Sonic Superstars review: Speed kills friendships

Sonic Superstars is a bright step forward for the franchise, but it's dangerous to go with friends.


For people of a certain generation, Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog and Nintendo's Mario will always be linked. Before there was PlayStation vs. Xbox, the console wars were waged between Nintendo and Sega, and each had their lovable mascot leading the charge. Sega and Nintendo's console competition has since ended, but even as Sonic and Mario have become friendly to one another, the link between the two is still there.

Sonic Superstars, from Sega and developers Sonic Team and Arzest, gave a first impression that it was a step forward for 2D Sonic games, similar to the jump that New Super Mario Bros. gave to Mario. Having now experienced the full package, Sonic Superstars instead mostly resembles the blue hedgehog at his peak. It's one of the best 2D Sonic titles I've experienced in years and is a blast to play through alone. Of course, it's not necessarily a single-player game, though maybe it should have been.

Superstar speed

Sonic rolling by at the speed of light in Sonic Superstars

Source: Sega

Sonic Superstars' story is a simple one. The nefarious Dr. Eggman is at it again, this time trying to impose his will on the friendly animals of the Northstar Islands. Sonic and his friends head over to the new region to explore new zones, collect the Chaos Emeralds, and stop Eggman's latest evil plot. The difference here is that Eggman has recruited a mercenary trapster named Fang (who's more of an obscure character in the Sonic mythos) and his mysterious sidekick Trip to derail the good guys before they can get close to the bad doctor.

The formula sticks closely to 2D Sonic's roots and plays similarly to the classic Sega Genesis titles, as well as the more recent Sonic Mania. Each zone has one or two acts with stages that extend so far in all directions that it's almost impossible to explore everything in a single playthrough. Exploration can also be affected by a player's chosen character. While it's possible to sprint through levels as Sonic and bash enemies with his Drop Dash, it's also possible to fly through stages as Tails, glide across large gaps as Knuckles, or reach higher areas with Amy Rose and her double jump.

Stage design ranges from imaginative to the typical Sonic scale of frustration, but every new Zone takes advantage of Sonic Superstars' dazzling modern visual style. Stages like the Sky Temple, Pinball Carnival, and Cyber Station Zones sport some of the most creative gimmicks I've seen in a 2D Sonic game. Beyond looking visually gorgeous, they use some amazing ideas that feed beautifully into Sonic's ongoing desire for breakneck speed. By contrast, there are some ideas that don't quite work so well, like the Press Factory Zone's timed bounces and frequent death timers. Overall, there are more hits than misses as far as level design goes, though I still wish Sega would retire the aggravating underwater sections, which still feel like they're right out of 1991 right down to the stress-inducing countdown music.

While it's fun to experience stages in new ways with different characters, the catch is that players cannot switch characters on the fly. If you're playing as Sonic, see the entrance to a secret area up ahead, but fall through a crumbling floor, you can't switch to Tails to get yourself back up. You can only switch characters after exiting, at which point you'd have to start the level over. That can get doubly frustrating if you hit a boss fight and determine that another character may be better suited for it, which happened a few times during the Story Mode.

Secret areas pop up throughout each level and give players a chance to collect Chaos Emeralds. Beyond their story purpose, Chaos Emeralds also grant players new powers. The Avatar power, for example, summons clones to attack all enemies on the screen, which can be a big help against bosses. Bullet is a one-way blast that can help characters reach platforms that may be just a bit out of reach. The Chaos Emerald powers are a great addition to the 2D Sonic formula and can change the way that players approach combat or exploration, the latter of which offers some incentive to go back and try previous stages.

All of this is great for the solo Sonic player, but Superstars' other main addition is the ability to bring three friends along for the ride. Unfortunately, even two (much less four) can be a crowd.

Left in the dust

Teaming up for the Cyber Station Zone in Sonic Superstars

Source: Sega

To understand why Sonic Superstars' local co-op doesn't work so well, one has to think about what makes 2D Sonic fun to begin with. Sonic is at its best when players can move faster than a speeding bullet. The joy comes in seeing the amazing scenery zoom by in the blink of an eye as Sonic goes all around the screen, through loop-de-loops, and catching big air just through his unstoppable momentum.

A lot of the speed-driven formula of a 2D Sonic game gets lost when adding in local co-op. It's possible for a player to still dash on ahead, blaze through half the stage in a matter of seconds, and use their momentum to reach higher and farther areas. Unfortunately, at that point, the other players are set to the side and have to wait to respawn themselves. After this happens enough times, it's enough for the other players to wonder if they're even playing the game at all.

Two to four players sharing a single screen works with a game like Mario (see how they're still linked?) because it's an entirely different platforming formula. It's one that's more dependent on moving one action at a time. Sonic Superstars wants all four players to share a screen and move along at the same pace, but unless everybody is on the same page about moving faster than the speed of light, at some point, it stops feeling like Sonic. It's great to play with friends. I love playing with friends. What I've learned from Sonic Superstars is that maybe not every game is meant to be shared with someone.

It is worth noting that this isn't the only way to experience Sonic Superstars with others. There's a Battle Mode built for four local players or eight online users. Here, players take the role of a customizable robot and do their best to survive a variety of challenges. Whoever's left standing at the end is the winner. This is a fun diversion from the main Story Mode, but it doesn't feel like something that will have a lot of lasting appeal. That's too bad because the Story Mode offers a lot of opportunities to collect shop tokens to purchase cosmetics for the Battle Mode mascots.

Superstar reaction

Sonic Superstars falters in a few places, mostly when playing with friends. However, putting aside the co-op woes and looking at this as a solo 2D Sonic title, this is one of the best entries in the franchise. The visual upgrade is phenomenal, allowing for more expressive characters, cooler stages, and more interesting boss battles. Optimization can be an issue, though, as even on the PlayStation 5, it took some time to load some of these stages. Once you're up and running, though, there's still nothing quite like hitting supersonic speed and watching the world fly by.

If Sonic Superstars is the future of the franchise, then it's bright enough that the blue hedgehog will have to wear shades.

This review is based on a PlayStation code provided by the publisher. Sonic Superstars will release on Tuesday, October 17 on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch for $59.99 USD. The game is rated E.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Review for
Sonic Superstars
  • Visual upgrade is top-notch
  • Inspired level design
  • Chaos Emerald powers are a big plus
  • Great soundtrack
  • Co-op sure sounded good on paper
  • Some long load times
  • Some stage gimmicks don't quite hit
  • Battle Mode doesn't have a lot of legs
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