Although the game’s been out for less than a week, Sonic Mania from Sega already has the speed to be in the running for 2017’s best video games. It’s a nostalgic blast from the past that rekindles the classic Sega Genesis days, while packing more than enough contemporary design to hook new players to the series. In short, it’s everything that we’ve ever wanted from a Sonic game…even though Sonic Forces has a lot to live up to.
To get more info about what went into the revival of the classic Sonic gameplay style, we sat down with Sega of America’s vice president of product development, Takashi Iizuka, about how its creation came about, how it brings back happy memories of the speedster’s 16-bit days, and, hopefully, what’s next.
First off, what inspired you guys to make another classic Sonic game? Were you trying to go for the vibe that people first fell in love with back on the Sega Genesis?
We considered the concept originally as a title that would really appeal to the Sonic fans who have been there since the Genesis/Mega Drive era. In the beginning, we were thinking of just doing a remake of the classic games, but I didn’t really feel like that would be what fans really wanted. That’s when I proposed taking the assets from the classic titles and making something new with them, so we could provide a brand-new game to fans to get them excited for the content.
There were a lot of great classic ideas that are coming back to the forefront with this game. Did you guys sit around and discuss, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we included…”?
I didn’t really get to sit around and have a lot of face-to-face conversations with the team, since we had such an international development team. We had team members stretched out between Australia, American time zones and all the way to the U.K. so reviewing documents and responding to emails were the main methods of confirming and directing ideas. A couple of ideas I mentioned when we were discussing the game at the early concept stage did make it into the product, though. (The opening in-game scene as well as the Death Egg Robot appearing in Green Hill.)
Let’s talk about the soundtrack. How did you guys manage to create such an amazing soundtrack for the game?
Tee oversaw the background music for the title as the Sound Composer. He is very passionate about Sonic music, even remixing music from past titles as a hobby, and was a great person to be put in charge of the music for the game. The Act 1 music has a very similar feel to the original background music, with the Act 2 music building upon the music with arrangements and remixing. If you enjoyed the music in the classic series Sonic games you should really enjoy the music in Sonic Mania.
Let’s talk about the developers involved with the game. We know Headcannon and Christian Whitehead are involved, but did anyone else from the Sonic team take part in the game’s creation? Did Sonic Team provide any consultation outside of their own Sonic Forces project?
I am, actually, the only game designer in the current Sonic Team that worked on Sonic titles back on the Genesis, so for Sonic Mania I was checking all of the level design to make sure it really felt like a classic Sonic game. This was work I was doing when I first joined SEGA over 20 years ago, so it was really fun to come back and do this same type of work again now. Hoshino-san did the “pixel art” for Sonic CD back in the day, so I did have him review the graphics for Sonic Mania.
Are there hidden goodies in the game that fans will be thrilled with?
There are tons of hidden goodies! I don’t want to really divulge any of the hidden content here, because that would take away from the surprise when you encounter it in the game, but there should be a lot of great hidden goodies for the fans to pick up on.
The old-school look of the game is insanely good. Did you guys actually do emulation through a Genesis to capture the classic visual effect, or perhaps some other trick?
The development team have technical experience porting and improving the classic Sonic game experience for mobile and tablet platforms, so it was no problem for them to create new effects and graphic data to look just like the classic games. Of course, they were not out to just create the same graphics as the previous games, they were recreating new assets to look better than the old assets without looking different.
How fun was it revisiting some of the older levels from Sonic’s legacy, like Chemical Plant and Green Hill Zone?
As someone who was on the team creating the classic Sonic games, it was a lot of fun to go back and reimagine those levels I had already played so much. We had created Green Hill and Chemical Plant levels in Sonic Generations, but it had been about 20 years since I had played Flying Battery and Lava Reef, so just hearing the background music really got my heart pumping. I think the fans will be just as excited and moved from this game as I was.
Finally, do you possibly see a sequel to Sonic Mania coming in the future? Or maybe a spin-off of another Sonic classic game? A new Sonic Spinball would be interesting.
We just finished up with development on Sonic Mania, so I haven’t had any time to think of what is next. I’d like to see a lot of people enjoy Sonic Mania and find out what everyone liked first, then I’ll think about what the future holds.
Sonic Mania is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and NIntendo Switch