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Gamescom Preview: Sonic Superstars Is Manic Multiplayer Fun


Dreadknux

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Sonic made a big splash at Gamescom 2023, with SEGA's consumer booth featuring a treasure trove of blue blur goodies. From a restored 1990s UK statue to a massive LEGO Eggman Robot, there was a lot to get excited about. Of course, the upcoming Sonic Superstars was also on show, both with a Summer Game Fest demo for the public and a special look at the game's multiplayer mode behind closed doors.

Sonic Superstars - Gamescom 6-web.jpg

While we have already covered the public demo's contents from our platters back in June, I can add my own personal experience as to how it all plays and feels. In general, the game really does offer the same kind of inertia and physics that we are accustomed to in the 16-bit Sonic games (and re-introduced to perfection with Sonic Mania). Given the Mania development team's involvement in the initial pitch phase of what would eventually become Superstars, it's nice that - even though Christian Whitehead and Evening Star are not actually involved - the game feels like Arzest has taken the gameplay template from Mania and ran with it.

Bridge Island Zone promises a great time as a new 'Green Hill' style opening level, and for the most part it pulls it off! Curves and loop-de-loops aplenty, easy introductions to new concepts such as the Water Chaos Emerald power up, and a few imaginative tributes to scenarios you might recall from Sonic Adventure and others. The game plays with depth quite a bit as well, with Sonic and friends spinning and dashing from foreground to background and back again.

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The only thing that dulled things to a degree were the floating dash loops that shot you automatically from place to place - a novel gimmick on first play, and forgivable as a first Zone object, but did have a slight twinge of the game wanting to play the stage for me at certain points.

Speed Jungle was much more of a hi-octane stage, with various elements feeling very reminiscent of Chemical Plant Zone. Loads of opportunities to blast ahead at pace, with Sonic and pals automatically grinding on vines once they reach a certain running speed. These vines will curve up and down and you can choose to timely jump to switch lanes, just like the tubes at the start of Sonic 2's second level. But there will be speed traps in the form of cleverly-designed Badniks - frogs that will stick you with their tongues, and rocket-powered enemies that chase you while dashing along the vines.

Sonic Superstars - Gamescom 28-web.jpg

I was able to find time to play as all four characters and each one was a treat to play - and watch. The animations on these classic heroes are simply adorable, and really illustrate a level of love and care made to each model. Seeing Sonic go from open-mouthed confusion to determined frown as he starts running is exactly the kind of attention to detail I imagined for these characters when I was a kid playing the 16-bit prequels.

Amy Rose in particular is a great character to play, and would be a good choice for new players. She has a similar moveset to her last appearance in Sonic Origins Plus, only there are some significant tweaks. Jumping will have Amy spin with her Piko Piko Hammer, and this can protect her from certain obstacles and destroy spiked enemies when in this state - but after the mid-point of her jump she will revert to a standard jump spin, making her vulnerable (but still able to bop regular enemies like Sonic and co).

Sonic Superstars - Gamescom 16-web.jpg

She also has a Hammer Attack that works like Sonic's Drop Dash, but unlike Origins Plus Amy doesn't automatically rush forward when she lands, meaning you can choose to have her mash her hammer in a standing position or while running along, depending on how you're moving the character when you land.

Behind closed doors, I was able to experience two new stages that haven't been played before Gamescom - Pinball Carnival and Cyber Station. The former is your typical bouncing Sonic stage du jour, with bumpers, flippers and roulettes dotted throughout. It kind of reminded me of a cross between Carnival Night Zone from Sonic 3 and Sonic Advance's Casino Paradise. It was certainly a lot of fun.

Sonic Superstars - Gamescom 4-web.jpg

Cyber Station was the more interesting stage though, allowing Sonic Team and Arzest to really get creative with the gameplay. Offering almost Techno Base vibes (only a little less dramatic), this vibrant Zone has Sonic and pals run around a wireframe-decorated world with special areas that transforms the gang into strange voxel-based creatures and objects. Each transformation presented a different way of traversing the level - turning into a squid (or is it a jellyfish?) to float around the map, for example, or becoming a little pixelly mouse that can ride on electric power lines to jet from one platform to the next. You can even turn into a rocket, which sees you having to fight through obstacles and hit dash pads to reach a horizontal goal.

Two new Chaos Emerald powers were available to me during this demo build as well - a purple ability allows you to see invisible platforms and objects in the stage, giving you a chance to temporarily explore new areas, while a red 'fireball' skill turns you into a flaming rock of destruction that can be angled and shot in any direction you please.

Sonic Superstars - Gamescom 18-web.jpg

All of this would have been great to experience alone, but at Gamescom I was given the opportunity to play both of these new stages in the game's multiplayer co-op mode. Sonic Superstars allows for up for four players to run manically around together, but here I was only able to find one friend to play two-player.

Now, multiplayer modes in Sonic games have been extremely hit and miss - especially co-op modes, where you find that your Sonic will often outrun your sibling's Tails, making play pretty boring for at least one of you. Superstars tries to fix this by taking the 'New Super Mario Bros Wii' route and designing the game so that it tries to track all players at once on the same screen. When a player inevitably gets left behind, they can press a button to teleport straight to where the player of focus is, in order to catch up.

Sonic Superstars - Gamescom 12-web.jpg

In my playthrough, this 'rescue' feature was used very often by both my game partner and myself. We both found it quite fun (and funny) that we kept losing each other, but I suspect that SEGA will want to spend more time on the game's player-tracking algorithm to make sure there is a consistency in which player it ultimately tracks and why. It was sometimes difficult to understand why one of us was being picked as the focus character when the other ran too far forward or up/down.

But to be honest, I don't think this will be a mode that hardcore Sonic players will be bothered by too much. I can see this co-op mode being extremely fun and engaging for short, light-hearted gaming sessions with casual friends and family, so I don't think anyone else will be frustrated by the change of pace such a mode will introduce.

Sonic Superstars - Gamescom 2-web.jpg

One thing I will say though, is that to help account for the tracking of multiple players, the screen is actually zoomed out a little in the co-op mode compared to the single-player. And that may be my only gripe with playing Superstars solo at this point - maybe draw that camera back a little bit so I can see more of the environment around me, Sonic Team.

Besides that though, Sonic Superstars is shaping up to be a very special 2D platformer indeed. It seems to have the spirit of Mania's in terms of gameplay philosophy, and the heart and soul of the personality-steeped 16-bit classics. We'll have to wait until launch to see if the whole package makes the grade, but so far I like what I'm seeing.

Here are some more of the latest screenshots from the game, courtesy of SEGA PR:

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I watched this Gamexplain preview, it's solid and all, I'm kinda disappointed about the co-op mechanics, and that it doesn't seem fun in multiplayer, which is a shame because co-op in Sonic has so much potential, they should get it right eventually but it doesn't seem the case here, although I kinda disagree with them on the Chaos Emeralds powers, I welcome the idea, yeah maybe you have to stop to use them sometimes but it doesn't feel like a intrusive gimmick to me, and I'd rather use them than let them be "just there" and ignore them, because it's a fun feature IMO. The Battle mode from the trailer also seems like kind of weird, I'm not sure about it, but again, I welcome that they have multiplayer features, so I hope they improve them rather than say "it doesn't work, let's focus on single player modes".

Still, the game looks like a lot of fun, I'm getting the Steam digital deluxe, I hope the cosmetic parts are also for single player and not just the Battle mode robots, but seeing the Rabbit, Modern outfit for Amy and Lego skins, they should be included in single player too.

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The more I look at Superstars the more I like the way it looks. The characters look so cute.

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I need this game, man. I adore 2D platformers and I love the Classic Sonic games, so this is checking all the right boxes for me

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Sonic Superstars looks so fresh modern and colourful as well. And you know what It puts a smile on my face and makes me so happy the more new Sonic Superstars contents keeps coming.

I'm so ready to play Sonic Superstars I wish October comes quick so we can all enjoyed this game.

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13 hours ago, Red Hot Jack said:

 

I watched this Gamexplain preview, it's solid and all, I'm kinda disappointed about the co-op mechanics, and that it doesn't seem fun in multiplayer, which is a shame because co-op in Sonic has so much potential, they should get it right eventually but it doesn't seem the case here, although I kinda disagree with them on the Chaos Emeralds powers, I welcome the idea, yeah maybe you have to stop to use them sometimes but it doesn't feel like a intrusive gimmick to me, and I'd rather use them than let them be "just there" and ignore them, because it's a fun feature IMO. The Battle mode from the trailer also seems like kind of weird, I'm not sure about it, but again, I welcome that they have multiplayer features, so I hope they improve them rather than say "it doesn't work, let's focus on single player modes".

Still, the game looks like a lot of fun, I'm getting the Steam digital deluxe, I hope the cosmetic parts are also for single player and not just the Battle mode robots, but seeing the Rabbit, Modern outfit for Amy and Lego skins, they should be included in single player too.

This video shows Pinball Carnival Act... Fruit? Eh? Looks like a bonus act. That's neat.

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