Sonic Superstars arrives as the iconic SEGA mascot is on an upswing. This brand new side-scrolling platformer follows Sonic Mania, a great throwback adventure that mixes old and new, and Sonic Frontiers, the best 3D entry in the series in a long time. The less said about Sonic Forces, the better. The point is, the character has had a pretty good run of form, and by and large, Superstars keeps that trend going — albeit with a large caveat.
Let's start at the start, though. This is a 2D Sonic title that carries over the classic, momentum-based gameplay fans know and love, and pairs it with a vibrant new art style. The result is that it feels great to play, with the characters all behaving just as you'd expect, but the use of 3D models and attractive, colourful environments gives it a very fresh look. The image quality is crystal clear and it runs like a 60 frames-per-second dream on PS5, save for short, juddery loading screens between bonus stages, or if you die.
The main story can be played alone or with up to three others in co-op. We spent the majority of our time playing it solo, and in that format, Superstars is a perfectly pleasant Sonic game. Every zone is new and they're mostly all very nicely designed. Bridge Island is a Green Hill analogue, and it's an early advertisement for the game's 3D models with curved walls to run up and loops that carry you to an alternate path further "into" the screen. Other highlights include Speed Jungle and its vines to grind on, Press Factory with its unique level-shaking gimmick, and the bright lights of Pinball Carnival.
Although the theming is quite familiar throughout the zones, Superstars does a good job bringing in new ideas while incorporating elements from the past. Lagoon City borrows the slides from Hydrocity, but it also has jets of water to propel you through the level and fountains you can bounce from. Each zone has features like this that prevent the game from feeling like a retread. The structure of a zone has also been toyed with; most of the 11 zones have two acts with an optional third, while others comprise just one large act, such as Sky Temple.
It should also be noted that all levels are quite large, with lots of paths you can take. We imagine the stages are big to account for when you're playing co-op, but it also means that you can take very different routes depending on which character you're using. Sonic is as he always is, including the relatively new drop dash, while Tails can fly, Knuckles can glide and climb walls, and Amy can double jump and attack with her hammer. Utilising all these different abilities means you can find various ways to the end goal, providing a fair amount of replay value.
Affecting every stage is the new utility for chaos emeralds. Hopping through large hidden rings takes you to a special 3D stage in which you need to chase an emerald down. When you collect one, it provides you with a special ability you can use from then on, recharging uses at checkpoints. One summons a bunch of clones that collect rings and attack enemies onscreen, another grows a large vine you can climb, and one reveals hidden platforms or rings to collect. Honestly, we forgot about them for most of the game. You're prompted to use them when they may come in handy; for instance, Superstars will remind you of the water power-up whenever you pass a waterfall, which you can climb if you activate the ability. It was only at these moments we ever really felt the need to use the powers. If you're struggling with a boss, however, the clone ability can be a huge help.
Speaking of bosses, we enjoyed almost all the end-of-act encounters. While they don't all have super memorable designs, the fights are engaging and all have some unique twist, like running up the nose of Speed Jungle's mosquito robot to hit it, or turning Pinball Carnival's clown upside-down by flipping all the icons. There are absolutely one or two difficulty spikes, with the final boss proving to be the most egregious, but most others are decent.
Overall, then, Superstars is a really solid 2D Sonic game with strong, varied level design. That large caveat we mentioned, though? The co-op is botched. A big back-of-the-box bullet point for this game is its four-player co-op, and while we could only play with two, that was more than enough to see its weaknesses.
The game just moves too quickly for co-op. One player will run ahead of the other basically every few seconds, and anyone finding themselves off-screen will have to hit X to respawn on whichever character the game has decided to focus on. And it won't be long before you have to do it again. Playing in two-player, there were moments where we were in-sync and running along together, which felt good, but all it takes is a divergent path, an enemy, accidentally jumping into a bonus stage, or falling to a lower path, and it descends into a scramble.
Exacerbating the problem are, funnily enough, some of the game's strengths in single-player. The open, multi-path design is fun to explore alone, but you and your teammates will almost certainly diverge, interrupting all but one of you. On top of that, each character's unique abilities provide multiple ways to tackle a stage. Again, fun on your own, but in co-op, Sonic can't follow Tails, for example, leading once more to that problem of going separate ways. For us, co-op just doesn't work here.
The battle mode is at least a fun distraction. Using customisable robots, you and three mates compete for points in various minigames, such as a race through a stage or surviving the longest on collapsing platforms. There's nothing mind-blowing about this mode, but it's a better multiplayer experience than playing the story in co-op.
We're a bit at odds with ourselves on Sonic Superstars. Fundamentally it's a really enjoyable side-scrolling Sonic title, but the two big ticket features — chaos emerald powers and co-op — are arguably the worst parts of it. While the emerald abilities have their uses, co-op just doesn't mesh with this gameplay at all. We can absolutely recommend this as a solo experience, as there's a lot to like about the fresh art style, largely great soundtrack, and multi-layered level design. Throw in a friend or two, though, and it quickly gets messy.