Sonic Origins
Image: SEGA

Sonic the Hedgehog fans have had plenty to talk about of late. The staggered gameplay reveals and initial reactions to Sonic Frontiers have been one of the big talking points throughout this not-E3 2022 period, but we've also had the impending release of Sonic Origins to look forward to. While the former game looks to be taking the blue one quite literally into fresh 3D frontiers, Origins is a compilation of Sonic's 2D 16-bit hits that has fans from the Mega Drive days eager to revisit the classic zones and characters that made us fall in love with the series in the first place.

Reviews from other platforms are in (and we'll be working to deliver ours as soon as Switch code is available), and it seems that critical reaction to this Sonic collection is pretty positive; reassuring news for fans of these classic 2D platformers.

We recently had the chance to ask Takashi Iizuka, head of Sonic Team, a little 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 things — including that burning question that every old-school Sonic fan is desperate to ask: Which is better, the Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 sprite?

Nintendo Life: Firstly, can you describe the process of the Sonic Origins project getting greenlit? How long has it been in development?

Takashi Iizuka
Image: Takashi Iizuka

Takashi Iizuka: We’ve wanted to deliver an Origins-style collection for a long time, bringing classic Sonic titles into the modern age 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 very excited for long-time fans and series newcomers to rediscover classic Sonic and experience all the nostalgic content we’ve included.

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

Sonic Mania certainly helped reassure us that 2D Sonic titles could still be successful in the 2020s. But we have often thought about how to bring classic Sonic into the modern era. The original titles are so well-loved and still play so well even today, we certainly don’t want to leave them restricted 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!) – at the design stage, how did you approach those classics to make sure these were the ‘ultimate’ versions?

As you say, Sonic Origins offers the ultimate way to play these games, not only Sonic 1 & 2, but the later games as well. We were keen to explore new ways to play these classic titles, but it was vital for the games to be preserved in their original state as well. That’s why we included the new Anniversary mode as an optional, alternative way to play the games, with infinite lives and full-screen display.

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

It has certainly been a journey filled with some great memories. With the technology available then and the time frame we had to deliver the game, I’m very proud of everything that we achieved with Sonic 3. Something you learn quickly in game development is that you could spend so much time tweaking systems and iterating on design and still never be completely satisfied, but I am very happy with how Sonic 3 came out.

Something you learn quickly in game development is that you could spend so much time tweaking systems and iterating on design and still never be completely satisfied, but I am very 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 see Knuckles Chaotix included in the playable Origins package. Was that or either of the other games considered for inclusion?

No, since the original Sonic series goes from Sonic 1 to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, from the beginning we didn’t consider including any other titles. The game content would be pretty different, too. We added them to the music pack as DLC so people could revisit their memories of other classic titles, even if it’s only through the music.

With various versions of these games being delisted on other platforms, is there anything from previous versions that will NOT be present in Sonic Origins? Many fans have been worried about certain audio from Sonic 3, for example, and 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 do they turn into their complete 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 have made various improvements and upgrades. I hope everyone can enjoy those improvements as well.

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

Sonic Origins was focused on the main series of classic games, so there were no plans to include other titles. At this point there aren’t any plans to port other titles, but I’d like to consider it when we see the reaction after Sonic Origins releases.

Sonic Mania

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

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

Looking ahead, we’re certain that many fans would love to see the Sonic Adventure games brought back in a similar way – a ‘Sonic 3D Origins’, perhaps?

Sonic Adventure will always remain very dear to me.

Sonic Adventure will always remain 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 to see new 2D titles, perhaps in the 16-bit style, in the future?

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

Following the huge success of the two Sonic movies (the second of which is still awaiting release in Japan!), could you talk a little about how Sonic Team’s reaction to the films? Could the movie version of the character ever appear in a game?

We have loved seeing Sonic come to life on the big screen. It is something we have always dreamed of, and to see the movies be received so well by both long-time fans and franchise newcomers is a dream come true.

Lastly, from a development perspective, what game in the Sonic series was the most creatively fulfilling to work on for you?

As the first fully 3D Sonic titles, I think I’d have to say Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were my favourite titles to work on, although I really have enjoyed working on them all. I have always been excited to see where Sonic could go next.

Sonic And Shadow
Image: SEGA

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

My journey with Sonic really began with Sonic 3, so I couldn’t possibly say anything other than that, could I...?

Many thanks to Mr. Iizuka for taking the time to speak with us. Sonic Origins is out for Switch and other platforms on Thursday 23rd June. Keep an eye out for our review soon.