Sonic Team Head Takashi Iizuka Talks About Sonic Origins, Sprites and Future Plans

Sonic Origins
Image: SEGA

Sonic the Hedgehog fans have plenty to talk about lately. The staggered gameplay reveals and first reactions to Sonic Limits have been one of the big talking points in this non-E3 2022 period, but we also have the impending release of Sonic Origins to look forward to. While the previous game seems to quite literally take the blue to new 3D frontiers, Origins is a compilation of Sonic’s 2D 16-bit hits that has got fans from the Mega Drive days excited to revisit the classic zones and characters that will allow we fell in love with the series in the first place.

Reviews from other platforms are in (and we’ll be working on delivering ours as soon as the Switch code is available), and it looks like the critical response to this Sonic collection has been pretty positive; comforting news for fans of these classic 2D platformers.

We recently had the opportunity to ask Takashi Iizuka, head of Sonic Team, about the new collection, the series in general, his thoughts on future collaborations with Sonic Mania‘s Christian Whitehead and Headcannon, and various other Sonic-related stuff — including that burning question every old-school Sonic fan desperately wants to ask: Which is better, the Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 sprite?

Nintendo Life: First off, can you describe how the Sonic Origins project gets the green light? How long has it been in development?

Takashi Iizuka
Image: Takashi Iizuka

Takashi Iizuka: We’ve long wanted to deliver an Origins-style collection, bringing classic Sonic titles to the modern day with remastered visuals and new ways to play the games. As we celebrate over 30 years of Sonic, it felt like the perfect time to do it. We’re really excited for fans and newcomers to the series to rediscover the classic Sonic and experience all of the nostalgic content we’ve added.

How influential was the success of Sonic Mania in your decision to move forward with Sonic Origins?

Sonic Mania has certainly reassured us that 2D Sonic titles could still be successful in the 2020s. But we’ve often thought about how to bring the classic Sonic into the modern era. The original titles are so beloved and still play so well even today, we certainly 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 some of the most ported titles in gaming history (we’re pretty sure we own both on a dozen different platforms!) – in the design stage, how did you approach those classics to make sure they were the ‘ultimate’ versions?

As you say, Sonic Origins provides the ultimate way to play these games, not only Sonic 1 & 2, but also the later games. We were eager to discover new ways to play these classic titles, but it was also vital that the games were kept in their original state. That’s why we’ve included the new Anniversary mode as an optional, alternate way to play the games, with infinite lives and full screen viewing.

What was it like revisiting work you did on Sonic 3 nearly 30 years ago? Have you come across any elements or design choices that you would now approach differently given your experience?

It was certainly a trip full of beautiful memories. With the technology available at the time and the time frame we had to deliver the game, I’m very proud of everything we’ve accomplished with Sonic 3. One thing you learn quickly when developing games is that you could spend on tweaking systems and iterating on design and I’m still never completely satisfied, but I’m really happy with how Sonic 3 came out.

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

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

No, since the original Sonic series goes from Sonic 1 to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, we didn’t think about including any other 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 revisit their memories of other classic titles, even if it’s just through the music.

Since several versions of these games have been removed on other platforms, is there anything from previous versions that will NOT be present in Sonic Origins? Many fans are concerned about certain audio from Sonic 3and the ability to play Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles in their ‘separate’ forms.

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

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

Sonic Origins was focused on the main series classic games, so there were no plans to include other titles. At the moment there are no plans to transfer other titles, but I’d be happy to take it into consideration if we see the reaction after Sonic Origins is released.

Sonic Mania

Sonic Team’s collaboration with Christian Whitehead and Headcannon appears to have been very fruitful, and we understand that their work was used in the development of Origins. Do you think there will be further collaborations with those developers in future Sega projects?

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

Looking ahead, we are sure that many fans will like the Sonic Adventure games brought back in a similar fashion – perhaps a ‘Sonic 3D Origins’?

Sonic Adventure will always be very dear to me.

Sonic Adventure will always be very dear to me. In the 3D Sonic space, we are currently focused on delivering an epic new Sonic experience with Sonic Frontiers.

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

It’s too early to share plans for other Sonic titles, right now our focus is on Origins and then on Frontiers. What’s out there, we’ll have to tell you when the time is right.

After the huge success of the two Sonic films (the second of which is still awaiting release in Japan!), can you tell us a bit about Sonic Team’s reaction to the films? Could the movie version of the character ever appear in a game?

We loved seeing Sonic come to life on the big screen. It’s something we’ve always dreamed of, and to see the movies so well received by longtime fans and newcomers to the franchise is a dream come true.

Finally, from a development perspective, which game in the Sonic series was the most creative for you to work on?

As the first fully 3D Sonic titles, I think I should say Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were my favorite titles to work on, although I really enjoyed working on them all. I’ve always been excited to see where Sonic might go.

Sonic and shadow
Image: SEGA

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

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

Many thanks to Mr. Iizuka for taking the time to talk to us. Sonic Origins releases on Thursday, June 23 for Switch and other platforms. Stay tuned for our review coming soon.

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