultimate version of Sonic CD. However, the game also stands as an excellent Sonic game in its own right, and very much feels greater than the sum of its parts.

Sonic Superstars, by comparison, feels like the combination of the original Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy with newer retro-styled Super Mario titles, such as New Super Mario Bros, with some unique level mechanics thrown in to surprise players. So, is Sonic the Hedgehog still on a hot streak, or does Sonic Superstars fall short?

Bright, Shiny Visuals

Immediately apparent is Sonic Superstars’ vibrant visuals. Bright and colorful, the game absolutely looks to the series’ origins to present a visual style that will delight retro fans. Sonic and the team are beautifully retro – one might even say “cute”. We’re back to classic character designs – there’s no goggles or bandanas in sight. One clever feature the game utilizes is a background blur, making it much easier than other Sonic games to keep your eyes on the action and not get lost.

In the Zone

The game’s level design is also retro, but with a much greater focus on branching paths, secrets, and, at times, verticality. So while levels seem familiar visually (loop-de-loops, springs, checkered earth), exploring each is a very different experience. In Speed Jungle, players will grab onto springy vines, propelling themselves in the air to reach greater heights than jumping alone. In Act 2, they’ll slide down immense vines.

In Pinball Zone, elements from pinball tables populate the two acts. Players can run through the stage but also hop onto a flipper and launch themselves through the air. Lagoon Zone features waterslides and underwater areas, shaking up the pace of the level. One moment you’re running along, then sliding at full speed; the next, you’re slowly making your way through the murky depths, grabbing oxygen bubbles and carefully timing your jumps to scale upward.

Catchy, But Not Perfect Tunes

Classic Sonic games also featured some of the best soundtracks in gaming, and Superstars also delivers its fair share of great tunes. Though these aren’t the greatest tunes in Sonic history, they do a fine job of complimenting the design of each level – something that some Sonic games have definitely dropped the ball with. In fact, when it comes to pairings of level design, music, and visuals, Sonic Superstars is easily one of the better games in the franchise.

Multiplayer and Challenges

In terms of gameplay, Sonic Superstars plays like any other 2D Sonic game, with the aforementioned quirks to each level. It’s able to be played in single-player as well as up to 4-player co-op. With the right team, players will be able to move through levels, uncovering different routes and collecting more medals than they would in single-player.

Bonus Rounds and Challenges

Returning to the series are the bizarre, rotating bonus rounds, but instead of pursuing Chaos Emeralds, players are chasing medals. Medals can also be earned by completing an act, as well as collecting 100 gold rings. Medals are then exchanged in the item store for customization options for your robot, which you use in the game’s online Battle Mode.

Battle Mode and Challenge

Battle Mode is fine, a collection of mini-games such as races, deathmatch-style battles where you zap each other with electric charges, and more. I received my Sonic Superstars code at launch but was unable to connect with other players to try out the online Battle Mode. Thankfully, I could play against bots, which did offer some challenge.

Challenging Boss Battles

Speaking of challenge, Sonic Superstars’ difficulty is refreshing. The game can throw some curveballs your way, such as the rollercoaster level in Pinball Zone, or one of the game’s mini-bosses or boss battles against Eggman. You’ll die quickly and you’ll die often, just like in classic Sonic the Hedgehog games, but you’ll respawn at a checkpoint.

Overall Experience

My time with Sonic Superstars has been extremely enjoyable, though it isn’t the ultimate Sonic game. For me, Sonic Mania still stands as the best retro-style Sonic the Hedgehog game a fan can check out. That being said, Sonic Superstars surprisingly tries so much more than Mania or any other retro Sonic the Hedgehog game has. Even if sliding down a vine feels similar to running down a steep platform, it looks different and is a refreshing change. The various quirks to each level are also a welcome addition – I’ll find it hard to revisit Sonic games and not imagine what else could be added to them.

I wholeheartedly recommend players check out Sonic Superstars – especially if they have friends who are into the franchise. It boasts terrific replayability thanks to the game’s multiplayer and levels with multiple branching paths. It adds new features to the franchise that feel like they should’ve been there all along, and it’s another near-perfect title for the blue hedgehog.

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