The announcement of Sonic Superstars sparked excitement among the fan base thanks to the return to the 2D style of gameplay found in the beloved retro entries in the franchise but complemented with gorgeous modern visuals. The game plays very much like an homage to those games that primarily lived on the Genesis, but developers Arzest and Sonic Team are adding various new elements to Sonic Superstars to expand on the classic gameplay fans are looking forward to.
"It really started with recreating those Classic physics and making sure the game had the Classic physics in there," Sonic Team creative officer Takashi Iizuka says. "After we got the physics working right, we said, 'Okay, now we need to work the level design,' because the level design is very specific, and we needed it to feel like a Classic game from a level design standpoint. After studying the level design, after getting the physics in, and both of those were working together, then we started saying, 'Okay, now what can we do new and how can we implement that in?"
In addition to elements like four-player cooperative play and various new gimmicks throughout the game's zones, Sonic Superstars also introduces players to Emerald Powers. These all-new powers grant Sonic and his friends special abilities for Chaos Emeralds they obtain through the Special Stages. In Sonic Superstars' Special Stages, you swing from floating bubbles toward your goal. If you entered through a giant gold ring (like Sonic 3 & Knuckles), your reward is a Chaos Emerald. If you entered through a giant blue ring, you can earn medals. Regardless of the prize, the mission is the same: Swing from floating bubbles toward the moving objective. While most of the bubbles simply factor in your momentum and point of release, others can stop you dead in your tracks, while others still send you flying toward the goal.
Emerald Power Inspiration
Unlike past entries, where you only receive the benefits of collecting Chaos Emeralds once you gather all seven, Sonic Superstars gives you shorter-term satisfaction. "We wanted to say, 'How can we reward someone for getting just one?'" Iizuka says. "And if we reward someone for getting just one, that will motivate people to get each individual one and see what they are. So, part of the new ideas and how Emerald Powers started was in that process of trying to get people excited about getting each individual Emerald."
Each Chaos Emerald offers distinct Emerald Powers, and all powers are available to each playable character. These powers are selected with the right stick and operate on a cooldown, with each star post checkpoint replenishing your cooldown meter.
The overarching idea for Emerald Powers draws inspiration from the Wisp mechanic found in the Modern series, starting with Sonic Colors. However, there is one key difference with Emerald Powers. "In Colors, you need to use the Wisps in order to get around in the level and complete the game, but we didn't want that to be a part of the Superstars game," Iizuka says. "We wanted the Classic Sonic gameplay to still remain true, so when we were looking at the Emerald Powers and the Wisps, we wanted to make sure you could still beat Superstars without having to use any of the powers, which is what we needed to balance during game design."
Full List of Sonic Superstars Emerald Powers
Each Emerald Power in Sonic Superstars is tied to a specific Chaos Emerald, and while we don't know the exact order they are unlocked, we know every single Emerald Power that Sonic and his friends will have at their disposal.
Sadly, there are only seven Chaos Emeralds, and Iizuka shoots me down when I float the idea of Super Emeralds enabling them to expand the arsenal, so several ideas were left on the chopping block. "We actually had lots and lots of ideas about what kinds of powers we could put into the game," Iizuka says. "But as you know, there are only seven Chaos Emeralds, and we needed each of the powers to be associated with an Emerald, so there are only seven powers we could choose. So, of all of the ideas, we had to whittle it down to only seven, and unfortunately, we did have some really interesting ideas, but we couldn't put them in the game because it would have gone over that seven."
Check out the powers that did make it into the final game below.
Avatar allows you to create clones of your character and send them speeding across the screen, defeating nearly any enemy in their path. This is particularly useful when outnumbered by badniks or overpowered by a challenging boss. In my experience with Avatar, saving it for a boss' final form is extremely wise.
"Avatar has the most visual impact of any of the ideas," Iizuka says. "It calls on various avatars, you know, other Sonics or other Tails are going to come in and defeat all the enemies when you use it. And it can be used to get yourself out of trouble if you're about to die, just to get past that enemy to make sure you're living longer. It's really one of the more fun Emerald Powers to use."
Bullet allows you to blast your character in a specified direction. I found this helpful in both tricky platforming sequences as well as boss battles where your goal is just out of reach.
"Bullet, just as the name is, it's being able to shoot or project Sonic in midair," Iizuka says. "When you jump in midair using the Bullet Emerald Power, you can stop and make a decision midair what direction you want to launch yourself into. And then, you can change direction or you can go in a different direction, or continue forward in the direction you want to go in and shoot your character further in that direction. It's an extremely useful action; it's probably the most useful action for this kind of game."
Using the Water Emerald Power, characters can more easily traverse underwater areas and even climb up waterfalls. While not applicable in every zone, using this in appropriate places could yield amazing results.
"Water turns the player character into water, and once you're in that water form, you can swim up waterfalls, or if you land in water, you'll be able to run around freely in there because you are water along with the water," Iizuka says. "It does help out not only getting up waterfalls but also when you're in these underwater areas. One thing to note is there are some levels that don't have water, so it's not going to be a really useful power everywhere."
Ivy lets you grow vines from where your character stands to help you reach new areas. You can direct where they grow, and if you're playing co-op, your teammates can use your ivy to reach new areas as well.
"Just like the name says, when you use the Ivy power, an ivy vine is going to grow out of the ground and start growing upwards," Iizuka says. "It allows you to get to higher places that maybe you couldn't get to just by jumping. But what's really interesting about it is using it in multiplayer mode. You can use the Ivy power to help your cooperative teammates get to the places that you can get to. And by using the Ivy, you can cooperate and get to places together."
As teased in an earlier trailer for Sonic Superstars, players can activate Vision whenever they have a sneaking suspicion that there might be something beyond what is currently visible. In a previous trailer, we saw Vision reveal hidden platforms and rings. Iizuka says this power will really play into the replayability aspect of the way these stages were designed.
"I really like Vision," Iizuka says. "It allows you to see the unseeable or see things that you couldn't see without using the power. When using Vision, you'll notice that before, where there wasn't a platform to jump on or rings to get, there is now a platform you can see and land on, and there are rings that you can jump and collect. It's really great for stage exploration, so even after you've gone through the game once, going back and playing again with Vision allows you to see places you didn't know existed before and find these new areas and locations to get because you're using the Vision Emerald Power."
Since the Emerald Power is built around seeing hidden objects in the environment, players might have a challenging time knowing when to use the power. However, the developers have already thought about this. "Obviously, if you can't see it in the first place, you don't know to use it," Iizuka says. "It's kind of making sure people understand how to use the powers. This is something that the team went in and said, 'You know, we really want to make sure people are aware of the times when they should be using something, especially if it's like Vision and you can't see it in the first place.' So automatically, there will be an indicator that pops up that will tell you, 'Oh hey, if you use Vision right now, there may be something around here that you can find. This kind of auto indicator will pop up and let you know or give you a good sense of when you should be using some of the Emerald Powers."
Slow, as the name implies, slows down everything on screen. This could be used for tricky boss battles or just difficult platforming sequences where you need more time to react.
"Slow is exactly what it says it is; it's going to slow down everything on the screen," Iizuka says. "You enter this slow-motion kind of moment, and because you're not moving in slow motion, you get to look at things that maybe are moving very fast and get a better sense of the timing of when you want to be reacting to traps, or if a boss is attacking, you can use slow, and you can slow the boss' attack down and really get more comfortable with how to strategically avoid or attack or action around these things that have been slowed down. It really slows down the game to allow you to play at a pace that's maybe more comfortable."
Though all Emerald Powers are universal, the final unlock opens up a character-specific ability. "All of the characters use the Emerald Powers in the same way, and all of the Emerald Powers react to the characters in the same way, but Extra is different and special in that depending on what character you're using, Extra allows a different kind of action for those specific characters," Iizuka says. "Because of this, you can choose what character you're going to play with, and when you use the Extra power, that power will be unique to that character."
Sonic – Homing Attack
When the Extra Emerald Power is active for Sonic, players can move one of Modern Sonic's most iconic abilities to Classic Sonic's repertoire. "Classic Sonic does not do the Homing Attack, but when he has the Extra Emerald Power active, Classic Sonic now has a Homing Attack," Iizuka says.
Amy – Hammer Throw
Amy's Extra Emerald Power plays off one of her defining gameplay characteristics. "For Amy, when she uses the Extra power, she is able to throw her hammer and attack enemies by throwing the hammer instead of just hitting with the hammer."
Knuckles – Punch
Knuckles' use of the Extra Emerald Power transforms perhaps his most defining visual characteristics into gameplay within the Classic series. When active, the red echidna can add punches to his already larger set of abilities.
Tails - Tornado Spin
When Tails uses Extra, he gains an ability called Tornado Spin. When I heard that name, I thought it could mean he spins really fast and whacks enemies with his twin tails, or maybe he summons his iconic plane to do something. However, it's neither of those. "Tails will actually create a tornado," Iizuka says. "The tornado will follow the ground and just continue on that path and take out enemies in the way."
The Extra Emerald Power must still be selected and activated the same as the other powers, so if you don't want to use, for example, Sonic's homing attack, it is completely optional.
As with most games that include the Chaos Emeralds, once you collect all seven of them, you gain access to the ability to turn into a Super version of your character. Each character can turn Super, and their movesets remain the same (for example, Tails doesn't gain super-powered Flickies as he did in Sonic 3 & Knuckles). Instead, each character turns invincible and becomes faster, with rings depleting over time.
"What's going to be a little bit different is usually in the Classic series, you get all seven Chaos Emeralds, and then, when you have a certain amount of rings, and you're double jumping, you're automatically transformed into Super Sonic, but we're changing that up a little bit, and once you get all seven Chaos Emeralds, you can still choose what power you want to be using," Iizuka says. "You can select from the selection wheel what Emerald Power you want to use at that specific time, not necessarily automatically turning into Super Sonic or Super form."
Alex Van Aken contributed to this article.