Sonic Superstars (PC) - Review
, posted on 19 November 2023 / 3,090 Views
If there has ever been a game that seems to indicate a company losing its way, it's Sonic Superstars. Following on from Sonic Mania a few years back, it makes you wonder how things could ever turn out to be so bad. It's 2023, not 1991. Back then we could accept that Marble Zone and Starlight Zone didn't really have much going for them; they were simply a starting point for the franchise. We would soon get two sequels, with Sonic 3 & Knuckles being the best of the bunch on the SEGA Genesis. The only logical answer to why Sonic Superstars could be so bad is that it had a low-budget development process. It looks, sounds, and feels like it did at least.
One of the few things Sonic Superstars manages to get right is what you really need in a proper 2D Sonic game: solid physics. No, they're not perfect, but they're close enough to not hinder the experience. The characters feel as they should, for the most part, with one exception being that Knuckles can't use enemies to gain height while gliding. Overall, it feels great to run, jump, and dash through Superstars' levels, and my complaints about this area of the game are extremely minor.
Outside of that, the music is honestly the only other positive aspect of the game, although even that remark comes with caveats. The strong music tracks are really good, but when a track doesn't fit into this category then it tends to be downright awful. Composer Tee Lopes returns after working on other strong titles in recent years, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge, Streets of Rage 4, and of course Sonic Mania. The soundtrack here is a collaboration and all of Tee Lopes' tracks sound great.
Franchise veteran Jun Senoue returns as well, however there's something that should be said about his inclusion. In the days of the SEGA Genesis, music had to be specially re-created using the console's internal sound chip. So, for example, Senoue would create a track using a real-life instrument, and then someone else on the sound team would re-create a chiptune version of it using the SEGA Genesis hardware. Fans have already created remixes of some of Senoue's Sonic Superstars themes using the Genesis soundfont - and they sound great. Unfortunately, his themes as they are in the game proper don't sound good at all, simply because they feel like a failed attempt at trying to hit a few nostalgia points. The only exception to this is the Press Factory Zone; his other tracks sound as if they're heavily inspired by Sonic 4, but only Press Factory Zone is successful in doing what they were truly intending to achieve.
The first three Zones are so mind-numbingly boring that it's a chore to get through them; Superstars doesn't begin to feel the least bit fun until Pinball Carnival. Most stages feature uninspired level design, bland visuals, and unnecessary gimmicks that completely take away control from the player for a few seconds. Bridge Island Zone features a nails-on-chalkboard main melody that's painful to listen to, while being an uninspired cross between Green Hill Zone and the scrapped ruins-themed stage from Sonic CD. And Speed Jungle & Sky Temple Zones are just more of the same. Bosses also have long, drawn-out animation sequences, and are basically in-game cut scenes that give you a few seconds to hit the boss a single time before things revert back to cut scene mode.
The graphics are bright and shiny, but at the same time stale and lifeless, giving off a Fisher-Price look to the game. And stage backgrounds are mostly plain with large, flat textures. As you're going down a slide, up a water spout, or floating in the air, you'll notice the lifeless expressions of the characters. They don't seem to be in control of their situation, instead they look as though they're powerless, lost, confused, and have no idea of what's happening around them. The “attitude” that Sonic is known for has been entirely removed; it feels as though he's a lost child trying to somehow stop Dr. Robotnik. While I believe the 3D look could work, the visuals here needed a major overhaul and a cartoon/stylized shader of some kind.
I could see children finding Sonic Superstars fun (and the Kanji-free Japanese language option, which is specifically for early readers, suggests this may be one of the target markets). They'll likely have fond memories of Superstars in about 10 years' time, much like I still go back to Jumping Flash! & its sequel, and have a blast doing so specifically because of the nostalgia involved. But I wouldn't dare recommend anyone play those games today with fresh eyes. The same is true for Sonic Superstars, which feels like it'll be nothing more than a mostly-forgotten footnote, similar to Jumping Flash! and most of the early PlayStation library.
There are some multiplayer options, however, the heavily-advertised main attraction of 4-player co-op is offline-only. There's also a Battle mode, which can be played online or offline, but it's nothing more than a collection of mini-games, including racing, collecting, and being the last player to stay on a platform while avoiding hazards. It's not all that fun or compelling - I can't imagine many people trying them more than once. Finally there's a Story mode, but it too is done in the laziest, low-budget way. There's no voice acting - every character is silent - and there aren't even any text bubbles to read. Instead you're expected to follow along with character actions to figure out what's happening, which makes it hard to care or be interested in what little narrative exists.
Overall, there's too much wrong with Sonic Superstars. Despite the platforming physics being fine, and some of the soundtrack fantastic, it's simply not worth the asking price. You'd be better off listening to the game's soundtrack on YouTube while playing the far superior Sonic Mania instead. Younger children might find some enjoyment here, but it's not a game for everyone - and definitely not one for me. Sonic Superstars is ultimately nothing short of a major letdown.
This review is based on a digital copy of Sonic Superstars for the PCRead more about our Review Methodology here