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  • TSS Hands-On Preview: Sonic Superstars

    Classic Sonic returns with a new coat of paint but an old school feel.

    When it came to revamping Sonic in 2D, Sonic 4: Episodes 1 and 2 didn’t exactly bring about a new, exciting era. In fact, it failed to thrill most fans. Sega tried again with Sonic Mania, this time bringing the franchise back to its 16-bit roots, and it was a pretty big success. However, SEGA and Sonic Team seem determined to make a more modern, HD polygonal interpretation of 2D Sonic work, one that turns “Classic Sonic” into its own branch of the franchise. I recently got the chance to check out Sonic Superstars at the Summer Game Fest in Los Angeles. Does the game hold up to the classics, or do we have another Sonic 4 on our hands?

    The game’s story starts depending on which character you’re playing. Sonic and Tails story starts on the tornado in chasing Fang, who has captured a very large flicky, presumably for Dr. Eggman. Meanwhile, Amy is petting some of the small animal friends when she sees Sonic’s plane in pursuit of Fang and she decides to chase after her hero. Knuckles is chilling next to the Master Emerald when he also spots the Tornado. All four are on the chase to stop Fang and Eggman and free these new, super-large animal buddies.


    I started my half-hour demo with Amy Rose since she’s never been a playable character in these classic adventures (until Sonic Origins Plus launches at least). Her special ability is a double jump. If the jump button is held down when she lands, it can be followed up by her running forward and smashing her hammer, destroying any badniks or breakable objects in her path. The other characters all have the same abilities from past games. Sonic can drop-dash, Knuckles glides and climbs (and can really help you skip past large areas), and Tails flies.

    There’s a surprising amount of new badniks, along with the returning assortment of crabmeats and the like. The buzzbombers now fire full laser streams instead of short laser bursts. The new badniks can have some clever new methods of attack, too! There’s a dragonfly one that disguises itself as a monitor before attacking. Then there are golden badniks you can find hidden in each zone, which can reward you with a gold medal when destroyed. What these medals do is unknown to me so far, but there were several to collect in my playthrough.

    While we’re talking about hidden items, let’s talk about bonus stages! I experienced three different types during my playthrough. The first one is unlocked by finding a giant ring similar to Sonic 3. This leads to an open space environment where you swing across on a grapple laser as you try to hunt down either an emerald or a medal. You only go after medals if you have already got the emerald in that zone. It’s basically like a homing attack meets Spider-Man web-swinging. The only challenge to it is that you can sometimes swing away from your target. There are also little boosts in the level that can shoot you quickly towards or away from the emerald depending on where it’s aiming. I went through three of these and they were fairly easy each time. 

    The second one was a surprise as I didn’t see it when other press were playing the demo. It seems if you go fast enough you can cause a warp to appear that you can jump into. This leads to a short level of you bouncing forward and collecting rings until it ends and it seems that you’re now on a different part of the zone. I think. My memory is a little hazy on that part.

    Finally, the third (and my favorite) stage is found when passing by goalposts with enough rings, which opens up a portal you can jump into, just like in the classic games. This time you are in a floating and constantly spinning maze very similar to the ones from Sonic 1. Only now, your mission is to collect the gold medals instead of a chaos emerald. This is not very easy as there are a lot of red spikes you can accidentally hit that will end your level.

    Fortunately, there are triggers you can hit that will either block the red triangles or change the maze to help keep your path going. They can be tricky to get to, but necessary to finish the level. I quickly died on my first attempt but managed to pass it the second time. I then found a second maze level even tougher and cheered as I scraped by with the final path full of red spikes. It was very thrilling!


    Now, I’ve talked about the bonus stages, but what about the main ones? The demo featured two zones with two acts each: Bridge Island and Speed Jungle. Bridge Island starts out like a recolored Green Hill but soon differentiates itself with large, open pathways, providing plenty of room to explore the environment. There are some boost pads and launchers, but not so many that it forces you onto a single path. 

    Rather, you can choose which booster to take you towards which path you want. They range from curved boosts in the sky to maze-like tunnels reminiscent of the ones from Stardust Speedway. One of the new things you can do is run along curved walls. It’s a little different from Sonic 2 in that you can hold up to run up the path higher and you don’t need to be running full speed. You can also climb up waterfalls using the new water power. This leads to new areas you couldn’t get to without it. I’ll go into more detail on these new “emerald powers” later. 


    The first act ends with a giant sea monster badnik chasing after you in a fashion very similar to the killer whale in Sonic Generations 3DS. Just surviving causes the badnik to smash itself and free the massive animal buddy inside. The second boss is an encounter with a big Eggman mech, which tries to smash you with boxing gloves. You can either run between its legs and attack from behind or wait for its attack to aim and fire, then dodge and do a jump attack. Targeted attacks by the bosses were a definite theme in this demo. One thing I really like is that when standing still in boss fights, Sonic and friends’ stance changes from still and impatient, to fists drawn and ready to fight. It’s a very nice touch.


    While Bridge Island feels a little familiar, Speed Jungle feels more modern. From Tarzan-like sliding among moss-covered branches to being launched in the air by jungle vines, the zone has a unique feel to it. I will say, there are times when it felt more automated than the previous zone. Like being launched from a giant vine into a sliding branch only to be bounced around by other, short vines. Definitely not as automated as some Sonic games, but it gave me some Sonic Rush vibes. There are still branching paths, but once a path is chosen, it’s hard to go back and try a new one.

    The mini-boss for this zone is a giant wasp-like badnik powered by a giant blue flicky bird. It’s got two methods of attack: a grappling hook that it aims and fires at you, and a bunch of laser balls that will drop down from the top of the screen. Your main method of attacking it is dodging its grappling hook, then running up the rope to hit it. He was a really tricky customer, except in one instance that I’ll describe later.

    The second boss was Eggman inside a spinning, black egg robot. He targets the player with chain hooks that you can use as platforms until it accidentally damages him. He then changes his position and targets you with slow missiles, including a blue one you can hit back at him. As with all Eggman death machines, this one comes with some pretty serious design flaws!


    Sonic Superstars also introduces a brand new set of abilities to classic Sonic, Emerald powers. These powers can get you to new places in each zone or offer powerful attacks against enemies. They are selectable by either using the right thumbstick or L and R triggers to choose, followed by using the square button (or the left-facing front button depending on which controller you use).

    These powers include a water ability that lets you climb waterfalls to get to new heights (mostly useful on Bridge Island) and an ability called “avatar,” which lets you attack enemies and unblock paths with a large army of doppelgangers. I beat the dragonfly badnik way too easily by using this power. The parade of Sonics hit him multiple times and he went down easy. While the demo gave you both powers from the start, I imagine the final game will probably space these powers out to keep the game challenging. Also, these powers will probably let you find new experiences in older levels.

    While the game is 4-player simultaneous, my experience was single-player only. That said, it doesn’t change that classic Sonic feel and the camera stays focused in the middle and right on the player. Going by other videos I’ve seen, it looks like the camera pans out further depending on how many more players there are. It never feels like they made compromises for the game to be multiplayer. The only thing I found that’s multiplayer-specific is a set of four boxes in the air you come across. You can jump and hang off one of them for extra rings. It honestly feels out of place. Come to think of it, the odd warp zone just had me collecting rings as well. Maybe it’s used for a competitive nature against other players. Outside of that, you’d never know this is a multiplayer game.


    My only real nitpick is the music. Maybe it was the quietness of the headphones I was using, but the music was just…meh. It fits the environment well but was also uneventful. For instance, Speed Jungle had very jungle-like music, but nothing I haven’t heard in other platformers. Not near as bad as Sonic 4, but nothing I’d play on my Spotify.

    Finally, I imagine many of you are wondering if the game has that classic Sonic feel that the 16-bit classics were known for. Worry not. It’s all here. Momentum. Gravity. Speed. Physics. It’s all as you remember it. No walking up slopes. None of that artificial running feel. In fact, one time I got Amy running so fast she was almost completely off the screen like Sonic would sometimes achieve back in the day.


    Sonic Superstars feels like a new chapter in the classic Sonic franchise. Despite having 3D graphics, it seems like it will stand among the other 2D greats such as Sonic 2, 3 & Knuckles, and Sonic Mania. While the soundtrack might not stand up with the greats, the classic gameplay is there with all-new features. Look out New Super Mario Bros. Sonic Superstars is here to steal your thunder!



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    I really enjoyed reading this. Previews from hardened fans are always more interesting than the general press when it comes to Sonic, for me at least. You really went into all the detail I wanted to know. 

    Shame about the music. I guess we can hope that it's a WIP and that's why SEGA haven't included it in footage yet, but it would be strange if that was the case so far into development. The game is due out in just a few months. 

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    None of the previews I've read seem to indicate that and it's frustrating, haha. 

    Sega has been pretty good about putting up short samples leading up to release with Mania, Frontiers, etc. so I bet we'll hear something soon.

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