As part of our last issue's cover story, we provided exclusive insight into Sonic Superstars, the upcoming 2D platformer starring everyone's favorite blue hedgehog. We gave first hands-on impressions with several never-before-seen zones (read all about them here), but I recently got my hands on another all-new zone that I didn't see earlier this summer. Not only that, but I also experienced perhaps my biggest question mark to this point: cooperative play.
My gameplay session takes place in Cyber Station Zone, the stage many likely know from the reveal trailer where Sonic and his friends turned pixelated and then into squid-like creatures. I already had an idea of what to expect based on that early look as well as the name of the zone, but this was also the first time I played with a second controller attached.
Sonic Superstars co-op allows for up to four players to play together locally. While I didn't get to experience that for myself, a representative tells me it can definitely get a little chaotic. Cooperative play in Sonic Superstars admittedly draws inspiration from other cooperative 2D platformers, but the speed serves as a major differentiator. I experienced this firsthand as my co-op partner, playing Tails, flew ahead of where I could reach as Sonic.
The camera tends to follow the character who is making forward progress toward the goal. While this is a good rule in general, it can cause some problems if you want to explore the stages. Communication will definitely be key if you want to do anything aside from making it to the end of the stage. If a character falls behind and off-screen (or dies), they zap in next to the leader.
Rings are not a shared resource, so even if one character is thriving, another character could be on the brink of dying. Thankfully respawns, like single-player lives, are unlimited. Since characters respawn automatically and quickly, this gives you a bit of a safety net if you wait for the downed character to return.
Arzest and Sonic Team seem to realize this, as they have made an exception to that rule: If you die during a boss battle, you are out for the rest of the fight. This is meant to prevent players from cheesing their way through boss battles. I imagine this will lead to tense moments if you end up being the last character standing in an encounter, as everyone watches you try and take down Eggman or one of his contraptions.
Cooperative play seems like a fun way to explore the various stages of Sonic Superstars alongside friends, even if, like other co-op platformers, it might not be the most productive or efficient way to make your way around. Still, with the camera primarily following the leading player and the fact that the characters aren't able to interact with one another outside of Tails carrying another hero in flight, it doesn't seem like it will be as chaotic as, say, four-player New Super Mario Bros.
As for the zone itself, Cyber Station plays off the futuristic name well. As you run through it, you cross beams that turn the team into pixelated versions of themselves and various creatures, ranging from mice to the aforementioned squids. There are also several sequences where you ride through various pipes, including one section where you need to choose the best paths to avoid enemies stationed across the branching pipe network.
Near the end of the single-act zone, the characters are transformed into rockets that must avoid incoming obstacles and hit booster cones to fly forward at incredible speeds. The boss battle is a combination of Eggman and one of his creations, as a silver robot flies around and creates clones of itself, which must be volleyed back into the main boss. Since the boss battle happens as a chase sequence, it's challenging, particularly in co-op.
Sonic Superstars continues to impress. After my initial concerns that this would be a repeat of the less-than-stellar Sonic the Hedgehog 4 or even the 2D sequences in games like Sonic Forces, Arzest and Sonic Team have repeatedly demonstrated that they not only know how Sonic should feel, but how his stages and boss battles should play out as well.
Sonic Superstars arrives on October 17 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.