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Sonic Superstars puts a glossy spin on old Sonic the Hedgehog gameplay

Sega’s new 2D Sonic adventure tries a few new tricks

Knuckles, Amy, Tails, and Sonic the Hedgehog run through a level of Sonic Superstars with a waterfall, rainbow, and sunset in the background Image: Arzest, Sonic Team/Sega
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Sonic the Hedgehog returns for a new 2D adventure this fall with Sonic Superstars, Sega and Sonic Team’s best-looking game in the franchise yet. Despite its slick, modern look, Superstars has vintage Sonic bones. Co-developer Arzest appears to have painstakingly replicated classic Sonic physics in a style similar to 2017’s Sonic Mania, keeping the franchise’s core gameplay firmly rooted in its past.

Sonic Superstars does manage to switch up the high-speed 2D side-scrolling of Sonic games past with a few new tricks. The game’s roster includes Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose, and each has their own strengths and abilities. Sonic can drop dash; Tails and Knuckles can hover or float for easy platforming; and Amy Rose can double jump and whip out a colorful mallet to smack enemies.

More importantly, Sonic and friends can also utilize new Emerald Powers, evoking the power-up-infused gameplay of Sonic Colors. Using Emerald Powers, players can create clones of themselves, swim up waterfalls, and get the equivalent of X-ray vision to see hidden stage elements. The powers can be employed at almost any time, and are selected from a radial menu assigned to the right analog stick of a gamepad. The developers otherwise keep Sonic Superstars’ controls overly simple; it’s mostly controlled with just one button, but confusingly so. I rarely found myself actually using these new powers, instead relying mainly on tried-and-true Sonic platforming techniques.

Notably, for Sonic fans with kids or partners they want to rope into the franchise, Sonic Superstars can be played cooperatively, with up to four players at once. On paper, this is a compelling feature. In practice, Superstars’ co-op is incredibly frenetic, even with just two characters on screen. The fast-paced, “blast processing” gameplay that makes Sonic Sonic means characters will often be hurtling forward and leaving allies behind. During a recent hands-on session with the game, my poor Sonic Superstars co-op buddy spent most of his time respawning as I sprinted through the loops and launchers scattered throughout Bridge Island Zone. A player more considerate than me might play it a bit differently, more slowly, to accommodate their less experienced partner or child.

Sonic Superstars’ levels draw inspiration from classic Sonic designs. Bridge Island Zone could easily be mistaken for a previously unseen slice of Green Hill, and Pinball Carnival will give Sonic fans their Casino Night Zone fix, thanks to the level’s pop bumpers and flippers. More interesting is Cyber Station Zone, where members of Team Sonic can be transformed into voxelized versions of themselves or into other forms completely: scurrying mice, floating squids, rocket ships, and more. In these forms, character movement changes completely. The arcade-inspired Cyber Station level slows things down a bit, thanks to its frequent mechanics switching, and was the most enjoyable slice of Sonic Superstars I played.

Artwork of Trip from Sonic Superstars, she’s encased in copper-like armor, but has a furry tail and white gloves
Trip from Sonic Superstars
Image: Arzest, Sonic Team/Sega

Regardless of how you feel about Sonic the Hedgehog’s brand of gotta-go-fast platforming, it’s difficult to deny just how good Sonic Superstars looks. Sonic, Eggman, and returning bad guy Fang the Sniper look both classic and contemporary — every character is gorgeously lit and rendered, and at blistering high speeds. More intriguing is a new enemy, Trip, a clumsy and heavily armored creature of unknown species. She’s been enlisted by Fang and Eggman to “protect and guide them,” Sega says, in the game’s new region, Northstar Islands. Designed by original Sonic co-creator Naoto Ohshima, Trip’s true purpose (and probable face turn) in Sonic Superstars is compelling enough to warrant seeing the story through.

Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog’s classic 2D side-scrolling style can look forward to Sonic Superstars coming to just about every current gaming platform. Sega plans to release the game on Oct. 17 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

For another look at the game, check out the gallery below, which shows sections of Bridge Island, Pinball Carnival, Speed Jungle, and Cyber Station Zones.