In 2017, Sonic Mania revitalized the classic 2D roots of the Sonic series, invoking nostalgia for the beloved titles from the 1990s Genesis and Sega CD era. Despite the existence of other 2D gameplay titles like Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors, Sonic Mania truly captured the essence of the Classic Sonic experience. Fans eagerly anticipated a sequel, but when Christian Whitehead, the mastermind behind Sonic Mania, and Sega decided to explore different creative paths amicably, Sonic Team’s creative officer, Takashi Iizuka, saw an opportunity to build upon Sonic Mania’s success.
“I didn’t anticipate such an overwhelming fan reaction or success during Sonic Mania’s development,” admits Iizuka. “But that success paved the way to consider the next generation of Classic Sonic, leading us to Sonic Superstars. It became evident that fans still cherished and craved the Classic series.”
The journey to Sonic Superstars started during the COVID-19 lockdown when Iizuka received an unexpected message from Naoto Ohshima, the co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog and the president of the Japanese development studio, Arzest. Ohshima, renowned for designing the iconic characters of Sonic and Dr. Eggman during his tenure at Sega from 1987 to 1999, proposed something rather unusual – a Zoom drinking party.
“Ohshima-san said, ‘Hey, Iizuka-san, we should get on Zoom and have a drinking party together,” Iizuka recalls. “During that call, we started chatting, and the conversation naturally drifted to bringing back a Classic Sonic game. Ohshima-san expressed his strong desire to be involved, and that’s how it all began.”
Despite having been away from the Sonic franchise since the days of Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast, Ohshima kept up with its developments. He admired titles like Sonic Colors, Sonic Mania, and Sonic Frontiers, but Sonic Generations held a special place in his heart due to its stunning visuals and the fusion of Modern and Classic Sonic gameplay. This intersection of old and new elements made the concept of Sonic Superstars, a Classic Sonic game with modernized visuals and mechanics, even more appealing to him.
In the 24 years since leaving Sega to establish his own studio, Ohshima has been involved in numerous game projects. Nevertheless, his reputation as the creator of Sonic remained intact, and he felt a deep gratitude towards the fans who continued to support the franchise.
“A lot of people who follow me on social networks are fans of Sonic,” Ohshima says. “I’ve been wanting to show my appreciation for them, and being part of developing this game allowed me to do just that.”
Iizuka recognized Ohshima’s vast experience with Classic Sonic games, making him the ideal collaborator for Sonic Superstars. Ohshima’s contributions to character design in games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles Chaotix, as well as his directorial role in Sonic CD, one of the series’ most beloved entries, showcased his profound influence on the Classic Sonic era. On the other hand, Iizuka’s tenure at Sega since 1992 allowed him to oversee almost every Sonic title since Sonic the Hedgehog 3 in 1994. He is credited with guiding the Sonic franchise into the Modern era as the director of the Sonic Adventure games.
“Ohshima-san’s knowledge and design sensibilities are rooted in the Classic Sonic era, but he has adapted to modern technology and processes,” explains Iizuka. “This unique blend allows him to create contemporary games while maintaining the charm of the Classic Sonic era.”
While Arzest and Ohshima took the lead on Sonic Superstars’ development, Sonic Team collaborated closely, with Iizuka and Ohshima regularly exchanging ideas and sharing production responsibilities. After establishing the game’s direction, much of the development work was handled by Arzest, but Sonic Team remained actively involved. Members of Sonic Team, including Iizuka, even traveled from Burbank, California, to Yokohama, Japan, to work together on the project.
With both Ohshima and Iizuka acting as producers, they efficiently divided their duties, leveraging their experience from working together in the ’90s. “During my time at Sonic Team, I was a game director, but I also dealt with player specifications and model animations,” Ohshima says. “I handled various producer-like tasks, including character product rollouts and negotiations with the marketing department. This time, Iizuka-san took care of those aspects, allowing me to focus on game development.”
The development process seems to have gone smoothly, as Ohshima hints at a surprisingly short development cycle. He praises Sonic Team, particularly Iizuka, for their impressive work. “I consider myself an idea person, but Iizuka-san always astonishes me with his ideas,” Ohshima remarks. “Sonic Team lived up to my high expectations, and it was a pleasure to work with them again.”
Similarly, Iizuka enjoyed the reunion, relishing Ohshima’s creative mind and the plethora of inspirations he brought to the table. “He’s a fantastic person to talk to, and his abundance of ideas enhances the game’s quality,” Iizuka says. “Working with him is a unique experience compared to other developers.”
Satisfied with their collaboration, both Iizuka and Ohshima focused wholeheartedly on their primary objective: creating a game that would not only delight fans of the cherished 2D Sonic titles but also appeal to a new generation of players. The highly anticipated Sonic Superstars is scheduled for release on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC this fall. For more exclusive coverage, including hands-on gameplay of never-before-seen zones and a detailed overview of all the Emerald Powers, click on the banner below.
- Official Sonic Superstars Website ( www.sonic-superstars.com)
- Sega’s Press Release or Newsroom ( www.sega.com/press)
- Interview with Takashi Iizuka or Naoto Ohshima ( www.gamingmagazine.com/interviews/iizuka-ohshima-sonic-superstars)
- Gaming Magazine’s Exclusive Coverage ( www.gamingmagazine.com/sonic-superstars-hands-on)
- Gaming Forum’s Discussion on Sonic Superstars ( www.gamersforum.com/sonic-superstars-discussion)