Sonic Superstars review – How does it measure up to Sonic Mania

Epic open-world games and multiplayer shooters may be all the rage right now, but as somebody who started gaming in the early 1990s, I’ll take a new Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario Bros over any game with a thousand planets or a dozen maps. The fact that we’re getting a new side-scrolling Sonic and 2D Mario just a few days apart is a fantastic stroke of good fortune, and more proof that 2023 might just be the greatest year in gaming history. Even better is that both games more than live up to expectations.

Indeed, Sonic Superstars provides a classic Sonic the Hedgehog side-scrolling experience, but with glittering new graphics and a few more bells and whistles.

While I’ll always have a soft spot for the classic 16-bit visual style that proved such a hit in Sonic Mania, the wonderfully bright and flashy art style of Sonic Superstars feels like a natural evolution.

From the bright blue skies of Bridge Island, to the topical hue of Speed Jungle and Neon lights of Pinball Carnival, each new stage is a feast for the eyes.

If anything, stages are so pleasing to look at and packed full of detail that it’s borderline distracting!

Even better, however, is how good Sonic feels to control. It’s far closer to the tight feel of classic Sonic the Hedgehog games than the loose, floaty feeling of titles like Sonic 4.

Elsewhere, despite a few enemies and obstacles that feel unfairly and improperly placed, the level design is largely exceptional, with dozens of huge, sprawling stages that end with imaginative and entertaining boss battles (for the most part, at least).

You’ll also notice that exploration plays a much bigger part in Sonic Superstars than almost any other 2D Sonic game in history. SEGA has placed a little less emphasis on speed-running and more on discovering the game’s alternative routes and secrets.

It’s not to say the action is too slow or lacking momentum, but you rarely feel like you’re on auto-pilot, with levels that require a lot more skill and concentration. It’s perhaps closer to the original Sonic the Hedgehog than some of its speedier sequels. 

To aid players in exploration, Sonic Superstars introduces a selection of new Chaos Emerald Powers that can be unlocked by completing special stages.

As the game progresses, players will be able summon a wave of clones to attack enemies and destroy obstacles, as well as an ability that lets you climb waterfalls in order to access new areas, and another power that reveals hidden blocks, items and platforms.

You select your power using the right stick, before activating it using the Square button (on PlayStation). The reason for explaining the controls is that while the powers add an interesting new twist to the classic formula, they don’t always mesh well with the speedy gameplay.

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Powers are rarely used to get your character out of a jam, and instead as another means of accessing secret areas, or obtaining hidden rings and medals.

Other new additions include co-operative multiplayer for up to four people. Sadly, however, this isn’t the game-changer we hoped it would be.

Even with a greater emphasis on skilful platforming and exploration, Sonic Superstars is just too fast-paced and frantic for co-op to work.

It’s not something that bothers me too much, but if you’re expecting a co-op multiplayer experience that matches the likes of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, then you’ll be sadly disappointed.

Despite a split-screen viewpoint that’s a little on the small side, the game’s multiplayer Battle Mode is far more enjoyable.

Playable locally, online or with bots, players compete in various challenge stages to earn points and top the leaderboard. One stage has players compete to collect the most stars, while another involves damaging your opponents using a special lightning power.

The Battle Mode isn’t on par with multiplayer greats like Smash Bros or Bomberman, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you have a few friends over for a gaming party.

While not every new feature and innovation hits the mark, Sonic Superstars is a superb side-scrolling Sonic game that comes close to matching the magic of Sonic Mania.

The inventive stages, inspired bosses and stunning visuals come together to create a fantastic single-player experience that plays as good as it looks.


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