Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Sonic Superstars Review - Reimagined 2D Sonic At An Expensive Price


I ended up not enjoying Sonic Frontiers as much as I had wanted to. Promising an epic new open world experience for Sonic, it started off good, but just got worse as the game went on. With it's excruciatingly lengthy overworlds on each Island, to very wonky and button mashy combat, terrible voice acting from the modern Sonic voice cast, questionable plot, and frustrating mini game challenges. To me it didn't feel like a Sonic game, and when Update 3's "Final Horizon" came out a month ago, that was enough for me to finally say "I don't enjoy this game. It isn't Sonic, no matter how much it says it is." It fails to get you to point A to point B, most of the time you have to run around for ages mindlessly before finding out what to do in bland looking overworld environments. I wanted a change.

Sonic Superstars is Sega's latest installment, this time based on the Classic Sonic formula but in a new take in 3D rather than in 2D. Mostly, Classic Sonic is the acquired taste of elitist fans, which certainly isn't me, as I enjoy both classic and modern games. I wouldn't call Sonic Superstars a "Classic" game, as it's newly released in the series very confusing timeline thanks to Ian Flynn, separating itself from the series' older levels like Green Hill Zone & Chemical Plant. It relies soley on brand new and original levels, (so why is it a "Classic" game?) which is a welcome change. I've been getting sick of every Sonic game since 2011 using Green Hill and Chemical Plant over and over again. 

From the start, Superstars can fetch up to a whopping $94 AUD in Australia, which is a ridiculously expensive ask for a 2.5D Sonic game, and not very many extra features. Considering Super Mario Wonder, Nintendo's new 2D Mario offering, is still at the modest price of $68 AUD. Sonic Superstars is a very expensive way to enjoy classic Sonic. Not putting up with any of this elitism, I decided to trade in a few old games that I didn't really play anymore, so I didn't have to pay for this game. This way, so i'm happy at that decision.

From the beginning of the game, the Title Screen does actually look really nice, but it's ruined by a terrible and clunky soundtrack from Jun Senoue and Tee Lopes. In fact, the main game's soundtrack is mostly terrible and forgettable, despite an odd track or two (I liked Speed Jungle Act 2's music, that's about it). Act 1 music is done by Jun Senoue and Act 2 music is done by Tee Lopes. The problem with Sega is that they often call Jun Senoue to work on 2D games. It usually ends up being a mistake. Remember Sonic 4? He worked on that soundtrack too, and it was also awful. He needs to stay away from those retro-style Genesis Drum samples, which are heavily overused throughout the game and get really annoying. The music is certainly not 'Sonic Mania' friendly. Even I can do a better soundtrack than this, the OST lacks famous guitars from Jun Senoue that we all know and replaces them with ear-piercing sounding MIDI synths. The 'songs' are mostly just a 20 second loop of random MIDI synth notes. It isn't even melodic.


Whenever SEGA have done something good, like Mania, they often move away from what made the last games great and do something else that is not as good. It's frustrating on all levels for Sonic fans who are screaming at them to do good games or to get back to their roots. The main menu in Superstars is very bland and yellow. There are only 3 options to choose from. There is no extras menu which is disappointing and not much art on the screen. We could have gotten at least some character art or replayed cutscenes or an extras menu but no.

Speaking of cutscenes, the main introduction video runs on a terrible frame rate with some obvious Sonic animation mistakes. Considering this runs on Xbox Series X and PS5 the frame rate for the intro should be smooth, but it's janky and suffers from frame rate issues. When you go into the game's main cutscenes, the framerate improves slightly. While the animated cutscenes provide a nice touch, they don't really provide that much entertainment. However - the best thing about Superstars in my opinion is that there is no voice acting. I have been vocal in the past at how much I dislike the current voice actors for Sonic the Hedgehog since 2010, and it's really nice to not have to hear them in this game at all. The animated cutscenes are also confusing, as they are mostly short and do not provide much explanation to anything that's going on.


Animation error in the Sonic Superstars opening cutscene. Oops!

It's unusual for a Sonic game to be released in October, as they are most oftenly released sometime in November, before the Christmas Holiday season. I am sure it's because they are trying to compete with Super Mario Wonder that also releases in the same month just a few days apart. However, I feel like if they did release it in November they would have had more time to fix up the game and maybe add in more content, such as extra levels or bonus unlockables, changeable game difficulty etc. Sega's latest obsession with "everything's gotta be hard" really has been bothering me lately. Like the Sonic Frontiers New Horizons update, extreme difficulty does suck out the fun of what could be an enjoyable and casual experience.

If I said one nice thing about Superstars,  is that unlike Sonic Frontiers, it's much easier to get from Point A to Point B. There is basically no plot, and Fang & the new character Trip are completely thrown under the bus and hardly appear at all.

The Island Zones are all original this time round. First stage is the oceanic view with an uninspiring title of Bridge Island Zone (not to be confused with Bridge Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog on the Game Gear). Here are the main levels for the game:

- Bridge Island Zone
- Speed Jungle Zone
- Sky Temple Zone
- Pinball Carnival Zone
- Lagoon City Zone
- Sand Sanctuary Zone
- Press Factory Zone
- Golden Capital Zone
- Cyber Station Zone
- Frozen Base Zone
- Egg Fortress Zone

While it does offer a lot of original levels over 2 acts each, I find the names mostly uninspiring, such as Sand Sanctuary Zone, which is too close to Sky Sanctuary Zone, Press Factory Zone, which is too close to Sonic Mania's Press Garden Zone, Egg Fortress Zone, i'm sure we've had this name before. Despite the generic names the levels were more original than I thought. I really enjoyed Speed Jungle especially act 2, having the fog surround you while you are running about without being able to see anything in front, behind, above or below you is a really creative idea. Sky Temple is filled with a bunch of these fidget spinner things that help you fly around in the stage. When you land on the platforms sometimes they crumble underneath you by surprise. I really like the way the levels are played out. They are well desiigned and the backgrounds look gorgeous, with bright and vibrant colour, something Sonic Frontiers was truly lacking with it's bland and mostly grey scaled dull looking environments. However most levels reuse old assets - which is something that Sonic Team have been doing for years now. There is a casino level, for example. Pinball Carnival Zone, then later on there is another level called Golden Capital Zone. It's basically just another Pinball stage with flippers, bingo and springs again.

You can play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy at any time. Even if you quit the game and come back later, despite where you last left off you can choose between Sonic, Tails, Knuckles or Amy without having to restart the entire game. This is good. Each character has their own moveset. Sonic can run, Tails can fly, Knuckles can glide and Amy can use her hammer. You can also play this game in Multiplayer Mode 4 player co-op but it doesn't work very well. Once other characters fall behind the screen, they are set idle until they are broken free again and this happens a lot considering how fast Sonic is. There is also some kind of new Battle Mode for online gameplay but it's overall a janky and messy experience. 
You have these new moves called Avatar Powers. They are a lot like wannabe Whisps from Sonic Colours. They are not really at all useful. You have a scroll wheel to unlock all of these moves that kind of help you get through the levels but you don't need them. You can easily go through the game without having to bother using any of these Avatar Powers. 

While I don't think that Sonic Superstars is at all 'best game of 2023', 'best Sonic game ever', it's a nice way to play a new Sonic game in all new environments. Though it's not enough to compete with Mario Wonder, with it's horrendously clunky soundtrack, painfully frustrating boss fights and generic level design that makes this game feel more like a tax write off than an amazing and fun experience. If only it was released a month later, it could have had more time to improve game play experience, add extra unlockables for bonus value and improve multiplayer co op experience. The price tag of $90 for a mainline 2D Sonic game is a bit much to ask, especially on Switch, making it more expensive than mainline Nintendo games such as Zelda Tears of the Kingdom and Super Mario Wonder, for whatever reason.

Sonic Superstars is out now on PS5, Xbox Series X, Switch & PC. 


- New & original vibrant and colourful levels
- No voice acting from the awful modern Sonic voice cast. You don't have to mute your TV.
- Easy to pick up and play at any time

- The music soundtrack composed by Jun Senoue & Tee Lopes feels terribly lazy and is overly forgettable
- Multiplayer & Battle Mode are a mess
- There is no extra unlockables menu option or bonus content
- Animated cutscenes feel generic and rushed with poor quality frame rate issues
- Knack the Weasel's appearance is quite forgettable, as is Trip, the new character which looks like he's straight out of LittleBigPlanet
2 stars out of 5

No code was provided from the publisher for this review.

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