Just over a year ago, Sega released Sonic Frontiers, a game the company had developed in part to coincide with the Sonic franchise’s 30th anniversary. While it may have helped honor everything that had come before, Frontiers was also a powerful statement on what the future for Sega’s beloved mascot might look like, completely redefining what we can expect from 3D Sonic adventures.
It’s funny, then, that Sega now follows up Sonic Frontiers with Sonic Superstars—a release that focuses specifically on looking back to the series’ 2D past.
“Sonic Frontiers was our big step forward for the 3D high-speed action games that Sonic was known for,” Sonic Team’s chief creative officer, Takashi Iizuka, told us. “Similarly, we wanted the classic series gameplay to take that same step forward to be modernized for audiences for the next 10 to 20 years.”
In a way, crafting a new game that brings back the feeling of older experiences can actually be a more daunting task than simply creating something fresh. Iizuka explained that developing Sonic Superstars using more modern technology and visuals was an important part of creating the game, but that it had to come without forgetting everything the team learned over the last 30 years about what made those older side-scrolling games fun to play.
“The whole concept for the title started out as a modern version of the classic gameplay, so the team needed to recreate everything about the classic game in their modern development environment using 3D assets,” he continued. “It was challenging, but the team succeeded.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of advancement in Sonic Superstars. One huge new twist on an older idea is Emerald Powers, special new abilities that span across the entire adventure to offer more dynamic gameplay.
“In the classic series titles, you could turn into Super Sonic when you collected all seven of the Chaos Emeralds,” said Iizuka. “Still, since you only got the power once you obtained all of [them], there wasn’t as much motivation as you were collecting to actively seek them out. So, we wanted to change that, and every time someone gains a Chaos Emerald, we also want to grant them an Emerald Power.”
While it was important to the team to not force you to use Emerald Powers to get through any specific parts of the game, the various abilities they offer can both help those players who might need a bit of extra assistance in getting past certain challenges, and give more skilled Sonic fans even greater options for exploring stages or taking down enemies. For example, grabbing the Blue Emerald offers up Avatar, an Emerald Power that produces clones of your current character that all attack at once, while the Yellow Emerald lets you unleash Slow, which slows down time so you can deal with threats easier.
As for Iizuka’s favorite? “I like Vision, because it allows you to see things you cannot see normally,” he told us. “I’m always curious to use it to see if there is something around me.”
The other biggest update you’ll find in Sonic Superstars is that, for the first time ever, the game’s entire campaign is playable together with up to four players locally. Now, not only is picking which of the four main cast—Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy—you want to play as when going solo important, but it’ll also determine what role you’ll fill when running together as a team. And if you’d rather fight against your friends than with them, Sonic Superstars also features a competitive Battle Mode (that can expand to up to eight players online).
It may feel a little strange to think of Sonic as a game focused on co-op, but teaming up to get through stages came to the franchise in its first-ever sequel, 1992’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2. According to Iizuka, expanding the potential for cooperative play in a Sonic game has been a long time coming.
“This was a feature that we wanted to put in decades ago, but couldn’t execute well,” he said. “We hope you enjoy talking and strategizing with your friends to explore the zones or take out the bosses. And remember, it’s a multiplayer experience from start to finish, even in the Special Stages and Bonus Stages!”
Given the passion fans still have for classic 2D Sonic gameplay, even after breakout 3D experiences such as Sonic Frontiers, we’re feeling pretty confident that a lot of people will indeed enjoy what Sega and developer Arzest have put together in Sonic Superstars—no matter if they take on the Northstar Islands alone or with a full squad of furry friends.