It’s no secret that it’s a good time to be a Sonic fan. Between the blue blur’s 35th anniversary, the movies, the series and the games (plural!), there’s just so much of him to take in.
With Sonic Superstars releasing soon, we caught up with Takashi Iizuka, producer of Sonic Superstars as well as Naoto Ohshima, producer and legendary designer of the iconic speedster about all things Sonic Superstars, including the return of a familiar face in the game.
One thing of important note is the lasting effect of Sonic Mania. While Sonic has spent recent years experimenting with 3D (leading up to the excellent Sonic Frontiers), Sonic Mania was a title that really invigorated the thirst for 2D Sonic in a popular way. Here, we asked Iizuka and Oshima all about the release of Sonic Superstars, especially in the wake of Mania’s popularity.
How does it feel knowing we’re in this Sonic Rennaissance?
Iizuka: Last year we had modern development of 3D solid Sonic, as you have suggested. And that’s partly in the case so that we can get the 3D Sonic developed in various different channels and to make sure that 3D Sonic is getting all the attention that it deserves simultaneously with the release of titles such as Sonic Mania and the other 2D titles.
We also want to keep the progression of the 2D classical Sonic as well at the same pace so that over the next decades, or into the far future, we can keep both Sonic titles alive and evolving. And when it comes to Sonic Superstars, it’s kind of like the final hurrah of the two kind of coming together for the audience to both enjoy future and Classical Sonic.
Speaking of Mania, were there any ideas from there you felt you had to carry over into Sonic Superstars?
Iizuka: The answer for that is that we definitely had some ideas that we wanted to sustain through the creation of Sonic Superstars. We definitely had a lot of positive response that 2D Classical Sonic was coming back in Sonic Mania and that a lot of fans of the original Sonic series felt that the retro comeback of the series was definitely in the correct direction.
So in lieu of this positive feedback, we want to recreate and keep that original physics and the gameplay aspects. And Ohshima-san also helped us to greatly reflect this into Sonic Superstars.
While Sonic has always been presented as being more for casual, there’s also an audience that likes more tech technical features like flight canceling, etc, Do the team also like to intentionally include these more advanced gameplay systems for players?
Iizuka: The classical series and modern series have a significant difference between them. The modern series is developed in the form to really aim hardcore game gamers who enjoy the difficulty of challenge, who enjoy the speed challenges. However, when it comes to the classical series, it includes more emphasis on casual players.
In the same tone, Sonic Superstars is taking advantage of that ability to reach out to more casual gamers. However, we didn’t wanna outcast the more hardcore gamers who enjoy the advanced challenges or want to try out advanced gameplay. So in order to balance that out, we have made it accessible for advanced players to use advanced techniques. It wasn’t added into the game as a whim, but with the intention that if people enjoy the difficulty of challenge, they can also challenge that as they play.
Sonic In Thailand
One landmark with the release of Sonic Superstars is that the game features Thai language support. Given the growth of the SEA region in the industry and the diverse languages on display, it makes sense that a big brand like Sonic would need to reflect that diversity, too.
Could you talk a bit about bringing Thai language support to Sonic Superstars?
Iizuka: So for the question regarding the expectations for the Thai players and Thai localization is that as the studio developers, we cannot read Thai as a language because the alphabet is brand new to us. However, we did receive quite a significant number of feedback from the Thai audience of wanting Thai language support where possible . And we definitely wanted to answer to that feedback that you have received. We want to be able to read a broader audience in the Asia region, specifically in the Southeast Asia region.
Of course, as with any game developers, we want our games to be enjoyed widely and by a lot of people, including the people in Thailand and hopefully with the Thai localization, you’ll be able to enjoy it with more deeper understanding and appreciation of the Sonic series.
As you may already know, increasing the language support of any game takes a lot of know-how and a lot of effort from a lot of different people. And in response to that we really do hope that the Thai audience will be able to enjoy this title in their own native language. And if we’re able to secure positive response to what we have done at this time, we will also look into future perspectives for including Thai language support in our future games as well.
Sonic the Hedgehog really has a strong image of being a prominent popular IP and character in, the west more so than in in Asia.
However, as a creator one of my goals is to make sure that everybody across the world including Asia has the same level of excitement for Sonic the Hedgehog and the same level of popularity in the market and everybody is able to enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog together.
Currently with the addition of the Thai language support we hope that the Thai audience will really be able to start loving and enjoying Sonic the Hedgehog even more along with the rest of the western audience who have been long so very much in support of Sonic. The Hedgehog as a fast blue hedgehog. In addition to that we also have online co op support this time. So at this time we have online competition support in the game as well. And then we hope that a lot of people will be able to enjoy Sonic superstars together from anywhere across the world using this feature.
Given you were behind the original Sonic The Hedgehog design, what’s it like seeing the character evolve so much over the years?
Ohshima: I created Sonic and then after that I did, I was in the process of leaving Sega and have since left Sega. The Sonic itself has been able to reach a lot of people and gain a lot of support from a lot of fans everywhere around the world.
Throughout that time I was able to also be in touch with different games and work on various different projects. But even through that, there was a lot of people reaching out about Sonic the Hedgehog.
And as a way to say thanks and as a way to give something back to the community that is supporting Sonic to a very large extent, I was reached out by Iizuka San and was asked to help out with bring back a certain element of Sonic to the audience, again through Sonic Superstars. And I was more than willing to do that and capture considered as a chance for me to give back to the community.
As for Iizuka-san, what would you say was your highlight as the Team Sonic Creative Officer?
Iizuka: For me, it’s really difficult to pinpoint exactly one specific moment that was the highlight of my experience with Sonic. As I have been with the Sonic team for around and over 30 years. There’s really no single moment, but there are a lot of different moments that I can recall that was one of the best moments in my lifetime at Sonic Team.
One of them, for example, is when we put in a lot of effort to bring out a Sonic game and we get an overwhelmingly positive response to the product itself from the Sonic community.
It definitely feels like we’re doing something that is really being supported by the fans and going in the positive direction as well. Another one of the amazing feelings was that being able to see Sonic come to life in a movie, and being able to see Sonic the Hedgehog on the big blue screen, that has also been one of my biggest dreams for tens of years. And to finally see it come to realization, that was really amazing.
Running Around At The Speed Of Sound, But In Co-Op
Was the gameplay for Sonic Superstars designed with Co Op or single player in mind?
Ohshima: First of all, when it comes to game development, we really focused on the solo gameplay, solo gameplay experience. And then once we were able to perfect that, we moved on to the co op experience.
Obviously when it comes to co op, people can all move in the one direction, play cooperatively. However, there is a tendency for people to move in various different directions, want to do their own things even in a co op setting, or they might even want to challenge one another to outperform one another during the gameplay. And with that in mind, we used elements such as split screen in order to facilitate those moments and make them possible.
With Co-Op games there’s always that fear of players feeling left out or just being made to follow behind one character. Could you talk a bit about avoiding that?
Iizuka: So from here on, obviously we’ll get Oshima San to answer some of the elements, but I wanted to add a little bit more onto the co op element. So when normally you think of co op play with four people, you would see the leader at the front and then the four of them moving together on the screen.
The Sonic is super speeds character, so you can go first. Even the three character still here. So you don’t have to wait.
So as mentioned, it’s not really like that traditional way of playing in a co op co op setting where you all move together or forced to move together. With Sonic Superstars, you have the ability to go at your own pace even at a co op setting.
You can either cooperatively work in a co op way to beat and defeat the level, or you can compete with one another and speak with one another while you’re in a couch setting to kind of be like, wait, hang on a minute, I wanna catch up or you can just kind of speed off and do your own thing and wait for everybody else to catch up to you and compete that way as well. So it really allows the players to have and experience their own freedoms in Co op play.
Ohshima: So in addition to what was mentioned by Iizuka-San, there are elements such as the warp element where if one of the players enters this warp kind of appearance, all of the rest of them will be dragged into the wormhole together. And then it kind of acts as a shortcut to a little bit move closer to the end of the stage. It the reason, one of the reasons for that is not just as a gimmick, but it allows for players to have a mode of togetherness while they’re in a co-op setting. And then it adds a bit of unity in the gameplay as well.
New Gameplay Features
Could you talk about the kind of completion features in Sonic Superstars?
Ohshima: This time we have added the elements of medals in each level. So they’re placed randomly in different areas. And once you reach it and collect it, you’ll be able to get a bonus level, kind of like in the original Sonic the Hedgehog. And then through there you’ll be able to collect more medals and then use that as a currency almost for the online battle mode. And through the currency, you’ll be able to customize the character’s appearances for the online experience.
So that the Metal Fighter that was mentioned in the answer is part of the element that you’ll be able to see in the online combat mode. So each one of the Characters, they’ll have a metal character versions of themselves that you’ll be able to customize.
We also previously saw the abilities like the clone summon, how do you implement those while also making sure they feel true to the characters?
Iizuka: First of all, the four characters each have their own unique abilities. So for example, you’ve got a drop dash for Sonic, you’ve got the hammer for Amy, and you’ve also got the spinning tails for Tails. Tails can fly right? and Knuckles can climb the wall.
So at the moment, the kind of these special abilities that are known as Emerald Powers, there’s a total of seven one for each Chaos Emerald to kind of reflect that.
Previously, as you’ve mentioned, there is like this cloning technique where you kind of split into fragments of yourself and multiply. And then there’s also the water climbing technique as well.
The current demo, unlike the one that was available at the Singapore one has 4 such powers available for you to try out. So that’s an additional two that you can try out as well. Each of these Emerald powers were thought of in a way to reflect the each kind of unique elements of the characters in lieu with what the Emerald or should be able to provide you in the gameplay as well.
There are seven Emerald Powers, and all characters can use the Emerald Power.
You can play the demo on the show floor. So you can play four Emerald powers Avatar is a clone power and Water and Vision. So, Vision can let you see the hidden place in the stages.
One more was added, Bullet, so you can change the direction in the air, so you can play 4 different Emerald Powers. In the show floor then we already have we still have three more numerous power in the production final product. So you can play through the ending without Emerald power so Emerald power is just for the additional so you can.
So since we’re collecting all the Chaos Emeralds again, does that mean we’re going to see Amy, Tails and Knuckles get Super Forms?
Iizuka: We won’t be able to elaborate onthe setting further, but we’ll, we’re definitely making sure that we won’t betray the fans and their Expectations.
The Return of Rabbit
Any chances of seeing other popular Sonic characters coming via DLC?
Iizuka: When it comes to DLC, there are already kind of information out there about the Digital Deluxe Edition. First of all, there is the Lego Skin that has been announced where it will turn your character’s appearance into Lego-like appearances. In additional to that, there is something really special included in the Digital Deluxe is the inclusion of an original concept character called Rabbit.
Rabbit which was kind of the predecessor of what we know today as Sonic the Hedgehog. They’re not completely like 1 to 1 evolution, but it’s the original concept that came before the idea of Sonic the Hedgehog being a hedgehog.
It was actually designed and conceptualized on a Mega Drive and then now it’s been recreated as a 3D model that you can actually play in Sonic Superstars. And we definitely want a lot of people to enjoy this very special character.
Ohshima: Well, as I was creating it, as a character designer, it’s instinctual to end up improving the way a character looks or the way it behaves. However, because we wanted to keep the original concept as it was in the original, Iizuka-San was telling me off to return it to the way it was and not the improved version to keep the originality.
Iizuka: Your rabbit sketch is very popular in the Sonic Fans. So I want to create that exact same Rabbit in the game. That’s why.
What feature would you say you’re most proud of?
Ohshima: For me, I really enjoyed the ability to play with three other people, four in total, including yourself, and to be able to compete in Sonic and Sonic superstars.
Iizuka: As previously mentioned, I really love the fact that I was able to work with Ohshima-san to build the classical sonic of physics into this game. That’s really special for me.
But the other one aside from that I want to point out as being one of my favorites is the fact that there’s this new character in there that has a very unique personality. the character he or she is a little bit of a trickster. Trip has this very cute the helmet on her face and you don’t really understand what she’s thinking or how she’s gonna behave into the future.
She’s a little bit of like evilness as well as good sides to her, but there’s just so much going on with this new character that I really like.
Ohshima: When it came to the design of Trip, they worked together collaboratively on the design and we really put in as much as we could when it comes to the character design. And we’re very excited to bring it into Sonic Superstars. In addition to that, the story itself is very interesting for us. Even. So we’re hoping that a lot of people will be able to enjoy this take on the Sonic series and the kind of new appearance into the is 2D,3D mashup.
We’re just a few weeks out from Sonic Superstars release, anything you wanna share with the fans before you go?
Ohshima: It’s been a really long time since I was able to work on Sonic again. And I’m really glad that I was able to get the opportunity to work on Sonic alongside Iizuka-San. As many fun times, there were some tough times in there as well. But I think in the end, we really gave it our all and we have an amazing Sonic game coming up. And I hope all the fans and everybody in the media will be able to enjoy Sonic superstars. We look forward to your positive response
Iizuka: So Sonic Superstars is the big comeback of classic Sonic onto the latest platforms ever since the Mega Drive. And we’re definitely looking forward to having the classic fans to be able to enjoy the classical physics again and play the Sonic that they wanted and waited for.
However, in addition to that, Sonic Superstars is really aimed to be played together with others, be that for the parents playing with their children or friends together in a college dorm room, for example, and then compete with one another or teach each other how certain things in Sonic Superstars works and really get to enjoy it together or compete together and enjoy the competition that the Sonic Superstars gameplay experience enables.
As previously mentioned, it’s really enabling simple casual play as well as advance complicated play. So it’s great for family gatherings or even casual gatherings with your friends, relatives or whoever may be. So really hope that you’ll be able to play it together and experience Sonic Superstars to the fullest. Thank you very much.
That concludes our chat with Ohshima and Iizuka, ahead of the release of Sonic Superstars next month. With Sonic being such a mainstay of modern gaming, it’s impressive to see the man behind the iconic mascot as well as the man in charge of steering the Sonic ship all these years coming together for the next title.
Our thanks to Ohshima-san and Iizuka-san for taking the time to talk Sonic with us, and if you’re in Tokyo for Tokyo Game Show 2023 don’t forget to check out the SEGA booth if you want to try out the game for yourself.