When Sonic Mania burst onto the scene in 2017, it ignited a fire of success within the Sonic franchise. Fans reveled in its nostalgic embrace of the series’ classic roots, leaving many eagerly anticipating a sequel. Developed by a collaborative effort involving Christian Whitehead, PagodaWest Games, and Headcannon, the momentum for a follow-up seemed unstoppable. But alas, Sonic Mania 2 never materialized, leaving fans to wonder why. Game Informer dove deep into the untold story of Sonic Mania 2, with insights from Takashi Iizuka and Christian Whitehead themselves.

Headcannon’s involvement with Sonic continued with projects like 2022’s Sonic Origins and its 2023 enhancement, Sonic Origins Plus. Meanwhile, Christian Whitehead and other Sonic Mania developers founded Evening Star in 2018. This June, Evening Star unveiled their debut game, Penny’s Big Breakaway, set for an early 2024 release.

Sonic Mania Sequel

Instead of the anticipated Sonic Mania 2, Sega, Sonic Team, and development studio Arzest (led by Sonic co-creator Naoto Ohshima) announced Sonic Superstars in June 2023. The game builds upon Sonic Mania’s legacy but introduces modern visuals, Emerald Powers, cooperative gameplay, and entirely new zones. But the question lingered: Why wasn’t Sonic Mania 2, seemingly a guaranteed success, brought to life?

A lot of rumors have been floating around the internet about how plans for a Sonic Mania successor had been shelved due to disagreements between external Sonic Mania developers and Sega. While not directly addressing these rumors, Iizuka confirmed discussing future Classic Sonic concepts with Whitehead post-Mania.

There was a period after the development of Sonic Mania when we worked with them to consider concepts for the next generation of Classic Sonic. It’s too bad that it didn’t become a finished game. Still, I’m pleased that the next generation of Classic Sonic that we talked about with them has been achieved with Superstars.

Takashi Iizuka

Sonic Mania 2 Obstacle

One hurdle preventing a direct Sonic Mania sequel was Sonic Team’s aim to transition from pixel art graphics. Iizuka explained:

When you make a 2D game using pixel art, you kind of end up targeting a very specific core audience. We wanted to bring this game to as many people as possible and in order to really make it look and feel as appealing to a wider audience, we needed to use the 3D assets to really give it that current look. But we do know that core fans want that old Classic Sonic look, they want that old classic Sonic feel, so we focused on making sure the controls were solid and the look and the feel was really representative of a classic Sonic game.

Takashi Iizuka

Whitehead corroborated this narrative, emphasizing Evening Star’s ambition to expand beyond 2D pixel art into 3D games.

When we started Evening Star, it was always our goal to move beyond 2D pixel art into 3D games, and develop all-new, original IP. Evening Star did work with Sega to explore possible directions Classic Sonic could go after the success of Sonic Mania. Sonic Mania 2 was never in development, though, because we actually agreed early on that we should try to make something fresh, like hand-drawn 2D or 2.5D. At the same time, Evening Star was developing our new Star Engine, so we also ended up making a cool Sonic prototype that played with depth in 2.5D, and some other gameplay ideas.

Christian Whitehead

After these discussions and the decision not to proceed, Evening Star embarked on Penny’s Big Breakaway.

As Iizuka-san said, though, [Evening Star] did not continue to full production on the game, at which point Arzest took the helm and made Superstars alongside Sonic Team. We moved forward with our plans to develop an original 3D title, which is, of course, Penny’s Big Breakaway! Superstars looks awesome and our team is really excited to play it when it comes out.

Christian Whitehead

Relationship With Sega

Addressing fan speculation, Whitehead dispelled rumors of tension between Evening Star and Sega.

Contrary to any rumors, we maintain a friendly relationship with Sega and hope fans are pumped to play both games once they release.

Christian Whitehead

While not contributing to Sonic Superstars, Evening Star’s influence is evident. Iizuka affirmed that ideas discussed with Whitehead inspired Sonic Superstars’ creation.

A lot of the things that we talked about with Christian, you know, ‘Let’s make it a visually rich game that’s not based in pixel. Let’s not do the Mania thing of reusing stuff. Let’s make something brand new with all-new levels,’ that’s where the start of the concepting happened after Mania, but everything came to a stop. When we kicked off Sonic Superstars with Ohshima-san’s team, a lot of the conversations that we had with Christian were already in our heads, and we did start creating a new game already in a similar vein of, ‘Let’s make something new’ and ‘Let’s make something not pixel.

Takashi Iizuka

Notably, Sonic Mania’s triumph significantly contributed to Sonic Superstars’ birth.

During Sonic Mania’s development, I didn’t expect this level of fan reaction or success. That success created the opportunity to think about the next generation of Classic Sonic and led to Sonic Superstars. Sonic Mania helped us realize that fans still wanted and enjoyed the Classic series.

Takashi Iizuka

Collaboration and Evolution

On Twitter, Whitehead demonstrated his approval of Sonic Superstars’ progress, confirming the successful transition of Mania physics to the modern 3D environment. Although Whitehead’s confirmation underscores the shared physics, Iizuka emphasized that Sonic Superstars’ programming is unique, meticulously crafted by Arzest.

The result is Sonic Superstars, embodying the essence of Sonic Mania’s spirit. Physics mirror the beloved Classic Sonic gameplay, complemented by contemporary visuals and diverse features. Sonic Superstars is slated for release on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC this fall.

Stay tuned to Sonic City for more Sonic Superstars News and Updates!

Source: Game Informer

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