SEGA is back with a new Sonic the Hedgehog side-scroller and this time it’s having another crack at the “classic” experience reimagined with 3D graphics. The blue blur has been here before with games like Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and even hybrid releases such as Sonic Generations, so how does this new experience hold up?
Well, for the most part, Sonic Superstars looks and plays like a 2D Sonic game should. The physics are perhaps the best ever featured in a 3D take on 2D Sonic, with SEGA mentioning how it’s the same 2D platforming retro fans know and love. The other major additions are Emerald Powers and the multiplayer, which allows up to four players to play through the game in co-op and also compete in Battle Mode.
When you first boot up the story mode, you're presented with a cinematic featuring Eggman, an old foe named Fang and a new mysterious character known as Trip. In this new adventure, Eggman is once again hellbent on world domination and has captured the animals of the Northstar Islands – a brand-new location, featuring all-new zones. From here, Sonic is thrown straight into the action to save the day – starting off in Bridge Island Zone, where you’ll eventually have to escape the jaws of a gigantic robotic Badnik.
It’s a promising start to the game which eventually sends Sonic and his friends to beautiful underwater areas, sandy deserts, lush jungles, and even cyberspace. The themes are all different but familiar, and each design inspires the level, much like in past Sonic games. For example, the carnival level revives the pinball-like segments from past games, and then in the jungle, you’ll be vine hopping from one ledge to the next.
There are some other ideas taking advantage of the 3D, such as foreground and background sections in levels, and in the cyberspace act, Sonic is transformed into different creatures and must navigate environments in ways you wouldn’t always expect from a Sonic game. This is all mixed in with the usual loops and speed boosts that bring out the best qualities of the series, and supporting this are some fun and upbeat tunes.
Admittedly, it’s not always rosy – with certain segments spiking in difficulty from time to time, and even some questionable design choices such as levels covered in thick smog reducing visibility, which goes against the whole "gotta go fast" motto. The pacing isn't always the best, either – with some abrupt changes often resulting in Sonic getting crushed or clipped on objects in ways that don’t seem intentional. Thankfully the fun parts outweigh the more frustrating moments.
To add to levels, you’ve also got a bunch of special and bonus stages, which will see Sonic swinging about to get an emerald or working his way through a maze to collect coins. As for the boss encounters in the game, there's Eggman, his own allies, and then a bunch of other random Badnik creations. While most should be easy enough to take down, there are some more irritating ones, where a solution on how to defeat them isn't immediately clear. Certain bosses around the end of the game might also get the better of some players.
Fortunately, if you are having trouble, you can call on the new Emerald Powers. This includes abilities like the power to summon clones, transform into a bullet, or perform a character’s special move. Some of these powers are most effective during boss battles and can be unlocked through regular play. Other powers allow you to reveal secrets, adding to the replay value of zones.
Adding even more variety to the gameplay is the ability to play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and a classic-looking version of Amy. These characters control much like they have in past entries, and make each act a different experience – with Knuckles able to climb, Tails able to fly, and Amy’s ability allows her to double jump with her hammer. You’ll also unlock some more characters upon completion of the game!
This brings us to the co-op multiplayer – a “first” for the series, where players can drop in and out of local play. This can also take the edge off challenges in the game if you are having any issues in solo play. It works in most cases, but more players can result in some hectic moments. Co-op does work well enough though if players are in sync. However, SEGA could definitely improve on this in the future.
Along with co-op, there’s also a battle mode for four players locally and eight players online. In this mode, you’ve got a unique avatar (which you can customise with special coins you collect) and you participate in a competition featuring level racing, star collection, survival, and fighting. Battle Mode admittedly didn’t do much for us, but it's isolated from the main experience. Last but not least is the Time Attack, where you’re competing against other players on global leaderboards.
Sonic Superstars may not keep up with certain other Sonic side-scrollers of the past, and level design and boss battles can be frustrating at times, but it’s arguably the best 3D take on the 2D Sonic series to date. Even if some of the new ideas could use extra polish, it's still a fun adventure for Sonic and friends from start to finish.