Despite the promising debut trailer for Sonic Superstars, a niggling feeling of doubt had crept into our minds prior to our hands-on session with the game at Summer Game Fest. After all, this latest side-scrolling effort from Sonic Team really has two things going against it straight away. Number one; aside from the spectacular Sonic Mania (which was developed by Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, and PagodaWest), this is really the first pure '2D' Sonic game since the much-maligned two episodes of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and number two; it's primarily being developed by Arzest, a team perhaps best known for co-developing Balan Wonderworld alongside Square Enix.

Thankfully, we're happy to confirm that we came away feeling mostly positive about our short session with Sonic Superstars. Though Arzest might not boast the strongest CV when it comes to 2D platformers featuring beloved IP (Yoshi's New Island, Hey! Pikmin), perhaps the very personal connection for the developer's founder, Naoto Ohshima — Sonic's original character designer — plus the learnings from past attempts to revisit Sonic's 2D origins, is benefitting this latest project.

Now, we only managed to get hands-on with the PS5 version for just over 15 minutes, so you're welcome to take our initial impressions here with a pinch of salt. That said, the time still allowed us to complete both new levels on offer in the demo, so we feel we can reasonably relay how the game feels to play.

Sonic Superstars 2
Image: Sega

It feels great. Like, really great. If Sonic the Hedgehog 4 messed up the classic physics and went too far in trying to mix up the 2D Sonic formula, then Sonic Superstars respects what made the series so great to begin with, blending classic gameplay mechanics with meaningful new additions and abilities. There were a couple of little issues here and there that we're not entirely sold on, but all in all, we're very impressed with what Azrest and Sonic Team are cooking up here.

In the demo, we had access to all four main characters: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy. We only managed to play as Sonic and Knuckles, but it's clear that each character has been made to feel subtly different in terms of speed and weight, with each possessing their own unique ability. Sonic, of course, has the Spin Dash, a now-staple ability that allows for quick acceleration when landing from a jump. Knuckles, predictably, is able to glide down from a jump and climb up walls. All as you'd expect.

Sonic Superstars 3
Image: Sega

Not only that, but each character now has access to a new mechanic called Emerald Powers. These are the same regardless of who you choose to play as, and can be picked up and utilised in each main stage. In the time that we spent with the game, we grabbed a power-up that basically lets you swim up waterfalls and pass through platforms above you. It's pretty satisfying to use and not overly abundant, so there's little risk of overusing this new ability and getting bored — at least from what we saw. Needless to say, though, we definitely thought it was reminiscent of a certain new Nintendo title, exclaiming "Did we just use Ascend?!" right in the middle of the Sega booth.

Aside from the main levels, you've also got minigames that let you collect Chaos Emeralds, just like the classic Sonics. They're accessed in-game by leaping into a giant ring, and here you're tasked with swinging through a 3D space in order to chase down the stone. This is one area that we wish was a little more involved, as it only took around 15-20 seconds to get from start to finish. It's pretty easy, and we're hopeful that the final product will introduce something a bit more challenging.

Sonic Superstars 4
Image: Sega

The PS5 build looked absolutely gorgeous. On a huge OLED screen, the levels' colours really pop and the character models look wonderful. When Sonic gets up to top speed, you can see him almost vibrate with power — it's a great little touch. The screenshots you're seeing here, however, have been provided by Sega and are from the Switch version (except the one at the top of the page which is a cropped shot from the reveal trailer). To say that the difference from the PS5 is significant would be somewhat of an understatement, and it makes us a little anxious as to how it will look in motion - particularly in docked mode.

All in all, though, Superstars looks like it might well continue Sonic's return to 2D form. Does it play it a bit safe? Yes, potentially. But there's no denying that the game itself presents a solid rendition of the classic gameplay without relying on those nostalgic pixel visuals. Sonic Superstars is an entirely new beast, and we can't wait to see more.

Please note that some external links on this page are affiliate links, which means if you click them and make a purchase we may receive a small percentage of the sale. Please read our FTC Disclosure for more information.

What do you make of what you've seen from Sonic Superstars so far? Let us know your thoughts with a comment down below.