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      Sonic Superstars

      Sonic Superstars

      The team behind Balan Wonderland are back and looking to repair its reputation with this fast-paced family adventure.

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      It happens sometimes, or quite often actually, that I feel sorry for Sonic. He often has my sympathy when it comes to the special treatment of his main rival and the injustice to Yuji Naka's blue blur. Yes, I'm talking about Mario, here. Nintendo's golden goose really can't fail, according to most of us. When he stars in classic side-scrolling 2.5D titles - such as New Super Mario Bros., New Super Mario Bros. Wii, New Super Luigi U, New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe - it's always described as gloriously retro.

      Sonic Superstars
      The design is exquisite and of course it plays beautifully on the PS5.

      When Sonic does the same thing in games like Sonic Mania, Sonic Origins or Sonic Superstars, he's more likely to be described as unimaginatively stuck in the past. There's an injustice there, of course, and while I dislike Sonic's open world titles from the last 20 years, I'm very fond of the adventures where he gets rid of everything that wasn't in the 1991 original. Sonic, for me, is this. Two-dimensional platform jumping drenched in Sonic Team's iconic, colourful, playful design.

      Sonic Superstars
      It's fast and hard, in the right way.
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      Sonic Superstars is developed by Arzest, the studio founded by Naoto Ohshima who once created the character with former Sonic Team boss Yuji Naka. Arzest's latest game, Balan Wonderworld, stands out as one of the worst platforming titles I've tried in my entire life, which meant that I felt some scepticism beforehand here. However, it didn't take more than maybe five minutes with Sonic during Superstars' opening course to realise that this is overflowing in charm and packed with nostalgia without feeling as old-fashioned as, say, Sonic Mania.

      The idea here is to keep the old, Mega Drive-era gameplay, but at the same time try to include a few new game mechanics, keeping the basic concept fresh enough to build on. You can choose to play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles or Amy and there is the option for you to run through the entire adventure with up to three friends. The biggest gameplay innovation has to do with Sonic's special gems.

      Sonic Superstars
      The Battle Royale mode is a bit odd but a fun thing to jump into for a few quick online matches.

      When the game begins, Sonic has, via a super stylish intro sequence, laid his hands on an unusually powerful Chaos Emerald that allows for a special trick involving duplicates. Regardless of which of the four characters you play as, once during each level you can press down on the right joystick to activate a kind of super attack whereby 20 or so extra versions of your chosen character appear on the screen to help out. These attacks are extra valuable to throw out during some of the game's more stubborn boss fights and thus I like the idea. The execution and design of the attack itself may not be the best and sometimes it feels a little too Japanese, in a weird way, but it's certainly not something I dislike.

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      Sonic Superstars
      The bonus courses are an important part of Sonic but here they are mostly just strange.

      When it comes to the bosses, Arzest and Sega has pulled out all the stops here and created lots of really good bosses that all follow the 90s pattern that Nintendo in particular has honed to perfection over the years. Each boss performs three attacks (of different types and with good variety) to then put itself in a position where you as a player can do damage, but you need to figure out how and where as quickly as possible. There's a boss that shoots out chains, and to beat this bad boy you have to trick it into launching the projectiles at itself, while another boss shoots out wires that Sonic can run on and then over its head to inflict damage.

      Sonic Superstars
      Tails is arguably the easiest character to play as as he can spin up his tail and soar over difficult passages.

      The variety of the courses is excellent and the design of the courses is also good. There are, as usual, several different paths to take and lots of secrets on each track, which encourages exploration, while the running pace itself encourages a full-on run, as always with Sonic. That balance or rather "contrast" is successful and unique and there is more challenge here than I'm used to with Sonic the Hedgehog.

      The design is good too, really good. The preview images looked a little too contrasty to me and all the polygon objects looked shiny in the Gamescom videos released in August, but once the game is up and running (I've played on PlayStation 5 and on an LG OLED C3) it's hard not to fall in love with how Superstars looks. It's charming, tidy, and colourful and flows super smoothly with no worries. The music is brilliant too.

      Sonic Superstars
      The presentation is truly brilliant, as is the music.

      I played Superstars with my kids, Frank (8) and Vega (7) and managed to quiz my offspring on how much they liked (or disliked) Sonic's latest adventure. Frank, who has played several Sonic and Mario games and has been spending two hours a day in Fortnite for the past year - ran through the courses better than his father and was the one who figured out how to defeat three of the bosses while I sat like an old fossil scratching my head. Frank cheered, chirped and repeatedly praised the design and the ability to change characters. He liked the courses, how it is super fast, and loved the bosses. Vega, on the other hand, has not played many games apart from a few hours of Roblox on her iPad and she found Superstars a little too difficult.

      Papa Hegevall is satisfied after a couple of days with Superstars and realises that Arzest has repaired its reputation after the horrible Balan Wonderworld and released a charming family game that captures most of the things about Sonic that are worth preserving.

      07 Gamereactor UK
      7 / 10
      Brilliant design. Fantastic game mechanics. Great music. Plenty of variety. Broad co-op.
      Sometimes a bit too challenging for younger players. The bonus courses are just weird.
      overall score
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      REVIEW. Written by Petter Hegevall

      The team behind Balan Wonderland are back and looking to repair its reputation with this fast-paced family adventure.

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