Sonic Team Head Talks Sonic Origins, Next Mainline Game, And 30th Anniversary
Late last month, Sega held Sonic Central, a stream jam-packed with Sonic the Hedgehog news. In addition to information about merchandising deals and upcoming animated shorts, we learned about three new projects on the horizon for the speedster. Sonic Colors: Ultimate is up first, bringing the Wii favorite forward to modern platforms, followed by Sonic Origins, a compilation of classic games from Genesis and Sega CD. However, the news that everyone was waiting for came in the form of a cryptic teaser trailer for the next mainline game from Sonic Team.
Unfortunately, there was next to no information in the teaser. While internet sleuths have pieced together some information, Sonic Team and Sega have been tight-lipped about the 2022 release, not even providing a title at the time of the announcement. With details scarce, I reached out to head of Sonic Team and longtime series designer, director, and producer Takashi Iizuka to learn more about the Sonic Central news and what the 30th anniversary means for Sega's Blue Blur.
What does it mean to you for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise to reach the 30th anniversary milestone?
For the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, it means we have reached the turning point where we have connected across generations. The generation in their teens who played Sonic the Hedgehog on their Genesis would have children in their teens now – perhaps they are playing Sonic games together or telling their kids about playing Sonic when they were their age, sort of like passing the torch to the next generation. Also, for me personally, getting to work with the creators who grew up loving Sonic, like Christian Whitehead who worked on Sonic Mania, or Tyson Hesse who worked on the animated shorts, has been very provocative.
When looking at ways to celebrate the anniversary, what were the things you really wanted to make sure happened?
For me, anniversaries have always been a time to celebrate and appreciate the fans. In past years, this would have meant holding events all over the world and getting to meet and interact with fans from many different countries, but with the current state of things we can't really do that, so we will think of other ways to present something that will really make everyone happy like the upcoming Sonic Symphony.
When I spoke with you at E3 2019, you told me that 2021 would be the next big year for Sonic. As you alluded to, a lot has happened in the world since there. While you were still able to make a bunch of announcements, did the pandemic affect your plans?
To be honest, I would be lying if I said that the pandemic didn't affect our plans at all. We have been working from home at Sega of America since March of 2020, and while we have been effective at working from home, it also did impact our plans. But we are not letting that stop us from executing on things as best as we can and have this be a memorable 30th anniversary for our fans.
Pivoting to the announcements you made, why do you think now is a good time for Sonic Colors to arrive on modern platforms?
While this may be fresh in everyone's memory, last year saw the release and hit of Sonic the Hedgehog in movie theaters. As a result, many people who had never played a Sonic game were introduced to our charismatic character. I had anticipated this and wanted to deliver a title that would be a quintessentially Sonic title for these new people to experience. That title was Sonic Colors, which could not be played on any of the current platforms and was why I wanted to bring it to modern platforms.
Can you tell us anything about what to expect with the Sonic Origins collection? I know a lot of fans who have been with the series as long as I have are going to be anticipating that one.
We have released these titles many times in the past running on emulation but seeing that 4:3 screen ratio on modern 16:9 displays feels very retro. The concept behind Sonic Origins is to make these four legendary titles feel more modern. Of course, this means displaying the title in the full 16:9 screen formats of modern displays. We still have time before this title releases so I can't really get into the details yet, but I believe this will be a title that not only first-time players will enjoy, but also core fans.
I've been telling people that the recent Sega Ages versions of Sonic 1 and 2 on Switch are the best ways to play those games today thanks to all the enhancements. Do you think these new Sonic Origins versions will be able to rival or surpass those versions as the best way to experience those classic games?
I am glad you like the Sega Ages versions of Sonic 1 and 2. There are a lot of original features and game modes we put in there exclusively, so if people haven't played it yet, they should give it a go. However, Sonic Origins will have features that not even the Sega Ages versions have. Not only will the playable game area be in the 16:9 format, but it will also be a multiplatform release of a title containing Sonic 1, 2, 3 & Knuckles, and CD. Look forward to hearing a lot more announcements about Sonic Origins in the near future.
Speaking of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, it's been a long time since we've had a re-release of that game. As someone who was integral to the development of that original title, how does it feel to bring it back to market for the first time in so long?
I think a lot of fans really appreciate the news that we will include Sonic 3 & Knuckles in Sonic Origins, but I think I am the most excited out of everyone. It was the first Sonic title that I worked on and is a title that is really close to my heart, so having the chance to re-release this title after decades is something I am really looking forward to. As development on the title is currently progressing, every time I see Sonic 3 & Knuckles data, I am reminded of all the hard work and excitement I had when I was younger making that title. It really brings back a lot of memories for me.
After Sonic Forces, many fans have been curious about what the next mainline Sonic game from Sonic Team will be like. Now that it's officially announced, can you give any details about the kind of gameplay they should expect from the new game?
Thank you for being so patient. Ever since the release of Sonic Forces, Sonic Team in Japan was trying many different approaches to deliver a next-gen Sonic experience. While celebrating 30 years of Sonic titles and thinking about what the modern gameplay experience should be for a Sonic title, we also needed to think about what path forward we should plan to take for the next decade. There is a lot I can't yet talk about, but we are working hard on the title. We look forward to sharing more information about this title in the future.
Are there any particular things you hope to accomplish with the new game? What lessons did the team learn from games like Sonic Generations and Sonic Forces that will be implemented into the title?
There is a lot I can't say yet about the title, but I do believe we will see an advancement in what a modern Sonic game can be. Of course, we will not deny the high-speed action that characterized previous modern Sonic games like Sonic Generations or Sonic Forces, rather we will create a title that our current gaming fans and new gamers will enjoy.
As you look back at its first 30 years, what do you feel are the biggest accomplishments of the Sonic franchise, and how do you hope to make the next 30 years even better?
We have had many key points in the past 30 years of Sonic history. Of course, the first key point would be the success of the Genesis – that has to be the greatest achievement of them all. Because of that success we launched an animated show, comic books, and many other forms of media. The next big key point was the transition from 2D gameplay to 3D gameplay with the Sonic Adventure series. We were able to recreate the thrill and sensations from the 2D side-scrolling games in a 3D environment, which was the foundation for the current Sonic titles. The next big key point came last year, and it wasn't related to games, but rather the release of the hit movie. With the release of the movie, I could feel everyone immediately recognizing Sonic. If we look back at the historical accomplishments, we can see that both the advancements of the games as well as the expansion of the media have led us to such a successful achievement. I will focus on those two very important points as we move forward to the next 30-year milestone.
Sonic Colors: Ultimate is the next big Sonic release, coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on September 7. Beyond that, 2022 is set to bring the releases of Sonic Origins, the untitled Sonic Team game, and the Netflix series, Sonic Prime.