Sonic Superstars Review – The Folly Of Teamwork
Sonic Superstars marks a step back to the Genesis-era 2D platforming that put the series on the map and a leap forward by letting three more friends join the adventure. While the former largely succeeds in providing an enjoyable nostalgic experience, the latter fails to allow partners to have the same amount of fun.
As either Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy, you spin dash your way through a brand new batch of beautifully designed zones. From the twisting vines and lush greenery of Speed Jungle to the gilded architecture of the Golden Capital, Sonic Superstars pops with bright colors and whimsical designs for the new gallery of badniks. Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn’t have the same highs as some of the previous 2D entries. The music is not bad, but outside of a couple of tracks, most tunes are unmemorable and don’t hit that next gear of toe-tapping goodness I’ve come to expect from the franchise.
Platforming holds up its end of the bargain, however. The physics perfectly replicate the feel of Sonic’s Genesis adventures, allowing me to comfortably slip into the action like putting on an old glove. Sonic’s pals sport their familiar specialties: Tails can fly and carry partners, Knuckles can climb walls and glide, and Amy sports an enemy-slaying double jump. Each pulls their weight, so the choice comes down to a matter of preference; Amy became my favorite besides Sonic himself.
Zones are large, multi-tiered obstacle courses filled with deviously placed enemies, death traps, and new traversal gimmicks. I liked mechanics such as jumping across speeding rollercoaster trains in a casino zone or transforming into pixelated avatars in a cyberspace-inspired world. Other challenges are a pain, such as carefully navigating a pitch-black jungle with only a glowing butterfly for light – an idea ill-suited for Sonic’s faster-paced style of play. Besides traditional mainline Acts, new character-specific Acts provide decent avenues to sample the other heroes while propelling the narrative.
As a whole, levels do a good job of capturing the core fun of Sonic: zipping through elaborate obstacles at breakneck speed while dodging hazards at the last second. That also means they sport the same trial-and-error design ethos of the classic games; you often won’t – or can’t – anticipate a hazard until it’s too late. While not new, I was sometimes frustrated by this approach as going too fast often leads to hitting something that almost feels designed to punish you for doing the thing Sonic and his friends do best. Deaths can feel cheap in some instances, so I’m thankful Superstars does away with the finite lives system of the classic games.
Chaos Emeralds now grant new powers upon their collection, accessible through a weapon wheel. Powers like Avatar and Vision let you send attacking clones across the screen and reveal hidden rings and platforms, respectively. My favorite is Bullet, which lets me fire myself in a chosen direction for an explosive boost. Since Chaos Emerald portals are hidden instead of appearing at checkpoints, these powers are totally optional and easy to miss. Thus, while these skills can be useful, they also aren’t important or vital. I often forget I have them at my disposal and rarely feel guilty about not using them more. Anything can easily be conquered with your base moveset, and while the powers don’t detract, they’re not as meaningful to the experience as I hoped.
Unfortunately, the newly added four-player co-op affirms my biggest fear going in: 2D Sonic is not built for traditional multiplayer, at least not with all participants sharing the same screen. Playing with even one other person can be a mess, as going faster or slower than your partner forces you to respawn back to them. Sonic games are about speed, and levels sport numerous paths, but since players aren’t free to explore independently, you’re rubberbanded back together. This creates jarring instances of partners vanishing and warping back if they zigged where you zagged, which can be distracting in the middle of a tricky platforming sequence. Playing co-op feels less like working together and more like fighting to stay together.
Additionally, Superstars is inconsistent in which player it prioritizes. Generally, Player One is in charge, meaning if someone else dies, the game continues by focusing on the leader. This isn’t the case in some instances, though. In the casino zone, I fell to my death several times; on some occasions, the game refocused on my partner, who continued onward, and I just respawned. In other instances, the camera followed me all the way to my death, resulting in a Game Over for the team. Other challenges seem ill-suited for multiple players; the aforementioned illumination-focused zone is a nightmare with other people since only one player can hold the light, forcing everyone else to either stick extremely close by or wander blindly. Co-op is also restricted to local play only due to quality concerns, but I can’t imagine how it would suffer much from online play. As it stands, co-op is functional and can be unintentionally entertaining in a purely chaotic sense, but doesn’t feel totally thought out.
Battle Mode, a versus destination consisting of bland, one-note mini-game competitions, is hardly worth exploring. The character customization, in which you assemble a robot using parts purchased by spending special coins found in levels or special challenges, is uninteresting as well. A second, more difficult post-game campaign offers the most compelling reason to stick with Superstars after you’ve foiled Dr. Eggman’s plans.
Despite some big caveats, I mostly enjoyed Sonic Superstars as a solo trip down memory lane. The platforming feels good, the levels are mostly fun, and the presentation looks great. Ripping through robots while hitting loop-de-loops and bounce pads still brings a smile to my face. But the game’s new additions either feel inconsequential or ill-advised, watering down an otherwise respectable package. Sonic Superstars offers a solid return to form for the series’ oldest and most ardent followers, with some hedgehog-sized potholes along the way.