Back in the 90s, the UK’s official Sonic the Hedgehog comic book – cannily titled ‘Sonic the Comic’ – coined a nickname for its readers, the Sonic fans. ‘Boomers’.
The comic’s mascot, Megadroid (a sort of highly-advanced, sentient Mega Drive), would greet readers every week with the phrase. And now, many of the fans who read that comic back in the day are a bit like the other sort of Boomer – that is to say, out of touch with what the youth of today are into, and hopelessly lost in the past.
I was an STC Boomer then, and I still am now, then. I appreciate many of the newer Sonic games (Frontiers was actually pretty damn good) but I still yearn for the good old days. Sonic Mania was a dream come true, then. And so too, on paper, is Sonic Superstars.
The idea of an all-new 2D sonic but with 3D art is enticing, even if I was distraught to learn the team behind Sonic Mania wasn’t coming back. I understand why Sega wanted to make this in-house, and I get the reasoning and need for the 3D art, as it’ll have broader appeal in the modern market than pixel art. Equally as vital is that this game feels right, though – and so Sega has gone to great lengths to recreate every aspect of the Mega Drive physics for this latest outing.
The result? Sonic 4 this ain’t. That disastrous Xbox Live Arcade mess was a sort of George Lucasian steamer curled onto 2D Sonic’s legacy. But with lessons learned from Mania, Superstars is doing it right.
At a recent hands-on, I got to experience several levels of the game, including a few classic Sonic staples. Pinball Carnival feels like a fairly literal mash-up of Carnival Night (Sonic 3) and Casino Night (Sonic 2), for instance. Cyber Station, meanwhile, is a descendent of the classic Robotnik bases, from Flying Battery (S3K) to Scrap Brain Zone (Sonic 1).
Anyway, the physics are pretty damn close to spot on. I actually don’t think they’re exactly 1:1 in the way that Sonic Mania was; it feels subtly different in small ways. But it’s close enough, within a few minutes of play, I’d made adjustments and the old muscle memory was beginning to fire back up. This is what Sonic Mania felt like, and for an old Sonic head like me that was a 10/10, a game of the year contender.
Sonic Superstars doesn’t feel quite like that, however, even though it does feel immediately brilliant. There’s a few nitpicks that rear their head.
The music, for instance. I don’t love it. This soundtrack is being led by the legendary Jun Senoue, whose music on the 3D Sonic games I resoundingly love. The Sonic Adventure scores are all-time bangers. But here, Senoue shoots for a Mega Drive-like sound, in particular with drums sampled straight from the original games… and it just feels a bit cheap.
The much-advertised co-op doesn’t feel very thrilling, either. I played with another member of the media, and honestly, it didn’t do much for me. The 2D Sonic formula is fast and frenetic – it’s hard for a co-op player to keep up. This was the same playing as Sonic & Tails in those original games, but that was always framed as a casual bonus – a way a younger sibling could come along for the ride. Superstars wants to sell it as a proper co-op mode. I honestly don’t buy that. One player is inevitably always regularly left behind and forced to respawn, which isn’t very fun in a game all about momentum.
But for these complaints, there’s much of Sonic Superstars I just adore. I love the idea of the Emerald Powers, which adds new super-power moves to each Chaos Emerald you garner. I also adore the gimmicks I saw on these two levels: Cyber Station in particular is packed with little beats that offer a bit of visual and gameplay flair. Likewise, the bosses are all unique – and in a couple of places, surprisingly old-school difficult.
I also think the Chaos Emerald mini-game, where you swing like Tarzan through a psychedelic landscape, is up there with Get Blue Spheres. These pluses add up and go a long way to make those negatives fade into the background. Basically, it all has the right energy – and I guess for a throwback like this, that’s the most important thing.
Sonic Superstars is set to release for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, and PC on October 17.
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