A new 2D Sonic game (using 3D models) was announced recently: Sonic Superstars.
Initial impressions: this actually looks good and could well be the continuation of the 2D Sonic series many us were hoping for. Here’s a comparison of the momentum with the 2D games - looks quite spot on:
The co-developer of this game is a game studio called Arzest.
" It was formed on June 25, 2010 by key members of Artoon, which was also founded by Executive Vice President Naoto Ohshima, best known as the character designer of Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as his nemesis Dr. Eggman."
Arzest was also founded by key Artoon and Sega members who worked on the Panzer Dragoon series.
“Ohshima is best known as the creator of Sonic’s character design, but Iizuma said few people know that he actually designed many levels too. What Ohshima-san really brings is his classic Sonic experience, having worked on Sonic 1 and Sonic CD. He has an understanding of how to make a true classic Sonic game.”
“A lot of people think Ohshima-san just came in and thought what Sonic would look like, drew the character and that was it. But he was also doing level design on Sonic 1 in addition to drawing and creating the character. So he has that experience of making a Sonic game because he did level design for the original game.”
Concerning the games music:
“But there are three people; myself, Ohshima-san and the third is Jun Senoue at Sega, who did music for Sonic 3 back in the day. He is also participating in the development of Sonic Superstars. Jun is the music director on the game and is really focused on making it sound like a classic game."
“But obviously he’s not sat around creating all this music himself: he’s working with internal teams at Sega to create music in that classic Sonic vibe and he’s also working on some external teams such as Tee Lopes who helped out on Sonic Mania.”
Some new info coming from a Game Informer article on Sonic Superstars:
Zone names: (There will be 12 Zones Total) 7 of them are as follows:
Sky Temple will be a one act zone that will be 9 minutes long!
There will be character specific optional acts or instances to some zones. For example with Sonic, Fang will chase him through the entire act 2 of the Zone.
Avatar: Multiple Sonics/Amy/Knuckles/Tails run across the screen doing damage.
Bullet: Shoot across the screen in multiple directions.
Water: Swim up waterfalls and under water.
Ivy: I vine grows upwards to find hidden items/Emblems.
Vision: Turn this on to make hidden rings, items and platforms appear
Slow: Slows down time.
Extra: Character specific moves. Sonic gets a Homing attack, Tails gets a tornado move, Knuckles gets a punch move and Amy geta a hammer throw move.
All Emeralds: Will give you Super Sonic and Super versions of all characters as expected.
Apparently, we can turn on alternate character skins as well as different clothing items for head, body, legs and arms!
The game will have a hub world where you can move around and select the stages. Maybe the game will have missions as well?
Info on why Sonic Mania 2 was never made and it’s not because of bad blood between Whitehead and Sega:
“There was a period after the development of Sonic Mania when we worked with them to consider concepts for the next generation of Classic Sonic,” Iizuka says. “It’s too bad that it didn’t become a finished game. Still, I’m pleased that the next generation of Classic Sonic that we talked about with them has been achieved with Superstars.”
“When we started Evening Star, it was always our goal to move beyond 2D pixel art into 3D games, and develop all-new, original IP,” he says. “Evening Star did work with Sega to explore possible directions Classic Sonic could go after the success of Sonic Mania. Sonic Mania 2 was never in development, though, because we actually agreed early on that we should try to make something fresh, like hand-drawn 2D or 2.5D. At the same time, Evening Star was developing our new Star Engine, so we also ended up making a cool Sonic prototype that played with depth in 2.5D, and some other gameplay ideas.”
Following those initial planning sessions and a mutual decision to not proceed with development, Evening Star began work on Penny’s Big Breakaway. “As Iizuka-san said, though, [Evening Star] did not continue to full production on the game, at which point Arzest took the helm and made Superstars alongside Sonic Team,” Whitehead says. “We moved forward with our plans to develop an original 3D title, which is, of course, Penny’s Big Breakaway! Superstars looks awesome and our team is really excited to play it when it comes out.”*
Whitehead also dashed away one of the big points of speculation among Sonic fans: that Sonic Mania 2 falling through was the result of bad blood between Sega and members of Evening Star. “Contrary to any rumors, we maintain a friendly relationship with Sega and hope fans are pumped to play both games once they release,” he says.*
I just beat the game and I must say while not a bad game, Superstars has many flaws and inconsistencies we need to discuss. The game is made by Arzest an external development studio outside of Sega. A studio best known for Yoshi’s New Island on the 3DS and Balan Wonderworld, a not-so-good Yuji Naka game…It’s saving grace, Naoto Ohshima. The man who originally designed Sonic and worked on Sonic CD. So, did having one of the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog, leading the development team, make the game an immediate success? Does Superstars compare to the greatness of Sonic Mania? Well, let’s find out. First off:
Lazy Art Direction and Unity Engine Graphics:
This game is using the Unity engine and I feel the quality of its art direction is all over the place. Some levels look decent like Bridge Island and Cyber Station Zone, while others have low quality backgrounds that just look ugly and unfinished like in Sand Sanctuary Zone and Lagoon City Zone. The art looks uninspired and flat and in Lagoon City they couldn’t even be bothered to line up the background scenery. Other zones like Golden Capital have the simplest of 3D objects in the background, like plain protruding mountains and a simplistic temple plopped in the middle. It really just looks ugly in my opinion.
The textures and level geometry are fairly simple with basic stone, grass, tree, and metal objects. Nothing is in any way overly surreal, captivating, unique or innovating, concerning the art direction. And there is very little going on in the static backgrounds. And take into account that this is the PC/Steam version I’m showing off, as the Switch version looks even worse. These flaws are just unacceptable on the more powerful platforms:
Low Quality Animations and Glitches:
Playing through the various stages I noticed some very unpolished, unoptimized or questionable animations. In Pinball Carnival Zone Act 2 when Sonic is riding the roller coaster-like things his ears and quills blow in the wind. Problem is, his ears move like 2 frames a second and that looks stiff as hell! Making the animation look more like his ears are blowing in slow motion and far from smooth.
Also, when you beat a stage and Sonic stands near the sign and moves his finger back and forth (You know his trademark pose that’s supposed to look cool…); his finger woggles back and forth like RUBBER! Seriously? What is he Plastic Man?!! And another thing I noticed is when Sonic stands at a complete stop on an incline, (this happened in Frozen Base Zone) his left leg detaches from his body and alternately reattaches. Again, these little things really hurt the quality of the game.
Concerning glitches, many have been reported since day one. Like audio glitches. I had death sounds playing after entering rings for instance. And one player had the special stage music speeding up, overlapping and playing two instances of itself.
One major thing that happened to me was, after beating a zone it would ask me if I wanted to go directly go to the in-game shop, located in a separate menu from the world map. When I did this and returned to the world map, I was teleported to Egg Fortress Zone and proceeded to fall through the world map endlessly. There have also been reports of the game freezing when using Super Sonic.
Music Quality is Inconsistent:
The music was composed by Tee Lopes of Sonic Mania fame and Jun Senoue who composed music for Sonic 3, Sonic 3 & Knuckles and the Sonic Adventure games. But there were also internal Sega staff and external contributors consisting of 3 more composers such as: Takahiro Kai, Hidenori Shoji, and Rintaro Soma. And Sadly, Tee Lopes only did the following tracks:
Opening/Title Screen (Arranger)
Bridge Island Act 1 (Arranger)
Bridge Island Act 2 (Arranger/Co-composer)
Speed Jungle Act 1 (Composer)
Sand Sanctuary Act 1 (Composer)
Lagoon City Act 2 (Composer)
Chaos Emerald Special Stage (Composer)
Super Sonic (Co-composer)*
And when you compare his catchy upbeat music to the other composers, the rest of the music just sounds disjointed and out of place. Very inconsistent in tone and theme compared to Tee Lopes’ tracks. With the rest of the music by Jun Senoue and the other guest composers, sounding more like 16 bit approximations of what the old Sonic music used to sound like. Making the whole OST feel conflicting or discordant amongst the various composers. So, which is it? Were they going to have catchy Tee Lopes music with more depth or were they going to have simpler sounding 16 bit Genesis-like music? Having both simply does nothing but clash with each other:
Short and simple. The multiplayer is not fun with 4 people. The camera is sporadic and players are constantly getting left behind. The multiplayer is best played with only 2 players. As 2 players seem to be more manageable and stable.
Online/Battle Mode and Medals a Waste of Time?:
This in my opinion was a complete waste of time. My time online consisted of facing off against other online players in mini-games such as: collect the stars, stay alive the longest and race to the finish. The games are extremely barebones, simplistic and short lived. Develpment time could have been better spent on improving the actual story mode.
The best part about this is when you unlock all of the Metal Sonic parts with the various Medals you find in Story Mode, or any other Metal versions of the characters from the shop, you can then go back to the story mode and fight Metal Sonic or any other Metal version characters you unlocked, in the Cyber Station Zone boss battle.
Farming Medals was pretty repetitive as I found the best way to gather them was to keep replaying Bridge Island Zone act 1 and act 2, but with Tails. Staying high and flying upwards getting all the medals, going inside blue rings and checkpoints zones, which brings you into special stages to get more medals. This is followed up by using a fruit and going into the special ‘fruit zones’ from the world map to get even more medals. By the time I was done I had at least 25 medals or more. Rinse and repeat.
Physics are a Success!:
The best compliment I can give the game is they got the pinball physics from the 2D games correct! Sonic rolls down hills with momentum and springs off of ramps, hills and inclines just like he did in the old 2D games and Mania. The developers also made use of many pinball environmental objects that further demonstrate this from as early on as Speed Jungle. Where sonic is bouncing off of various bumpers and in Pinball Carnival Zone where you’re basically being thrown around like a giant game of pinball. So, the physics are a pretty good copy as you can springboard off of ramps and immediately change your direction, to your hearts content!
Despite the games’ flaws I can say with some certainty, that this was a fun Sonic game. Definitely better than Sonic 4. The levels are fun to run through with various instances of platforming and exploration using the Emerald powers: jumping up waterfalls, slingshoting in mid air to reach rings, using vines to get to out of reach areas, flying high with tails and climbing and gliding with Knuckles.
The game also did away with the lives system and when you die you just appear back at the last checkpoint. Which the game is better for it! No more game overs! The checkpoint special stages had very smooth controls and the actual Emerald special stages were fun to grapple around the various points chasing after the Emerald. Although some of the later stages are very challenging whether that’s a good, bad thing, or a player skill issue. Nonetheless, they were fun.
Compared to Sonic Mania this is just barely a passable 2.5D Sonic game. It has glaring flaws that hold it back from being truly great. From an inconsistent musical score, an ugly, play-it-safe art style, to low quality animations and glitches. All of which do nothing but drag the game down various notches when compared to the quality of Sonic Mania.
On a positive note, the game is decent fun, the levels have various paths, do the job of keeping you exploring and using the pinball physics just as you’d expect them to. The bosses are challenging, simplistic in design at times, but keep you on your toes as you figure out their patterns. The music is not all bad and some of the levels have interesting themes and gimmicks. Things you’d expect from a Sonic game. In the end, Sega just barely got by on their own merits with the help of Naoto Ohshima. I can’t say the future for 2D Sonic looks good but at least it was a fairly decent outing this time.
Also, I wouldn’t recommend getting the Switch version. It looks the worst out of all the platforms. For instance, the sunset version of Bridge Island, the sun isn’t bathing anything in light, or reflecting off of the bridges. And the rock, grass and palm tree textures are severely reduced, making everything look flat and pop less.
So, reduced textures and missing lighting and the Switch version has the most glitches and crashes out of all the versions. Players have reported massive slowdown spikes, meaning severe dips in fps during certain boss battles and even reports of end game cutscenes not loading properly.
I agree, any port that comes out on it gets a severe downgrade both in performance and graphics. Supposedly, the Switch 2 is coming out next year. Rumors are it will have the power of a Playstation 4 by comparison.
And that really isn’t a big deal since we have portable systems like the Steam Deck with the power of a decent PC in your hands. But at least we can get some decent looking games. I assume Nintendo always is a step behind so they can keep the price down.