The modern-classic approach to Sonic has been an interesting one to watch unfold. Arguably kicked off with Sonic the Hedgehog 4, it was in titles like Sonic Generations and Sonic Mania where things really found footing. Each of those were developed by different teams, and for the just revealed Sonic Superstars another is taking their shot at the speedy icon.
While there may be some trepidation seeing the name “Arzest” tied to anything these days, I’m a bit more optimistic. Some of that comes from adoring the work they put into Streetpass Mii Plaza, some from this marking the return of Naoto Ohshima to the Sonic series; but there’s also the fact I recently got to play Superstars.
Yes, courtesy of Summer Games Fest I’ve had about half an hour of playtime with Sonic Superstars. Specifically the PlayStation 5 version, so I can’t speak to any Switch specifics.
During that window we gave all four of its playable characters – including the immediate correct choice of Amy Rose – a try, and went through two zones’ worth of stages. While there are some faint concerns on level design, the important pieces all feel like they’re in place, with new ones entering the equation to give the game its own identity.
That really does feel like the biggest and most impressionable aspect right out the gate, too. Sonic Superstars manages to nail both the Classic aesthetic of the series while also working in appealing design elements to its backgrounds and set pieces that are unique to its vibrant look. The Northstar Islands are gorgeous to take in, serving as a great backdrop for this all new adventure.
Story wasn’t touched upon, though some could be inferred. For example, when choosing Amy we were treated to a brief cutscene featuring her and some animal friends. Sonic and Tails were instead tailing Fang the Sniper via plane before touching down on Bridge Island. Unfortunately we didn’t glimpse Knuckles’ own (I’d assume Emerald based) motivations, but it’s all very much in line with the series’ past means of narrative presentation.
In terms of gameplay, I walked away impressed by what Sonic Superstars manages. While there’s no denying the exceptional feel that Mania brought, I was quite fond of Generations’ take on Classic Sonic. Sonic Forces might have tried, but Superstars is actually delivering. It’s both reminiscent of that approach while feeling more like it belongs to the evolution of the series, as opposed to a reverent replication of it. Jumps and acceleration feel good, the overall pace is a nice balance of blistering and deliberate (that is, I seldom felt “lost” while hitting top speed and could still spot opportunities to maintain it), and what slower platforming encountered didn’t ever feel sluggish or contrary to the experience.
As far as characters go, everyone felt as you’d expect. Sonic manages to feel like a solid baseline, though he does maintain the Drop Dash as a unique skill. Tails can fly, Knuckles can glide and climb, and then there’s Amy. While she’ll officially make her debut in Sonic Origins Plus later this month, this marked the first time I’ve gotten to play as Classic Amy. Bringing a double jump and the ability to use her Piko Piko hammer in some instances, she fits in with the rest as a unique option full of charming animations and personality.
New to Superstars are Emerald Powers. These are earned by catching up to a Chaos Emerald in the game’s new, grapple-based Special Stages and give players additional options for exploration and combat. They’re… fine. During the demo we never seemed to find a really impactful spot to use the two on offer.
Water, which allows you to ascend high quality H2O (while looking a bit Wisp-empowered, dare I say), only really felt like course correction as opposed to a compliment to speedy platforming. Being able to get back onto an upper route or reach some kind of collectible (we got a lot of Medals during our demo session, but no idea as to what they’ll do in the final game) is handy but also something that Tails and Knuckles can typically accomplish with their own skill sets.
Avatar on the other hand was as entertaining as it was ambiguous. This summoned a tidal wave of Sonics (or Amys, or whoever you’re playing as) to rush across the screen. My attempts to use this against a miniboss only got me smacked in the face and nothing encountered would point to another practical application outside of combat. This one has me more curious than disappointed, and I’m eager to see what else ends up filling out the Emerald Power radial wheel.
My only current gripes stem from some of Superstars level design sensibilities. Touched on briefly above, there are a few things that feel present with no real intent behind them. Warps through ring filled freefalls felt counterintuitive to building up momentum. Each act seemed to have a gimmick or two – Speed Jungle’s were grinding rails, bungie vines, and darker areas that could be illuminated with butterflies, for example.
That’s a little close to Sonic 4 sensibilities from where I’m sitting, where these would exist without feeling overly impactful as set pieces. These didn’t mar the whole experience, but I’d often catch myself wondering “why” after running through these moments.
There’s still much to learn when it comes to Sonic Superstars, but what was on hand made a great impression. We didn’t get to sample multiplayer at all this go around leaving it up in the air how characters might interact with each other – Sonic Advance 3 combos would be a dream. With the few exceptions noted, it’s become a game I’m eagerly anticipating, and one we’ll be covering all the way up to its multi-platform release later this year.