Sonic Superstars Review – Remember Your Roots

Sonic Superstars is a strong platformer that remixes all the best parts of the classic Sonic the Hedgehog adventures.
sonic superstars sales sega

The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has, quite famously, struggled to live up to its own video game legacy over the last two decades. When the original Sonic the Hedgehog debuted in 1991, it was a revelation; a zippy, fun, colourful platformer that quickly became a flagship for Sega. Strong sequels followed – Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles – but later games deviated from this classic, now-beloved formula, to mixed effect.

Various developers have experimented with new forms of Sonic platforming over the last three decades, with new 2D and 3D entries, action-adventures with a strong narrative focus, racing adaptations, character spin-offs, open world tales, and more besides. There have been bright gems in this array, like the third-party Sonic Mania, but reception for Sonic sequels hasn’t always been inspiring.

In many ways, it’s easy to see the newly-released Sonic Superstars as a response to this languishing. It’s a game that demonstrates a precise understanding of exactly what built the Sonic legacy in the first place, and why the franchise remains beloved, even through its tumultuous last decade of adaptation.

Square one

sonic superstars review
Screenshot: GamesHub

Sonic Superstars does not overly reinvent the classic Sonic formula, and it’s for this reason that it succeeds as a strong, lively platformer. It leans heavily into nostalgia, borrowing elements from its forebears, while modernising and stylising these mechanics.

As in the classic games, you can play Sonic Superstars with an array of characters, each maintaining familiar move sets. Sonic, arguably still the least flashy character, is a solid fighter. Knuckles can glide and grip onto walls. Tails can float and fly through the air. Amy is also along for the ride, and she totes a spinning hammer that provides strong defence.

You’ll get the choice of any of these characters as you hop into the game (with some featuring in mandatory story segments), with Knuckles and Tails being particularly good, as they have additional traversal abilities that aid the massively expanded world of Sonic Superstars.

Read: Sega and Brickman launch Sonic Superstars Lego building competition

It’s in this expanded world that Sonic Superstars makes its biggest impression. It doesn’t strictly defy the Sonic formula, but developers Arzest and Sonic Team have been very clever in tweaking it for a new generation. Beyond nostalgia, you’ll find plenty of surprises as you run through familiar stages (which include classic themes like beach, colosseum, space, and machine) in the form of fresh obstacles, mechanics, and abilities.

sonic superstars sega
Screenshot: GamesHub

Funfair freedom

The core here remains going fast, and defeating Dr Eggman – of course – but the adventure is now less straightforward, with a dual focus on speeding through stages, and more careful exploration. As you travel, you’ll typically have multiple paths, and multiple layers to choose from. Paths stretch upwards and downwards, and there’s foregrounds and backgrounds, each with their own obstacles and mini-quests.

Run through a water world, and you’ll find platforming segments taking place in bubbles. In the desert, you’ll ride on the back of a wobbly snake. Across multiple stages, you’ll find hamster wheels that need to be charged, magic carpet-like funfair rides, and even digital rockets to hitch yourself to. It’s all a blast, and significantly elevates the action of Sonic Superstars, far beyond the familiar.

Occasionally, you’ll stumble onto a coin-grabbing mini-game. Sometimes, you’ll find a Chaos Emerald hiding in within a secret passage, or up a tricky waterfall. It provides a neat twist; you can blast through stages and enjoy the rush of freedom and fast-moving colours as you blitz through obstacles, but if you stop to smell the roses, you’ll find hoards of hidden secrets.

You’ll also unlock a new twist: collectible Chaos Emerald superpowers. These come in handy for trickier platforming segments, and for level-ending boss fights, with magical abilities like a rocket-powered jump, a cloning attack allowing for back-up, and more creative combat options. While they are fairly gimmicky, and can be ignored entirely with few consequences, they come in handy during a pinch, and particularly towards the end game.

Read: Super Mario Bros. Wonder Review – A Wonderful World

As you’d expect from a Sonic game, there’s a fair level of challenge in Superstars. In maintaining the classic formula, the game also replicates some of the frustrations with the original games – namely, in its health system, which still grants a one-hit kill if you haven’t collected any golden rings in a stage (or, you’ve lost them repeatedly through tomfoolery).

This provides a fair level of challenge that keeps the action varied. You’ll run and glide your way through stages, feeling the flow of Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, or Amy, and then you’ll put your skills to the test in rigorous boss fights, each punctuating certain stages, pushing you to sit up and focus.

These bosses have a rhythm you’ll need to understand, with their defeat depending on puzzle-like moves. They’ll weave across a stage, you’ll duck and dive, and eventually jump in for a hit – then repeat the process, until you’ve finally eked out a hard-won (and occasionally lucky) victory. Cheap deaths are common – but boss fights are typically short and don’t outwear welcome, even on the third or fourth attempt to pass them.

sonic superstars
Image: Sega / Arzest

Learning lessons

There’s satisfaction in conquering every boss, as each bite-sized challenge provides a space to exercise your skills, to learn new rhythms, and exercise restrain in your approach. Utilising new super powers also allows for some light cheating – combat ‘spice’, if you will – when enemies prove too difficult or frustrating.

Where previous games could feel punishing in their approach, Sonic Superstars feels more open and well-balanced. There are plentiful opportunities for experimenting, and for testing your skills, exploring each crevasse, and venturing into new territory – and also forgiveness when your particular approach doesn’t work out.

In using the original games as a blueprint, and learning distinct lessons from the past, Sonic Superstars stretches the bounds of classic Sonic gameplay. Beyond obvious improvements – to graphics, to character abilities, to having a real overworld – Superstars is not strictly different from 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog.

It’s perhaps an admission that classics are classic for a reason. After years of innovation and experimentation, Sega, Sonic Team, and Arzest have seemingly discovered that sometimes, there is merit in revisiting the past, and in analysing the beating heart at its centre. Sonic the Hedgehog made its protagonist an absolute star – one that has endured across multiple decades.

In riffing on this classic game’s core mechanics, its clever design choices, its lively graphics, and its sense of pure fun, Sonic Superstars has done justice to the franchise’s legacy. Taking a step forwards can also mean taking a step back – and in this approach, Sonic Superstars leaves a lasting mark.

Four stars: ★★★★

Sonic Superstars
PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Arzest, Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 17 October 2023

A PlayStation 5 copy of Sonic Superstars was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are scored on a five-point scale. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.

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.