There is a general rule of thumb for the Sonic games: The 2D ones are superior to their modern 3D counterparts. There is always an exception to every rule and that comes in the form of Sonic Superstars. A 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game, but one that cannot compete with recent 3D offerings such as Sonic Colors: Ultimate and Sonic Frontiers.
In its own right, Sonic Superstars isn’t a bad Sonic game. It just does a heck of a lot poorly. Switching to 2D though is a good move, and graphically the cartoon look, as opposed to a retro one similar to Sonic Mania, works well enough. You will be transported through over ten different environments. Sure, if you have played any 2D Sonic game before, these will feel mostly familiar, but they are all varied enough from each other.
Some areas have one Act, others have two or three. There are also several types of bonus levels, with different levels of effectiveness, secret character exclusive levels, and more rings to collect than you will ever need.
Sonic Superstars put a real emphasis on multiplayer when it was first announced at Summer Games Fest 2023. This, coupled with the fact it was a 2D Sonic game meant that excitement was real. After all, Sonic had been doing pretty good even in the 3D plains with recent releases.
That multiplayer aspect though is extremely disappointing. It’s multiplayer in the same way that you could control Tails in Sonic the Hedgehog 2; if Sonic zoomed off and left Tails behind, tough. Sonic Superstars works exactly the same way, only this time additional players can press the A button to warp themselves back on screen.
You can initially choose from Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy. Each one plays just slightly differently from one another. After discovering Amy’s double jump ability though, she became my go-to character for the rest of the adventure.
As you are progressing, you can collect coins as well as rings. It isn’t made obvious what these are for, only that there is a shop (with some extortionate pricing for the amount of coins you collect I might add). Turns out, these coins can buy you cosmetic accessories for your robotic companion, who you will then be using in the game’s versus multiplayer component, Battle Mode.
Now, I don’t want to keep harking back to the past – but when you are talking about Sonic the Hedgehog this is nearly impossible – but Sonic 2 had one of the best multiplayer aspects of any game ever. Battle Mode in Sonic Superstars is at the total opposite end of the spectrum. In either local or online multiplayer you can partake in a trio of minigames earning points for your performance. After three rounds the winner is declared. Unfortunately, your robotic companion lacks any of the skills of the other characters, and even with the few cosmetics I was able to afford, lacked any personality too.
You will also be collecting emeralds once again, but this time these have special abilities associated with them. However, these are purely optional to use, and aren’t required to complete the levels. Outside of using them when prompted on screen once or twice a level, I found no use for these at all.
That’s the major issue with Sonic Superstars, all these unnecessary features are just that, unnecessary. Had this been promoted as a new single player 2D Sonic adventure it would have been received much better. To advertise it as multiplayer and then implement it so poorly is not a good look.
And then we get onto the bonus stages. By my count, there are three different ones, though to call one of these a stage is a stretch. That one is literally a portal you jump through, float through the air for 10-15 seconds, gather some rings and then are transported further along the level.
The main bonus stage where you can gather the Chaos emeralds is sketchy at best. You will see the emerald at the beginning; between you and it are hundreds of nodes you must grapple through whilst the emerald is moving. Oh and there’s a time limit, which counts down even when the game refuses to lock on to a node for you, leaving you falling and losing any momentum you had. I am not a fan.
The final bonus stage is a rehash of the original Sonic the Hedgehog’s bonus stage, where the maze rotates as you navigate it. This time around there are coins if you manage to complete them. There are three on offer for each version of the bonus stage. Items in the shop range from five coins to 200, so you’ll be doing a lot of these.
But perhaps the worst part of Sonic Superstars is the speed of it all. Old age must be creeping in for Sonic and co. as this is the slowest Sonic game I can remember playing. If you aren’t having to stop and start every few seconds because of the huge number of level traversal mechanics being thrown at you, then Sonic’s general speed is hugely disappointing. Even trying to administer a speed boost with a spin dash feels redundant in Superstars as it makes barely any difference.
Treat Sonic Superstars as another 2D Sonic adventure and it’s fine. Treat it as anything more, like it was advertised, and you will be disappointed. The new ideas brought to the table don’t work, and multiplayer is only fun for the person out in front. Honestly though, without split-screen and how Sonic levels are traditionally designed, it was never going to work having just the one screen for four characters all at once. This is just one bad idea in a Sonic game rife with them.