For the past fifteen years or so, Sega have had Sonic in an identity crisis of sorts as they attempted to appease fans. While we have seen a lot of 3D entries with Forces and Frontiers, we have also had great nostalgic winds with Mania and Generations, with the latter usually proving to be more successful from a critical standpoint. Sonic Superstars is more of an attempt to have the blue blur relive his glory days, featuring new mechanics with multiplayer and other minor nuances. How does this fare for this hyped release? Let’s find out.
Sonic and friends need to save animals from becoming robot minions due to Eggman’s usual antics. That sentence alone sums up about all of the narrative within Superstars. Sure, they brought back Fang and there are a few other faces involved, but the story still isn’t the strong point within this new romp. The real gimmickry is Tails, Knuckles, and Amy all joining in for the adventure, but sadly, Sonic Team fails to capitalize on this – as their involvement seems rather disjointed from the story, meaning you don’t get to see their characters do much outside of the gameplay side of things. That doesn’t mean much as this is a 2D Sonic title after all and this tale is trying to recapture simpler experiences, but it would have been a lot more interesting to see at least some sort of personalities or silliness on display instead of the empty box we were handed with Superstars. Ultimately, whats here is fine but a huge missed opportunity on bringing in some kind of freshness to a franchise that desperately needs refinement.
In most ways, this is a “by the book” adaptation of a 2D Sonic game. Players run along each 2D stage, bopping foes and gaining rings until they get to the end of the stage, where some sort of boss usually makes an appearance. The gameplay is actually pretty great. Sure, there isn’t a lot of speed that one would expect, but the platforming is fun and fluid, giving us at least a solid and safe Sonic title to chew on. I never had any issues with glitches or bugs as the game feels polished and well built from a technical standpoint, with a lot of throwback elements to keep things familiar as you progress through the 11 worlds within.
That said, it does feel like something is missing. It’s not the characters, as Sonic, Amy, Tails, and Knuckles still have their usual abilities in tow and feel fine for the most part. The missing elements feel like the life from the stages themselves. The courses all function and seem to flow nicely, but the stage design lacks interesting nuance to make these worlds come alive – as if they were built by a team without any creative insight. Everything just kind of exists without purpose, and while yes, you get to see familiar sights like loops, water, and so on, the game rarely feels connected with itself. Its as if you were just generated a level by a computer, and get to run through it while fighting a random boss at the end. It looks like Sonic, it performs well, but never manages to capture any sort of personality or whimsy like past titles of the franchise did. The characters have all of their uniqueness mostly – but never seem to be given any platform to make them feel special, as the outcome is always the same.
Sonic Team did try to add in things to mix up the gameplay, as now the Chaos Emeralds possess special powers to give you specific abilities. By clicking the right stick, you can summon avatars to attack enemies, get a jet of speed, and so on. These work fine, but I honestly would forget to use them as the game never provides a purpose to do so. Sure, I can summon more attack or do something unique, but there really isn’t a reason to as the stages are not designed to utilize this feature in any way. The boss battles are decent, but also have issues with feeling innovative as they all follow the same type of hit, wait, and hit again design that loses its luster quickly. The bonus stages are also a bit bland, and while they work, I found my interest slipping in seeking them out around the halfway point.
There is also a tacked on battle mode, which is for online or offline play – but it’s rather forgettable and not fun. Battle Mode has players given reason to use their collected goods to upgrade their appearance for a race, battle, or special stage against three other people, but the stages again feel uninspired and a bit generic, losing its entire appeal in “Sonic” speed. Listen, I don’t want to sound cynical as I love Sonic games and Superstars performs well so most should enjoy at least that aspect. The issue is that it feels like everything is disjointed and not built to utilize anything extra that was put in, including the characters themselves. There isn’t any sort of addictive charms we had with the originals, nor a feeling of mystery that makes you want to explore. Its just characters pasted into worlds that function, and that is a shame considering how much potential this title has behind it that just gets left behind.
The soundtrack is pretty great at least. The tunes all sound reminiscent of classic titles, but still ring in a new beat – giving us another great set of tunes to keep the volume up for. There isn’t any voice acting as the style is 2D, but without a narrative that calls for it, I suppose that is mostly acceptable for this outing. Other than that, the sound does its job with the ting of rings and minor effects, so while it may be a bit short of imagination, it at least sounds as it should.
Th graphics are also polished and look good enough, with bright colors and great animation that performs well as you power through each each stage. I think maybe that is why I was so sore about the gameplay, as the worlds are so vivid and unique, yet never feel like they have any distinct charms themselves. Remember folks, Sonic is a great character, but the stars of his past 2D titles have always been the level design, and sadly that is an afterthought here.
Sonic Superstars is a tough one. On one hand, this game performs well, and the characters are great. It is so good seeing Amy, Tails, and Knuckles playable again, and the stages at least give us those old vibes from the past for a serviceable experience throughout. This is a fine Sonic entry from a technical standpoint, but one that feels uninspired and dull, as it plays it safe and never manages to capture any sort of unique identity for itself, despite having all of the tools to do so. Its almost as if someone put in a formula into a computer on how to make a Sonic game, pasted in a few new mechanics, and left it at that. Sonic Frontiers may have been all over the place, but it at least took risks and embellished on what it was. Superstars is lacking substance and purpose, leaving it as one of the most hollow entries in years, despite it having solid gameplay. Those looking for a fun time with their old blue pal may find some entertainment here, but most will leave the experience a bit unfulfilled and underwhelmed as this title lacks the punch to hold up to its predecessors.
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