Baggy jeans, bucket hats, fanny packs, and 2D Sonic. It’s official: The ’90s are back in style.
With this fall’s Sonic Superstars, Sega is looking back to the Blue Blur’s Genesis-era sidescrollers and reimagining them for a modern audience. Yes, there are 3D visuals, four-player co-op, and a new set of game-changing Chaos Emerald powers, but in terms of level design, structure, and even the feel of gameplay, Superstars is as close as you can get to a classic Sonic experience without dusting off your old cartridges.
That means, of course, that you’ll have to work your way through differently themed zones—12 in all, with up to three acts apiece—rushing from left to right, collecting rings, fighting enemies, dodging hazards, and defeating bosses, all to stop the evil Dr. Eggman and his robotic army. The levels Sega has shown so far perfectly capture the open-ended nature of the best retro Sonic stages. With so much verticality and so many alternate paths forward, Superstars isn’t about working your way through a linear stage while keeping an eye out for hidden collectibles, like most other modern 2D platformers. It’s about improvising your own path and trying to move forward with fluidity and speed.
To keep things fresh, Sonic Superstars incorporates zone-specific mechanics, like vines to grind atop in the Speed Jungle Zone, or extendable platforms in the Sky Temple Zone. The biggest addition, however, might be those Emerald Powers, which you unlock as you collect Chaos Emeralds. You can activate these powers on demand at any point, but once you’ve used up your charge, you’ll need to replenish it by reaching the next Star Post checkpoint. There are seven Emerald Powers in total, including Vision, which reveals hidden items, Slow, which brings the action to a crawl to help you pull off trickier segments, and Water, which transforms your character into good old fashioned H2O, letting them climb up waterfalls and move freely in underwater segments.
Sonic Superstars also offers four different playable characters—Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose—with each character getting exclusive stages tailored to his or her abilities, as well as a special Emerald Power that’s unique to them. Sonic, for instance, gets the homing attack from the 3D games, while Knuckles can attack enemies head-on by straight-up punching them.
For some years now, the Sonic the Hedgehog games have struggled with whether they should focus on the classic era or try to do something new. With Sonic Superstars, Sega is betting that the right answer is actually, “Why not both?”