Sonic Superstars (Switch) Review
We have had a fair amount of Sonic over the last few years, with a few bumpy starts and rough ports before Sonic Superstars was announced. Every time Sega comes out with a Sonic game with the intent of recreating the old Mega Drive hits, they often fall short. Can Sonic Superstars live up to Sega’s own expectations?
There isn’t much story here, but that’s hardly anything new for the old-school Sonic games. There’s Sonic Frontiers if you’re looking for that. Dr Eggman is working with Fang the Hunter and a new mysterious character called Trip. Sonic, Tails, Amy and Knuckles must stop Eggman and free all the little (and not so little) animals trapped in Eggman’s robots. Throughout your adventure, you’ll see other characters on their own adventure in the background; there are also Fang and Trip scenes regarding Eggman’s scheme, which doesn’t add much. At the end of the day, Dr Eggman has a heap of robots along with his own mechanical vehicles, and Sonic & friends have to destroy them.
With Tails, Amy and Knuckles along for the adventure, Sonic immediately seems like the odd one out. Tails can hover, Amy can double jump and swing a hammer, while Knuckles can glide and climb walls. Sonic is just Sonic. There is an additional character to unlock following at least one game playthrough. Trip is added to crew, with her own moves and a more unique Super transformation than the others.
Superstars tries to bring the old side scrolling Sonic into the modern day, and it suceeds, to a degree. The 2.5D visuals capture Sonic and crew well. There are quite a few zones, all visually distinctive from one another. Superstars looks the part for a modern update, and on the Switch, it doesn’t feel like it’s been too downgraded to cram it on the ageing hardware. As always, Sonic can go fast, and there are plenty of opportunities to speed around the Zones. These new Zones have a fair amount of platforming, which I know is not uncommon for a Sonic game, but it can feel like they slow everything down too often.
Chaos Emeralds now give Sonic and friends abilities to use for each Emerald unlocked. The first one is Avatar, which fills the screen with clones of yourself and destroys any enemies in your path. Bullet helps you speed along at any angle; another lets you see hidden platforms. To earn an emerald, you have to go through a bonus game where you need to swing around in a 3D space, trying to find a nearby point from which to launch Sonic. Initially, the bonus game isn’t too hard to get the emerald if you’re quick. The last few emeralds were maddening, it doesn’t help that the swinging around feels absolutely awful and out of place compared to the rest of the game.
Finding the Chaos bonus levels are just like Sonic 3/Sonic & Knuckles, you need to find the hidden warp ring to get whisked away. It bugged me then, and now it’s back it bugs me once again. I found it can be easy to be blasted through a level at high speed, and I wouldn’t even see the ring that warps you to the mini game to unlock it. What annoyed me most is that you’ll see the warp ring nearby and then you can find yourself immediately rushed off to the next section, with no real way to return. I do miss Sonic 2’s ‘go through a checkpoint with over 50 rings to get the bonus game’. While you can also get a bonus game at the checkpoints, it’s only for coins to use with buying robot parts. It is a nice touch having those bonus games being an update on the original Sonic’s rotating levels, with extra mechanics getting added in as you progress.
Ultimately, I very rarely used these abilities. It’s easy to forget you have them, outside of little on screen prompts that can pop up. You’ll likely want the gems to be able to unlock Super Sonic and the other Super versions of the other characters.
Sonic Superstars feels like it is still trying to find how to make a more modern-looking Sonic game that retains the spirit of the original games. In some cases, it succeeds; the new zones feel like they work, but I have never heard anyone asking for more water zones. You have some familiar themes like Casino, Jungle and Temple Zones, and they are different enough from the old similarly-themed zones. Some of them have quite fun gimmicks, such as being turned into pixelated versions, being showered with rings for a nefarious reason and one final level gimmick, which I won’t spoil, but it was pretty cool. Some, or more notably one less fun gimmicks also let down Zones, most notably the Press Factory Zone and its race to turn off timers counting down to imminent death.
Boss battles in Sonic Superstars are where it feels like the game makes a big misstep. It not only hurts the end of each Zone with a new frustration, it also risks making it less likely people will want to see the game through, let alone jump into multiple playthroughs. A lot of these boss fights don’t feel great when you add in Sonic’s physics and movement speed. Deeper into the game the boss battles become downright unpleasant and really soured me on the last quarter of the game. Prepare for long multistage battles, with limited or no opportunities to recover rings and no checkpoints. While boss fights aren’t meant to be easy, it sucks when the game makes it more tedious. I’m getting fairly old now, I grew up with those old Sonic games so I know to expect some tough boss fights, but I can’t imagine kids would want to persevere here. For a Sonic game it already feels like the game has slowed down in its general pace, with the amount of time it takes to wait out boss attack patterns it becomes downright sluggish.
If you want to jump on with friends, you can have up to four players join in, although don’t expect split-screen. Honestly, it’s a mess. With the screen staying focused on one character, it might as well not have been an option. This brings us to Battle Mode and Time Attack Mode. Battle Mode is where you can build your own robot to pit against CPU and other players. You can customise your robot with purchasable parts, using the Sonic coins you’ve collected through the Zones. There are different challenges to compete for, such as collecting, racing and battles. I’m not entirely sure who this mode is for, the robot parts feel quite pricey and depend on you really wanting to do a lot of bonus levels to earn more. Battle mode feels like a tacked-on bonus mode that people will play for a few minutes and never return to. Time Attack Mode is very straightforward; go fast and try to beat the challenge times.
For the most part, Superstars looks nice and runs well on the Switch. The framerate is generally smooth throughout without turning the visuals into a smudgy mess. All that said, later boss fights tended to get choppy, and compared to the rest of the game, it is noticeably rough. Overall, it looks and runs better than expected if you can overlook the odd slowdown at specific moments.
Sonic Superstars isn’t a bad Sonic game; it captures what the fondly remembered games got right in several ways. On the other hand, it seems to have forgotten some of the other things classic Sonic did better. Between the level design and the boss battles, Sonic feels robbed of speed and is weighed down by some genuinely frustrating battles.
+ Manages to do a decent job at capturing the classic Sonic platformer
+ Runs well (mostly) and looks good
- Most sub boss/boss battles frustrate
- Battle mode adds little