Sonic Superstars provides hope for the future – Preview

Sonic Superstars is a creative return to classic 2D Sonic gameplay, with plenty of fresh ideas.
sonic superstars 2D classic gameplay preview

Sonic Superstars is a revelation. A fun, fresh reinvention of the classic 2D Sonic gameplay formula that really makes you wonder why the franchise has been treading water for so long. It’s confident and creative, and in a recent hands-on gameplay preview, it made a firm impression on GamesHub.

Superstars seems to understand exactly what first endeared the Sonic franchise to global audiences – in its rush of speed, its bright and beautifully-rendered environments, its challenging platforming aspects, its sweet mini-game interludes, and its rewarding exploration.

If we’re ticking boxes, many of the beloved features of the Sonic franchise are present in this pseudo-sequel. You, as either Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy, are dropped into an idyllic world littered with roaming creatures, and you must run, dash, and bump your way through stages, discovering various secrets and power-ups to eventually catch up to the evil Doctor Eggman, and thwart his nefarious schemes. But hark – a twist!

This go around, you can discover multiple Chaos Emeralds within each stage, and they all provide a superpower upon collection. One Chaos Emerald turns you into a water being, allowing you to climb up waterfalls. Another allows you to split yourself into multiple clones, and throw yourself at bosses. Other Emeralds allow you to grow vines, or shoot forward in midair, or slow down time for better reactions.

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sonic superstars gameplay
Screenshot: Sega / Sonic Team / Arzest

These power-ups may seem like gimmicks, but in practice, they allow the world of Sonic Superstars to open up, changing what secrets you might find. The same can be said for rotating your chosen characters. Sonic, Amy, Knuckles, and Tails each have unique traversal mechanics that allow you to venture further into stages, uncovering special collectibles, new gems, and hidden power-ups.

Stages in Sonic Superstars resemble their classic counterparts – but notably, they are far more open, and allow an impressive measure of exploration. Time is still an impetus that pushes you along a high-speed journey, but with multiple pathways to the exit, each hiding secrets, Superstars also rewards you for jumping off the more the obvious roads, and exploring the full breadth of every level.

If you’re going for time records, you can certainly hop onto highways that’ll slingshot you along to the exit, sunsets and rainbows streaming past you in bright, popping colours – but with Chaos Emeralds and other rewards hiding up tall streams, behind mountains, and along hidden ledges, there’s also plenty of incentive to take your time, for once.

Likewise, there’s incentive to visit and revisit stages as multiple characters. Sonic and Amy are great for offence, in that their abilities are tailored towards speed and melee attacks – Amy’s hammer zips around her with every jump, providing protection from enemy attacks – but Knuckles and Tails also get ample time to shine in Superstars, thanks to the game’s vertical design.

sonic superstars gameplay preview
Screenshot: Sega / Sonic Team / Arzest

With many secrets relying either on precise platforming – climbing up the right vines, timing jumps, and flinging yourself with accuracy – or having a character with special traversal like Tails (flying) and Knuckles (gliding and climbing), you’ll want to spend time in Sonic Superstars experimenting. Not just to get a better look at the game’s scenery, which is colourful, and bright, and extremely memorable – but also to find every level’s hidden treasures, and shortcuts.

There’s a real sense of openness in each level, one that elevates Sonic Superstars significantly. It feels like an essential next step in the Sonic franchise, adding in impressive modern features and fluidity, while retaining everything that remains classic about the original Sonic trilogy.

Muscle memory kicks in the moment you enter the game, with each character (beyond Amy, at least) retaining their movement and special skills from the original trilogy. Knuckles feels slightly bouncier as a character, but his glide and climb has been pretty much pinched from Sonic & Knuckles, to great effect. Likewise, with Tails and Sonic. These characters maintain their classic charms, yet they also fit smoothly into the design of Sonic Superstars.

As part of the gameplay preview attended by GamesHub, four of the game’s opening levels were playable, as well as a unique Battle Mode, which includes neat, competitive multiplayer games that should provide a bite-sized reprieve from all that platforming.

While these four levels share the charms of their predecessors – notably, in the themes of carnival, island, sunset, and digital – they each present a unique reimagining, in multiple ways. The grass and sunset stages both have new running mechanics and obstacles – bridges with bullets to avoid, treadmills that need to be charged, and end-game chases that require puzzle-solving and quick-thinking.

The digital stage was perhaps the most original, and the most impressive of the bunch.

sonic superstars gameplay
Screenshot: Sega / Sonic Team / Arzest

This neon-infused level transforms Sonic and his pals into blocky, 3D pixel versions of themselves – and they then transform into pixel jellyfish, and pixel rockets, for unique traversal mini-games that look absolutely gorgeous. As a jellyfish, you must blob and boost your way past enemies, avoiding obstacles and spikes. As a rocket, you must blast your way through various bricks, collecting speed boosts, and avoiding walls. In either form, the action is frenetic and incredibly eye-catching, providing a new layer of challenge to your adventure.

In many ways, this later stage seemingly embodies the core tenets of Sonic Superstars. It knows exactly what’s come before, and with a smile and a nod, it immediately subverts your expectations, providing new challenges, new gameplay mechanics, new abilities, and new collectibles, each of which make the game feel like a breath of fresh air.

Sonic Superstars has learned all the right lessons from the classic 2D Sonic games – enhancing their core ideas with a real sense of creativity and freedom. After over an hour with the game, it left behind more than a smidgen of hope for the future of the Sonic franchise.

Sonic Superstars launches for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC on 17 October 2023.

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Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.