Sonic Team boss Takashi Iizuka must feel like he's finally turning a corner. Hardly anyone has complained about the direction of Sonic Colours, whereas if we rewind the clock to just two years ago, the world and his dog would have spat venom at practically anything that had Sega's blue hedgehog mascot on the box.
It didn't help that for the last decade, a legion of Sonic the Hedgehog
fans have felt like they weren't being catered to with the multiple directions in the game series. It's hard to disagree. Multiple numbers of friends. Green Hills replaced with post-apocalyptic worlds and wonky Havok physics. Shadow the Hedgehog (with a gun, to boot).
But now, as we fast approach Sonic's 20th anniversary, things are looking up. The rather inoffensive Mario & Sonic
series has sold a mint for Sega. A sequel in the vein of the Mega Drive classics is heading to online platforms. And Sonic Colours
is looking like a real return to the imagination and atmosphere many fans feared had been lost.
A lot of work has been done to reverse the damage of the last five years, but in chatting with the studio leader – who is returning to a hands-on role in Sonic Colours
as its producer – it's clear that he is aware that there is still plenty to be done, and many different kinds of Sonic fan to appeal to as well.
Here, we talk about the inspiration for Colours
, the experience that Sonic Unleashed
gave the team, and the difference between designing a Mega Drive Sonic title and running the fate of the entire franchise. Read on...
SPOnG: Sonic Colours, in terms of design, is a very big departure from Sonic games of recent years. What inspired the introduction of the Wisps, the game's atmosphere and the different environments?
When this project started, the very first and most important objective was to focus on what makes a Sonic
game - pure speed and 3D action. We decided to take out all the other elements from past games that weren't really in line with that philosophy.
Of course, just focusing on the speed will in fact make it very similar to past Sonic
titles, so we wanted to add a different game mechanic other than the speed focus. Now usually, these mechanics would have been given to other characters, such as Knuckles and Tails, but in Sonic Colours
we decided to give this new ability to Sonic as a kind of power-up instead.
SPOnG: Do you think that every Sonic game is all about the speed element, or does it depend on the kind of Sonic game you're making – that the speed element is good for games like Colours while Mega Drive-style platforming is best kept to titles like Sonic 4?
Although speed is an important element as I said, this alone doesn't define a Sonic
game. It's also about the technical side, in the platforming areas. A good Sonic
game offers a tempo of speed and technical gameplay, allowing the player to experience a change in pact. And that's true for all the Sonic
games in the series.
SPOnG: We saw a demo of some Wisps being used in a level, and I'm quite interested to learn more about the level design in Sonic Colours. What would be the benefits of using different kinds of Wisps to explore different routes?
This is more specific to the Wii version of the game, but the trick is that Wisp powers can only be used for a limited time, in a certain amount of time. So there's a limited window of opportunity. This is because it's a Sonic
game, so we wanted to emphasise the action.
Wisp powers are optional, ultimately - you can clear this game without using any of these powers at all. The benefits of using them, however, is to allow players to experiment with certain ways of clearing a level. For example, you can save a Wisp power or use it immediately, and this 'where and when' strategy gives a different variety to the gameplay. We approached level design with these things in mind.