With Summer of Sonic drawn to a close, the staff at Sonic Retro and SEGAbits will band together for one more run to share their thoughts on Sonic Mania and more on this week’s SEGA Channel Retro livestream on YouTube starting this Saturday at 9PM UTC+1.
It’s been three years since the last Summer of Sonic, but this year the UK-based Sonic the Hedgehog convention was brought back for “One More Run” thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that reached half the requested amount inside 5 hours, and smashed the intended target by over another 50% on top. Clearly the fan demand was still there 3 years on, and excitement about the show reached fever pitch when it was confirmed shortly after the 25th anniversary party in San Diego that our friends at Sega America had generously supplied some demo pods for Summer of Sonic – attendees would be the first in Europe to play the hotly anticipated Sonic Mania. So, how’d the event go? Let’s find out, shall we?
Over the past few years the Sonic series has hit a bit of a renaissance, with Colours and Generations achieving relative success critically as well as commercially. Typically, just as this turnaround is achieved, the newest game shows signs of radical change to the 3D Sonic formula that had finally gained acceptance. Sonic Lost World’s new design is the kind of decision that means it’s always interesting to chat to Takashi Iizuka, the man at the top of Sonic Team today and the public face of the team. He’s always cheery and approachable, but you can never quite predict the answers you’ll get from him. We caught him right at the beginning of Summer of Sonic, as the organisers were on stage welcoming attendees!
[Sonic Retro sits down at one end of the large room, with Iizuka and Sega’s interpreter. At the other end, Jun Senoue is faintly strumming away on his guitar, playing the Station Square music. When asked which site we’re from, the reply elicits the customary “Ah, Sonic Retro” from Iizuka.]
Retro: We’re seeing Sonic Lost World at the convention today, and one of the things that is very noticeable is that it goes back to an older, more classic visual feel for the game, with recognisable elements of the original Sonic the Hedgehog design. What motivated you to make this change?
Iizuka: With the previous game (Sonic Generations), it was for the 20th anniversary so we decided to celebrate Sonic’s history. With that one, we tried to compress 20 years of history into one title and aimed for a high quality, HD re-imagining of what Sonic could be. With Sonic Lost World, what we wanted to do was imagine how best Sonic should be going forwards. So we looked back at what we had done before and tried to think about what would the best, playability-wise for Sonic going forwards, and what’s the best look for Sonic.
With Generations, it was HD and really detailed, almost so much that it was hard to see the rings when you were running through the levels. So this time, we stripped everything back and tried to renew Sonic, and we simplified the graphics to match the playability, the style of what Sonic should be.
[Read on for Iizuka’s views on the limitations of Sonic’s previous 3D outings, inspirations for Sonic Lost World and differences between working in the USA and Japan!]
Summer of Sonic features an in-development game to play every year, usually for the first time to the public outside big industry shows like E3. This year, we got Sonic Lost World, on both Wii U and 3DS, making its debut in the United Kingdom.
First, a quick summary of what was on show. The rep told us this was the Comic-Con build, so for the few Americans in the audience who were there, we played the same game you did. There were three Wii U demo pods and six 3DSes running. On the Wii U game there were 4 levels available to play: Windy Hill, Desert Ruins 1 (styled with a small letter S shoe-horned in between the s and the e on the title card to make Dessert – a pun on the fact it’s a candy/sweets level), Desert Ruins 2 (an auto-run level through honey combs) and Frozen Factory (the Sonic 2-styled casino level). On the 3DS, there were 3 available choices – a Windy Hill tutorial level, Windy Hill 1 and Desert Ruins 2 (here, an Egyptian-themed puzzle level with moving around of blocks & balls). We tried to play as much as possible, bearing in mind that because of queue lengths there was a limit of one level per person. Those of you who recall back to Summer of Sonic 2010 may remember we did a look at Sonic Colours‘ debut – this time we have opinions on the game not just from myself but several Sonic Retro forum members, so read on to see what we thought!
That time of year is upon us once again – Summer of Sonic, the Sonic the Hedgehog fan convention in the UK, held its 6th show this weekend just gone; back in London again following a brief visit to Brighton last year. This year the event boasted as guests Takashi Iizuka, Jun Senoue, and Kazuyuki Hoshino; with a playable build of the upcoming new title Sonic Lost World available. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Another year rolls around and like clockwork, it’s time for another Summer of Sonic – my 4th and the event’s 5th. With not just a new venue this year but an entirely new town in Brighton, and with all the tickets selling out in the space of around 5 minutes, the show was even more hotly anticipated than last year. So, what’s the skinny, you ask? Well, dear audience, please read on.
Saturday, June 25th. A thousand-strong horde of Sonic fans descends upon the Camden Centre in London, to celebrate a video gaming icon with music, games, laughs and chilli dogs. So far, so Summer of Sonic, but this was the 20th anniversary show so there had to be something just a bit special going on, and blimey did they ever deliver on that. How? By getting Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka to drop by London to enjoy the festivities, do some signings and some Q&A sessions. That is pretty hard to top, ladies and gents, especially when fans were able to quiz the pair on Madonna, the joint American/Japanese development of Sonic 2, and dat barrel. However, Sonic Retro was also able to get a little more into the bargain and snag an interview slot with Naka and Iizuka. Exciting? I thought so.
Now if you will, allow me to set the scene. Things are behind schedule and everyone is hot and totally knackered, a fact that fellow attendees will attest to. We’re now down to the last interview slot of the day, and another site needs to cram into the session too. We finally get to head in as Jun Senoue takes to the stage to wow everyone downstairs. Still, I know things are going to be at least a little bit good when we’re asked what sites we came from – the mention of our site causes an “Ah, Sonic Retro!” from Iizuka, as he tilts his head back and smiles with a mixture of recognition and amusement. If you were ever in doubt of Retro’s reach, dear reader, that should give you a rough idea of our place in the grand scheme of things.
Then, with little time to spare and more questions than I can possibly ask, we get down to business.
Retro: Naka-san, you joined Sega around the time of its first real console releases, having worked on the SG-1000 and Sega My Card series back in the mid-80s. What was it like to see Sega become a video game publisher that was known all over the world?
Naka: At the beginning, Sega’s real catalyst for success was the arcade, and Sonic pulled it along and really built upon that. Also, the fact that we had hardware and were a first party helped to give us that status in the market, as a global name. So, I feel really happy to be able to be involved, really lucky. It’s really amazing that something created in Haneda, which is not at the centre of Tokyo, sold worldwide.
Hit the post break for the rest of the interview!
Crossing London and heading out of Zone 1 with my newly aquired Oyster Card, I arrived at Shepards Bush for my second Summer of Sonic (I was there for last year’s event), and after a quick loop of the roundabout by the train station (for which I blame some terrible signage on the part of London’s travel authorities), I finally crossed into the main park and spotted the Pavilion for the first time – though honestly, the crowd was more of a pointer. =P