There's a certain thrill that comes from classic 2D Sonic games when you're in the groove. Spin dashing up a ramp, going through loops, effortlessly bouncing between springboards -- Sonic is at his best when he's riding that fine line between exhilarating and overwhelming. I’m happy to say that the recently revealed Sonic Superstars has all the makings to be a great high-speed platformer.
I had the opportunity to play a preview build of Sonic Superstars at Summer Game Fest in Los Angeles. Overall, it’s a promising look at what could be a fantastic Sonic game, and it adds a few interesting twists and spins on the classic formula to keep things fresh, all while keeping true to Sonic's strengths.
I played two stages, each of which had two acts back to back. When I picked a stage, I could choose from Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy. I only had time to run through stages as Sonic and Amy, both of which felt fairly similar for the large part. Sonic has all his classic moves, while Amy, on the other hand, swings her hammer around in the initial arc of her jump, giving her more attack range. She can double jump, too.
Regardless of who I was playing, I had a blast exploring the absolutely gargantuan levels. Much like Sonic Mania, there’s a focus on verticality and exploration here, and I’m sure if I replayed a level, I wouldn’t get to the end the same exact way. There are a lot of paths to see, though you might miss some details while you’re rolling around at the speed of sound.
Rushing from a loop to a ramp to a series of bounce pads feels great here. There are occasional moments where you have to slow down for precision platforming, but Sonic Superstars knows when to let you off the leash and just enjoy the ride. The environmental interactions feel pretty fresh, too. I ran into a loop that required me to run it eight times, building to a huge jump, and lots of “on rails” moments play with perspective, swapping you between the foreground and background without missing a step.
The bonus stages feel pretty unique, as well. I had one where I was falling down an endless pit, collecting coins until I warped out. Another one did the same but in reverse -- so I was falling up. To get a Chaos Emerald, I had to chase one down while swinging from orbs, sort of like a Spider-Man situation. I had to time my arcs right, or I would end up moving slower or miss an orb.
The most striking new addition to the Sonic formula, in terms of gameplay, is the powers. Each Chaos Emerald grants you a new power, and in the demo build, I had two abilities. One shrouds Sonic in water, allowing him to jump up waterfalls or interact with a sort of water slingshot. Presumably, there are other possible interactions, depending on the stage.
The other power, duplicate, floods the screen with Sonics who run around, damaging enemies and collecting items. It's useful for wiping a screen when you're surrounded by enemies, but it also comes in handy when you see an item you can’t quite reach.
Both powers come with a cooldown, so you can't spam them, but I never felt like I was sitting around waiting for them. After all, if I waited too long, Sonic would get bored and lay back. You select your power with the right stick, which brings up an eight-section wheel -- presumably one for each Chaos Emerald, plus an extra power. However, the game is also context sensitive, often selecting a relevant power when you're near a waterfall, for example. You don't have to activate it, but it's a nice quality-of-life option.
Sonic Superstars really lives up to its tagline, “New Thrills. Classic Feels.” There’s a lot about it that hearkens back to the classic 2D days. But the added powers, the new bonus stages, and the fresh environmental gimmicks give the game a sense of newness. If you’ve been waiting for a sequel to Sonic Mania, Sonic Superstars might be your next best bet. We’ll have to wait until it launches this fall on consoles and PC.
Sonic Superstars was previewed on a Nintendo Switch on an early build at Summer Game Fest Play Days. All screenshots are provided by Sega.