Sonic Superstars feels like what the Sonic series has been working toward for years but hasn’t quite had the courage to do until now. The series has been leaning hard into nostalgia surrounding its speedy, 2D platforming roots with games like Sonic Mania reimagining old levels and Sonic Origins repackaging them for a new audience. Because the series has been leaning on some older tricks, Sonic Superstars is refreshing because we finally have something new in that old 2D framework.
I played two levels of Sonic Superstars at Summer Game Fest, opting to play as Amy and Tails over the blue blur. Amy’s hammer gives her some extended reach on her attacks, and Tails’ flight gives him more air time to reach high places and attack enemies in the air. For anyone who’s played classic Sonic games, this is the part you know and love.
Superstars feels like the sidescrollers of old but with gorgeous 3D paint that is vibrant and pops off the screen. Visually and mechanically, Superstars feels like it understands the appeal of a 2D Sonic without feeling so strictly beholden by the past that it has to use identical assets or levels to evoke a reaction. Spin-dashing through a level as Amy and passing by the gorgeous beach backdrop of one level made me want to slow down and take in the sights.
While it captures the essence of a classic Sonic games, it also adds its own twist with new, special abilities. The ones I was able to use included shapeshifting into a water form that lets you swim up through waterfalls and a cloning mode that let me spawn dozens of copies of myself to attack enemies. The first added a new layer to levels and the second let me overtake bosses with an army of little anthropomorphic guys.
This was only a small sample of the new mechanics in Sonic Superstars, and I’m already eager to see how others might change the way I’ve played these games for years. But admittedly, some of that excitement comes with the caveat that I don’t know if it will be enough for anyone who’s not already on board.
If 2D Sonic was never your jam, nothing I played tells me this is going to change your mind. It still feels like an old Sonic game, for better or worse. As a lot of those games do, Superstars feels slippery and sometimes unwieldy as your character picks up momentum, which I found especially frustrating in the boss fights, which despite clever design, tended to grind against the momentum my characters would build as I ran from one side of the screen to the other. There’s a precision to these fights that took me several attempts to nail down. It felt good when I accomplished that, but there are still lingering frustrations, and if that’s been the sentiment you’ve felt toward old Sonic games, that’s still intact in Superstars.
Paying tribute to an old style inevitability means the good and bad parts are a package deal, so Sonic Superstars feels like a modern take on something tried and true, but I’d be surprised if it won over anyone who wasn’t already frothing at the mouth for it. Still, I love seeing a 2D Sonic game with new ideas to explore, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them when Sonic Superstars comes to PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S later this year.