A couple weeks ago, Sega did something it doesn’t normally do: it gathered up a bunch of its studios (Atlus, Amplitude, Sega of Europe and others) and put together a showcase highlighting a number of titles coming out over the next few months.
Like a lot of people, I have a love-hate relationship with Sonic. While the original games on the Genesis produced iconic levels like the Green Hill Zone and unforgettable characters like Tails, Knuckles and the lovable blue hedgehog himself, more recent titles often miss the mark (to put it politely). Sonic the Hedgehog ‘06 nearly broke me and the Sonic Boom series was a particularly dark period for fans of speedy protagonists.
But Sonic Superstars feels like a return to form, expanding on the breakneck 2D gameplay the franchise was best at, while adding a super crisp art style that doesn’t rely on 16-bit nostalgia. Stages like Cyber Station Zone offer fun twists on the formula by letting you transform into voxelized squids or rockets as you traverse the level. In a lot of ways, it feels like Sega is finally giving side-scrolling Sonic games the overhaul they’ve needed for more than a decade, similar to what Nintendo is doing with Super Mario Bros. Wonder.
Furthermore, Sega has added multiplayer co-op to a 2D Sonic game for the first time, and not coincidentally, it plays a lot like a modern Mario title. Health, or in this case rings are shared between all the players, so as long as your party possesses a single shiny loop, you can revive your friends (except for during boss fights). The one small issue is that due to the pace of the game, if you die you might get stuck in a floating bubble for a bit until things slow down and your friends get a chance to break you out.
This is probably the game I was most excited to try out, and even with high expectations I did not come away wanting. Not only is it a treat to hear more riffs on one of the greatest video game soundtracks in recent memory, there are so many mechanics from the JRPG franchise that transition seamlessly to the tactics genre, I’m kind of surprised it took Atlus this long to make a Persona spin-off like this.
Right away the game introduces concepts like team attacks and knockdowns that had me thinking about how to take down enemies in the fewest moves. And instead of Persona’s traditional elemental affinities, Tactica introduces new cover mechanics that make the game feel like a mix between XCOM and the Mario + Rabbids series. The chibi-style art is also fun and expressive without being too kawaii.
Also, while it’s always nice to have played Persona 5 for the added context, the title is a self-contained story featuring new characters, so you don’t need to spend 50+ hours playing P5 before diving into this.
Persona 3 Reload (Release date: February 2, 2024)
I don’t have much to say about Persona 3 Reload aside from I’m thankful that this game is finally getting the remake it deserves. The original basically paved the way for the last 15+ years of Persona RPGs. It’s kind of a shame Atlus isn’t including some of the extra content from Persona 3 FES and the PSP port (notably the female protagonist), but with discs for the original PS2 game becoming harder and harder to find, it’s nice to have a great looking and more widely available version coming in early 2024.
While I’m familiar with some of Amplitude Studio’s previous titles, the latest entry in the Endless series might be the most pleasant surprise I encountered at the showcase. It’s a twin-stick shooter with squad-based gameplay that’s layered on top of rogue-lite mechanics that allow you to unlock things like new weapons, characters and abilities. You can choose to go it alone and control up to three heroes at the same time (with some automated assistance) or play co-op (both local and online) with friends. Either way, the game is refreshingly challenging.
As you explore and open doors, you’ll unleash waves of enemies, collect items and upgrade skills. When you reach the final room, you’ll face a huge horde and even with one of the devs giving me pointers, we didn’t survive. But that merely highlighted the depth of the game’s strategic elements. From what I played, Endless Dungeon has exactly what I look for in a rogue-lite: deep mechanics and solid replayability (with engaging co-op as a bonus).
But my favorite thing is that, despite Sega’s long history on consoles, all of the games above will also be available on PC. This is a move the publisher said it wanted to embrace after seeing strong sales on Steam during the pandemic. Regardless, whether you’re an old-school 2D platformer junkie or someone who just wants more tactics games, there’s a lot to like from Sega’s growing family of studios. And that’s even with me running out of time to check out some of Sega’s other upcoming releases like Total War: Pharoah or Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name.