Sonic Superstars recaptures the magic of 16-bit Sonic – but it’s not a perfect return to form

It’s interesting to see what Sonic Team and Arzest has developed with Sonic Superstars – it’s a game that pays homage to Sonic’s past while venturing into new concepts, but it’s also a title with some peculiar design choices and fascinating technical decisions. In this review, we’ll take a close look at this Unity-powered platformer and discuss different versions of the game across multiple platforms, including PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Switch.

Sonic Superstars: A Return to Classic Side-Scrolling Sonic

At its core, Sonic Superstars presents a return to the classic side-scrolling Sonic formula, constructed entirely in 3D. This is a feat that previous attempts, such as the classic Sonic stages built for Sonic Generations, were unable to achieve. Early Sonic games are renowned for their specific brand of acceleration and momentum, and Superstars is the first title since the 16-bit era to replicate the original 2D titles’ control physics, a defining feature of the Sonic series. This accomplishment was also achieved by Sonic Mania, with the drop dash serving as a revelation in reviving the true essence of Sonic.

Developers, Collaboration, and Expectations

Developed in collaboration between Sonic Team and Arzest, a studio formed by Sonic’s character designer Naoto Oshima and other ex-Sega veterans, Sonic Superstars raised hopes as it was known to be the best game Arzest has ever worked on. However, considering Arzest’s involvement in previous games such as Balan Wonderworld and Yoshi’s New Island, expectations weren’t exceptionally high. Despite this, Superstars proved to be a step in the right direction, yet the question remains – is it truly a great Sonic game?

The Mechanics and Design of Sonic Superstars

One of the defined aspects of a great side-scrolling Sonic game is its mechanics. This includes the acceleration curve, arc of the jump, and the way Sonic interacts with slopes. Not only does Superstars manage to get these fundamentals right, but the game also offers multi-tiered level designs that reward skilled players and multiple playthroughs. The game’s challenging but enjoyable boss fights, along with its visually attractive designs and catchy soundtrack, contribute to a classic Sonic experience.

Level Design and Mechanics

Superstars delivers proper 2D Sonic mechanics with familiar acceleration and physics, adding authenticity to the gameplay experience. While the stage layouts are not as enjoyable as those in Sonic Mania, they do offer multiple routes based on the player’s performance. The game has mostly abandoned the cinematic cameras and other complex elements that were present in games like Sonic Generations, focusing more on real platforming that requires precision and skill. The movement and animation in Superstars do justice to the classic 2D Sonic titles, creating an engaging experience for players.

The Good and the Not-So-Great Mechanics

While some of the mechanics in Superstars are impressive, such as the hydraulic machinery in Press Factory that offers fresh and enjoyable gameplay, others are less successful, such as the fog circle in Speed Jungle Act 2. The significant drawback of the game lies in the boss battles that are too frequent and unnecessarily lengthy, disrupting the game’s pacing and making level replays a tedious task.

Visuals and Audio Experience

Sonic Superstars adopts a 3D perspective viewed from the side, featuring 2D movement along the X and Y axes. Unlike previous titles from Sonic Team, the game utilizes the Unity game engine, providing the flexibility to target a 60fps performance on the Switch that can be scaled up on more powerful platforms. The game’s visuals follow the essence of OG Sonic titles with legible foregrounds, bold colors, and clear shapes. The team achieved this by incorporating layers of background elements that move at different speeds, simulating parallax scrolling. Additionally, character rendering quality and animation are top-notch, enhancing the overall visual experience of the game.