Takashi Iizuka, leader of the Sonic team, talks about Sonic origins, sprites and plans for the future


Takashi Iizuka, leader of the Sonic team, talks about Sonic origins, sprites and plans for the future

Sonic origins
Image: SEGA

Sonic the Hedgehog fans have had a lot to talk about lately. The staggered gameplay reveals and initial reactions to Sonic Frontiers have been one of the big talking points during this time outside of E3 2022, but we also had the upcoming release of Sonic Origins to look forward to. While the previous game seemed to literally push the blues to new 3D boundaries, Origins is a compilation of Sonic’s 2D 16-bit hits that has fans from the Mega Drive days eager to relive the classic zones and characters we’ve come to love have made to revisit love with the series in the first place.

Reviews from other platforms are in (and we’ll work to provide ours once the Switch code is available) and it seems that the critical reaction to this Sonic collection is pretty positive; reassuring news for fans of these classic 2D platformers.

We recently had the opportunity to tell Takashi Iizuka, the leader of the Sonic team, a little bit about the new collection, the series in general, his thoughts on future collaborations with Christian Whitehead and Headcannon from Sonic Mania, and various other things related to Sonic ask—including this burning question every old-school Sonic fan is dying to ask: Which is better, the Sprite Sonic 2 or Sonic 3?

Nintendo Life: Can you first describe how the Sonic Origins project got the green light? How long is it in development?

Takashi Iizuka
Image: Takashi Iizuka

Takashi Iizuka: We’ve long wanted to deliver an Origins-style collection that brings classic Sonic titles into the modern age with revamped graphics and new ways to play. As we celebrate over 30 years of Sonic, it seemed like the perfect time to do so. We’re thrilled that long-time fans and newcomers alike can rediscover the classic Sonic and experience all the nostalgic content we’ve included.

How did the success of Sonic Mania affect your decision to continue with Sonic Origins?

Sonic Mania certainly helped reassure us that 2D Sonic titles could still thrive in the 2020s. But we’ve often thought about how to bring the classic Sonic into the modern age. The original titles are so popular and still play so well today that we definitely don’t want to limit them to legacy systems.

While Sonic 3 (& Knuckles) and Sonic CD are less widely available, Sonic 1 and 2 are among the most ported titles in gaming history (we’re pretty sure we own both on a dozen different platforms!) – in the Design phase, how did you approach these classics to ensure these are the ‘ultimate’ versions?

As you say, Sonic Origins offers the ultimate way to play these games, not only Sonic 1 & 2 but also the later games. We were very keen to explore new ways to play these classic titles, but it was also important to keep the games in their original state. That’s why we’ve included the new Anniversary Mode as an optional, alternative way to play the infinite lives, full-screen games.

What was it like revisiting the work you did on Sonic 3 almost 30 years ago? Have you encountered any elements or design decisions that you would approach differently given your current experience?

It was certainly a journey full of great memories. With the technology available at the time and the timeframe we had to deliver the game, I’m very proud of everything we accomplished with Sonic 3. It’s easy to learn in game development that you could spend so much time tweaking systems and iterating on design and still never be completely satisfied, but I’m very pleased with how Sonic 3 turned out.

Something you quickly learn in game development is that you can spend so much time tweaking systems and iterating on design and still never be completely satisfied, but I’m very happy with how Sonic 3 turned out.

Music from other Mega Drive Sonic games will be available in the Classic Music Pack DLC, and we would have liked to see Knuckles Chaotix in the playable Origins pack. Was this or any of the other games considered for inclusion?

No, since the original Sonic series ranges from Sonic 1 to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, we didn’t think of adding more titles from the start. The game content would also be quite different. We’ve added them to the music pack as DLC so people can relive their memories of other classic titles, even if it’s just through the music.

As various versions of these games have been delisted on other platforms, is there anything from previous versions that will NOT be present in Sonic Origins? For example, many fans have been concerned about certain audio from Sonic 3 and the ability to play Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles in their “separate” forms.

As you know, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are only then combined into their full form as Sonic 3 & Knuckles. In Sonic Origins, we made the decision not to split them up so players can enjoy them in their combined, complete form. In previous ports that used emulators, they were presented in their original form for better or for worse, but in Sonic Origins we’ve made various improvements and upgrades. I hope everyone can enjoy these improvements too.

Has there been any discussion about including the Sonic Advance games or the 8-bit games in the Origins collection? Are there any plans to play these games again on a modern platform in the future?

Sonic Origins focused on the main series of classic games, so there were no plans to include other titles. Currently there are no plans to port other titles, but I would like to consider it if we see the reaction after the release of Sonic Origins.

sonic mania

Sonic Team’s collaboration with Christian Whitehead and Headcannon seems to have been very fruitful, and we know that their work fed into the development of Origins. Do you think there will be more collaborations with these developers on future Sega projects?

I would like to believe that! They are incredibly talented and their passion for the series means we are very grateful to be working with them. We know that if Sonic fans are happy with their work, they will be too.

Looking ahead, we’re sure many fans would love to see the Sonic Adventure games brought back in a similar vein – perhaps as Sonic 3D Origins?

Sonic Adventure will always be very close to my heart.

Sonic Adventure will always be very close to my heart. In the 3D Sonic space, our current focus is on delivering an epic new Sonic experience with Sonic Frontiers.

Alongside 3D games like the upcoming Sonic Frontiers, there seems to be a healthy appetite for 2D Sonic projects. Can we expect new 2D titles in the future, maybe 16-bit style?

It’s too early to share plans for other Sonic titles, for now we’re focusing on Origins and then Frontiers. What is beyond that, we have to tell you at the right time.

After the huge success of the two Sonic films (the second of which is still awaiting release in Japan!), could you comment on how the Sonic team is reacting to the films? Could the film version of the character ever appear in a game?

We loved bringing Sonic to life on the big screen. This is something we’ve always dreamed of, and to see the films being so well received by both long-time fans and franchise newcomers is a dream come true.

Finally, from a development perspective, which game in the Sonic series has been your most creative fulfillment at work?

As the first full 3D Sonic titles, I have to say that Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were my favorite titles to work on, although I really enjoyed working on all of them. I’ve always been curious as to where Sonic might go next.

sound and shadow
Image: SEGA

And a quick “bonus” question: there’s a lot of discussion in our office, but which Sonic sprite do you prefer – the Sonic 2 version or the Sonic 3 one?

My journey with Sonic really started with Sonic 3, so I can’t possibly say anything other than that, right…?

Many thanks to Mr. Iizuka for taking the time to speak with us. Sonic Origins releases Thursday, June 23 for Switch and other platforms. Look out for our review soon.

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