Sonic Superstars review: "A modern version of the Genesis classics"

Sonic Superstars screenshot
(Image: © Sega)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Sonic Superstars is like a modern version of the Genesis classics, with all the good and bad that entails. The four-player, same-screen co-op functionality works surprisingly well, and the new Emerald powers keep things fresh. While it isn't as good as Sonic Mania, Superstars is a fresh twist on classic Sonic action.

Pros

  • +

    Sonic's movement is very close to the original trilogy

  • +

    Great drop-in/drop-out co-op

  • +

    Some glorious stage graphics

Cons

  • -

    Inconsistent quality across the levels

  • -

    Lack of lives makes death a chore

  • -

    New character's story mode is barely different

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Classic Sonic is back in some style, bringing everything that was great about the best Genesis games into 3D-rendered 4K. While we've had a few similar side-scrolling games in recent times, notably the superlative Sonic Mania and the rather divisive Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic Superstars is particularly exciting because it reunites Sonic with his original character designer – Naoto Ohshima. It's Ohshima's studio Arzest that's worked with Sonic Team here, and the result, while not the greatest Sonic game of all time, is certainly one of the better ones. 

Fast Facts

Release date: October 17, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Switch, Xbox Series X, xbox One
Developer: Arzest/Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

While you can start the game as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy (or all together in up to four-player couch co-op), there is a fifth character with their own story mode available once the main game is completed. However, while their level layouts are slightly changed and some bosses are different, it isn't like having two new Sonic games packaged together, instead more like playing as Sonic or Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Still, Superstars is bigger than most, taking around 4-5 hours to complete on each run. Nack the Weasel (a.k.a. Fang the Sniper) plays antagonist alongside Dr. Eggman, and cut-scenes are dialogue-free, which is refreshing and welcome.

Pinball Wizard

Sonic Superstars screenshot

(Image credit: Sega)

Indeed, the core gameplay is just like that of Sonic's original outing. Run and jump around beautiful platform levels, smashing robots to release the poor woodland creatures stuck inside, then take on a boss battle before releasing even more animals from the prison at the end. What has changed, however, is that the lives system is gone. You can die as many times as you like without penalty, which sounds great in theory, but in practice it just makes death annoying because it means replaying the same bit of level again and again until you eventually prevail. Failure is almost designed in, forcing you to learn patterns in order to do it better next time. Even so, when you hit a frequent death loop at the end of just the first stage, you do start to wonder whether this is actually going to be any fun.

Fortunately, Sonic Superstars is mostly a really good time, and gets better the more that you play it. There are loads of interactive scenery elements and an emphasis on pinball bumpers, which was always one of the best things about Sonic games in the early '90s. The quality of background scenery varies, occasionally absolutely wowing, like the sumptuous first level and the absolutely charming voxels of Cyber Station. Conversely, the likes of Golden Capital with its floating platforms and flat walls sometimes look and feel more like the 3DS version of Sonic Generations, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. It at least always runs smoothly on the PS5 version I tested, but if only it could all look and feel like it does in its best moments, Superstars would be an all-time classic.

Sonic Superstars screenshot

(Image credit: Sega)

Also of varying quality are the boss battles. Some are overly long (over 10 minutes per attempt!), and even some shorter ones outstay their welcome. You can only ever get one hit in at a time, even if you strike the boss's weak point more than once, and there's a lot of pattern learning to be done. That said, some boss fights are very good, especially the very last battle that unlocks once you've done everything else. One in particular feels like it may have been a prototype for a new NiGHTS game. Speaking of which, NiGHTS is available as a robot version in create-a-character, which means you actually get to fight them if you do so before a certain point. Very cool, and promising that Sonic Team has reintroduced the idea of them here.

These created avatars aren't otherwise used in Story Mode, but can be used in Battle Mode, which has online and offline variants. At first glance, it looks a lot like Super Smash Bros, but doesn't play like it. Instead these short stages require you to compete to top the table after three rounds by collecting the most stars, surviving longest as platforms disappear, or racing to the finish line. With up to eight players it should be decently fun once the online servers are populated, though solo play against the computer becomes a bit easy if you're familiar with the controls. Definitely one for friends.

Sonic Chaos

Sonic Superstars screenshot

(Image credit: Sega)

Speaking of which, the biggest new feature is co-op across the entire game for up-to four players. Sonic  the Hedgehog 2 first offered same-screen co-op back in 1992, and the same troubles apply here – namely that the main character moves so quickly that others don't really have much chance of keeping up with the screen. 

Sonic Superstars does have a solution of sorts, where you're warped to wherever the lead character is if you fall behind, and moving at their speed too, which is a nice touch. The zoomed-out screen for multiplayer looks and works far better than the solo view, as you can see more of what's coming up. Co-op is drop-in, drop-out, which works very nicely. Sonic Superstars is a lot of fun with friends, even if the multiplayer action looks a complete mess to any casual observer.

The music is strong, with Jun Senoue returning, although the melodies aren't as hummable as the 16-bit era tunes. Older fans are well catered for in general, as there are a great many nods to Sonic's past and even to Sega's back catalogue before him. There's even a blow-for-blow remake of the first level of an '80s Sega arcade classic near the end of the game. There is some irony in the fact the gameplay suddenly feels ultra-assured and precise while it's actively pretending to be something else, but never mind. Even though the regular physics aren't 100% authentic (it seems to help you up hills), Sonic Superstars is still closer to the originals than all other 2.5D attempts, and that's worth celebrating.

Sonic games used to be famed for featuring mind-blowingly awesome special stages. Minds probably won't be blown by the Chaos Emerald stages this time around, but they're still cool. They echo Sonic Mania in that you're chasing down the gem itself, only here there's no floor. Instead you swing from point to point on a sort of grapple hook mechanism, trying to get close enough to home in on the prize. In multiplayer, you take turns to swing, which solves the problem of how to keep everyone playing very nicely. These stages are very hard at times, but it can't all be handed to you on a plate, now can it?

Feelin' Supersonic

Sonic Superstars screenshot

(Image credit: Sega)

But there's more. Chaos Emeralds are now more than just your key to unlocking Super Sonic. Each one comes with a new ability, such as a time slowing mechanism, a secret-finding eye, a beanstalk and booster for reaching higher places, and a screen-filling attack that sends duplicates of your character running across the screen, destroying anything that can be hit. There's even a fireball power-up, which is a bit embarrassing because it's literally Mario's fire flower, only without the white suit. Finally, you can turn into water and climb waterfalls, which is useful for exploring, but perhaps doesn't add much that the beanstalk and air boost don't already afford you.

The other special stages are based on the rotating mazes of Sonic the Hedgehog, only here you're seeking gold medals which act as currency for the shop. Buying and unlocking the many character customisation elements and colours for them will take weeks. If buying all the items in the shop doesn't make you want to keep playing, Time Attack might. It comes with online leaderboards, which are always ultra-competitive in Sonic games. A sub-30 second opening act looks doable, though it'll take considerable skill. Chasing better times is compelling, and shouldn't be missed. 

Sonic Superstars is a very nice game, faithful to the original side-scrolling classics while catering for modern tastes very well. While there are some frustrations and an inconsistent air of quality across its 12 zones, it is fundamentally well produced, brimming with things to do and modes to play. While not quite exhibiting the masterful level design of Sonic Mania, we nonetheless have another properly good Sonic game on our hands.


Disclaimer

Sonic Superstars was reviewed on PS5, with code provided by the publisher.

More info

Available platformsGames, PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
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Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine, Traxion.gg, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.