With a planned release in spring of next year, Sega is releasing a homage to the 2D Sonic franchise named Sonic Mania. It’s exactly what you would expect from a Sonic game. A 2D side-scrolling platform game developed in the exact same fashion as the originals, bringing back levels with extras and twists for the 25th anniversary of Sonic. The game is coming to PS4, so be sure to keep updated on news for the exact release date.
At PAX West this year we were able to interview the official Sonic Twitter public representative Aaron Webber, about the game and what it has to show for the coming future.
The following is an interview conducted by Dan Thompson of PlayStation Insider.
Dan: What’s up PlayStation Insiders! My name is Dan, here, with the one-and-only runner of the Sonic Twitter.
Aaron Webber: Hi my name is Aaron Webber from Sega.
Dan: Awesome, so Sonic Mania was shown at that Sonic party at Comic-con that was really fun. What’s the difference between making Sonic Mania and Sonic 4? What makes you guys want to go back to hand-drawn sprites of the original Sonic games?
Aaron Webber: Great question. Internally in Sega there was a lot of discussion about ways to kinda go back to what was that really made Sonic so great in the old days. One of the interesting things with Mania is that we had the chance to bring in some of the developers who were fans of the old days that are now professionals. One of those guys, his name is Christian Whitehead (Taxman) , he did the mobile ports for Sonic 1 and 2 and Sonic CD along with a guy named Stealth or Simon Thomley. So we actually brought them on along with a group called PagodaWest and in collaboration with Sonic Team those guys are making Sonic Mania. The reason I think this is really cool and special is because the first times we’ve ever done that. The amount of passion and the dedication these guys have with their craft into making this game as good as it can be is pretty spectacular and it really does show as you look at the game and even play through it.
Dan: I’ve been following Taxman ever since he’s been making those fan games, he really has an eye for quality with his animations and gameplay. I’m really excited for Sonic Mania. So are these all entirely new levels or is this like a mixtape of Sonic’s greatest levels from the 2D era?
Aaron Webber: It’s a mixtape but the mixtape has a lot of remixes you’ve never heard before so you’re like “oh I know this one!” Then you get to a part and you’re like “oh wait a minute this is brand new.” Green Hill Zone is a great example, it starts exactly how you would expect it to minus the original was 30 FPS now it’s 60 FPS. We have new animations, there are loads of new stuff. And as you go through Green Hill Zone you get to that loop-de-loop moment and you realize at the top of the loop there is an electric shield from Sonic 3 and you think, “wait a minute that’s not supposed to be there.” And then you realize that there’s a whole upper path that didn’t exist before, and you realize there’s a lower path where you actually go into the caverns below Green Hill Zone. Then there’s a whole new background for the sprites and everything. You get to the end and there is a mini-boss Sonic 3 style and you go “oh my gosh this is completely different from the Green Hill Zone I used to know.”
That’s Act 1 just so you know. Just Act 1 of Green Hill Mania is — Act 1 and Act 2 and more– from the original Sonic. Which is kinda amazing they put so much in there. And we have Studiopolis. So Studiopolis is a whole new level — all the background stuff is new — there are tons of references to Sega and Sonic easter eggs. There is the Sega Sonic popcorn shop, Daytona USA, Streets of Rage, there”s an ATV signal in the back, there are tons of stuff. That level it is pretty amazing to play it the first time because you have never seen it before and never experienced it.
Dan: Awesome, so are the sprites hand-drawn or pixel-art?
Aaron Webber: It’s pixel but it’s all custom. So the artist there are a number of people working on it, but one of the artist’s name is Tom. You know the animation trailer where Sonic pops in and spins around — they made a meme out of it where the one frame where his nose is all over the place — that was drawn by a guy named Tom. Tom is a huge Sonic fan. They showed us that animation when the game was first being pitched in and we were all blown away. He said he just spent a few weeks on just that, just on that one moment. That’s the level of dedication that I am talking about when I say they care about this so deeply and it shows with stuff like that. As a fan it blows me away it’s amazing.
Dan: I’m not sure if you guys have released anything about this but the Freedom Planet developers had a really good story in their game. Will there be any hint of story in Sonic Mania or is it just pure Sonic gameplay with beautiful visuals?
Aaron Webber: It’ll be just like the originals. So you remember opening up your Sega Genesis or Megadrive depending on where you lived and there would be a game manual in there? And that game manual would have a little bit of story saying, “Sonic’s friends have been kidnapped, it’s up to Sonic to save them!” Think along those lines. So there’s a reason for Sonic to be out in the world and for Tails who is also playable and Knuckles as well. We’re really excited for that. It’s not going to be an extremely deep, multi-novel story, but I think it will be good enough that fans will still be like, “this is kinda exactly what I was hoping for.”
Dan: Alright that sounds perfect then. Is there anything else you can tell us before we go play the game? Anything you can tell us about Sonic 2017 or Sonic Resistance as I like to call it?
Aaron Webber: Tails dies.
Dan: Oh my god.
Aaron Webber: Actually I’m just kidding, I try to start that rumor up every time we have a new Sonic game, that Tails dies.
Dan: I’m just gonna cut the interview short and be like, “Tails dies!”
Aaron Webber: Haha no okay later on we’re gonna be talking more about — more as we get into next year — all eyes are on Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice for the 3DS and Sonic Mania, which we’re really are excited for. What else can I say about Mania? It is of course coming to PlayStation 4. We are really stoked for the fact that this is going to be the game I think that a lot of people that haven’t played any Sonic games in a while are gonna come back and be like, “oh my gosh this is really good!” And to remember what it was that really made Sonic so special back in the day. So I’m really looking forward to, personally, watching those people come back. We’ve seen it at PAX, people are coming up and saying, “I haven’t played Sonic since 1993 and I’m buying this day one.” It’s so nice to hear them say that cuz’ it’s like we’re on the right track with this.
Dan: I had another question. So I noticed in the gameplay trailer how you guys, like in the Sonic 1, 2, and 3, always evolved and there were ways to make it more stream-lined and friendly but also more complicated. So I noticed that when Sonic hits the ground if you hit a specific button he dashes forward — maintaining that momentum that usually would be lost in the original games. Is there anything else like that in the game that you guys have tweaked in terms of gameplay?
Aaron Webber: They have tweaked and added a whole bunch of things. I can explain that one really quick too, that is called the Drop Dash. The Drop Dash is when you jump and hold the jump button again and hang onto it when you hit the ground you’ll immediately enter a spin-dash upon hitting the ground. The reason that is really cool is like you said, momentum is key right? And the physics in this game, one of the things I haven’t touched on yet but I should have. The retro engine that Christen built for the one, two, and Sonic CD ports on mobile phones were amazing because a lot of Sonic games kinda tried to emulate those original physics, they haven’t all really done it right. This one does it right, and it uses that engine, and so building momentum is so important right and you need that. So when you use the Drop Dash, it carries over some of that momentum when you hit the ground, you can also use it — say you’re going right and you wanna go left really quick — you can jump and turn left and immediately start moving when you touch the ground. I’m actually really excited to see how the speedrunners are gonna do using that Drop Dash when the game finally comes out.
Dan: Alright, so any projected release date or price tag on Sonic Mania?
Aaron Webber: I can give you the release window at least, it’s going to be spring 2017. The game is still really early on but you can already really tell hopefully from what you have played today, it feels really spot-on from the old games and that the physics are there and the level design is there. So we’re really excited here at Sega to watch as this evolves and kinda becomes the final game it’s gonna be next year.
Dan: That sounds incredible, make sure you guys pick up Sonic Mania when it comes to PlayStation 4 and other platforms.
Thanks again to Aaron Webber for the absolutely amazing interview, and we hope that you stick around for more news on Sonic Mania.