The addition of Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel for Sonic Mania Plus was a big surprise for old school Sonic fans. Series producer Takashi Iizuka talked about that and more in a recent interview with Famitsu.
Famitsu: Before we get into the meat of it, please tell us about the reaction after the release of Sonic Mania. I heard fans from North America and Europe shared some exuberant support where it was favorably received.
Takashi Iizuka, series producer: After its release in August 2017, its reception has been better than we could imagine. We’ve even had some people say “It’s the best game!” and we are most grateful about that. Moreover, physical games tend to sell a lot on its release day but then we often see it take a big drop afterwards, I’m not sure if it’s because Sonic Mania was a digital title, but its sales didn’t drop even after its release day. Again, up until the end of last year people had trouble acquiring Nintendo Switches around the world, so there seems to be some cases where folks finally got a hold of the hardware and are downloading the game.
So it was met with favorable reception around the world. As for Sonic Mania Plus, how did its development start out?
Iizuka: Sonic Mania started out as a digital-exclusive project, but during its development we had people from the office say “We also want to release a physical version.” However, making the change to go with a physical version halfway through was a problem for the production line, and it would’ve changed the overall schedule, so we had to give it up.
So you guys had to abandon a physical release at one point?
Iizuka: Yes. However, after release we had many fans say “We want a physical version!” Considering the older fans, I thought they would like to line it up next to all the other physical versions up until now. We had such a feeling of gratitude for everyone, we decided to go with a physical version.
And everything went smoothly after that?
Iizuka: No, we had a problem releasing the physical version. Sonic Mania was originally available only digitally at a lower price to reflect that, however going physical meant added costs, so we couldn’t release it at the same price. Since we were going to increase the price, we figured we could contribute with some added value. Again, those who purchased the original game can acquire the paid-DLC “Encore Pack” and they’ll get everything that comes with Plus. We currently don’t have any plans as far as what’s next for the series.
How did you decide on the added content?
Iizuka: We thought about elements that would make fans happy. Since Sonic Mania is all about things that stimulate expectations and curiosity from fans, as a result of thinking about what could we add to make things more exciting, we decided to add Mighty and Ray as new characters.
When I learned about their appearance, I recall thinking “It has come to this!” [laughs]
Iizuka: Mighty and Ray appeared as main characters together with Sonic in the 1993-released arcade game SegaSonic the Hedgehog. Mighty also appeared as a member of Chaotix, so I’m not sure if I can call him a new character [laughs]. Well, there’s that, and fans continued asking “What ever happened to them” about Mighty and Ray. Also, if we had you guys play the same stages all over again, it wouldn’t feel as fresh even with new characters, right? So we added “Encore Mode” to change things up and bring a fresh new feeling.
Did you personally want to do something for Mighty, Iizuka-san?
Iizuka: If anything, to me personally Mighty and Ray were “sealed characters” that would never see light of day in a video game. However, this time around we wanted to make a title packed with all kinds of references for all the special manias [fans] out there, and the stage was set to have those two make an appearance. So I figured we could unseal them [laughs].
I’m sure the manias went wild after they got the references [laughs].
Iizuka: That’s right. Actually, we announced the appearance of Mighty and Ray at the South by Southwest Music Festival that took place in the state of Texas the other day, and when the Sonic fans heard their names they really got excited like “Whoo!”
How were the unique actions of the two decided? Starting with Mighty.
IIzuka: Mighty the Armadillo was originally set to be a powerhouse, and he also has a hard shell on his back. So we decided to put that to use with the “Hammer Drop” that allows him to stomp the ground with a thud. Again, he can take shots from the enemy with his shell or avoid taking damage from spikes by curling up. The action of diving into the ground is a pretty rare action in the classic series.
What about Ray?
Iizuka: Since he’s a flying squirrel, his “Air Glide” action was decided on right away. That action was pretty easy to make. Knuckles can also glide but he gradually drops. On that point, Ray can use the momentum going down and rise. With the right technique, he can fly for a very long time.
Sounds like characters with controls that a mania would like.
Iizuka: There’d be no point to simply give them the same action as Sonic, Tales, and Knuckles. So we went with unique actions for both of them, because being able to play as the before-and-after characters is what makes it “Plus.”
Were there any level design struggles for the stages?
Iizuka: There were some troublesome parts. Since there wasn’t a character like Ray who could fly upwards, we needed to block some parts so Ray can’t reach and such [laughs]. We had some small struggles like that, but we decided on that action knowingly. “Encore Mode” has the same stages as Sonic Mania, but by using different objects and gimmicks you’ll get to enjoy different routes, so that should make Mighty and Ray’s action more lively. For example, you can use Mighty’s Hammer Drop to create a hole on the ground.
The four-player split-screen co-op caught my attention for VS. Mode.
Iizuka: I’m not sure how much demand there was for this but yeah [laughs]. The original Sonic Mania had three characters so you could only do VS. mode with two people, but since there’s a total of five characters now we figured that four-player versus is the way to go.
The next part is about the limited edition bonus. What’s the art book like?
Iizuka: The art book is the same bonus that comes in the overseas version of Sonic Mania Plus. This is another example of the added value that you get with the physical version, as mentioned earlier. Its contents include animation images for the trailer, concept art for stages, poster patterns, and a collection of artwork concerned with Sonic Mania.
What about the soundtrack CD?
Iizuka: This is a bonus exclusive to Japan, it’s a two-disc album. In addition to the original soundtrack that is available for download on iTunes and such, this time it’ll have music added for Sonic Mania Plus, as well as songs used for promotion, and numerous other tracks you hear inside and outside of Sonic Mania.
By releasing such a splendid package, I’m sure it’ll make more people happy.
Iizuka: We were also thinking about having something we could grab with our hands, so that made us happy. The development team is especially optimistic, since the moment we decided to add new content we had all kinds of people bring up ideas like “I want to do that!” and “I want to do this!” and we had an extremely good time making it. After releasing the original version I did have a sense of fulfillment, but they’re also fans of the title known as Sonic Mania, and I believe they were happy to know that they’ll be able to actually hold it in their hands.
I can’t help but expect a sequel after hearing about the development team’s high motivation.
Iizuka: Maybe the next one will be Sonic Mania’ (Dash) then [laughs]. Jokes aside, with the release of the physical version in Sonic Mania Plus, it feels like we did everything we could for the Sonic Mania project.
Understood. Lastly, can you please share a message for the readers?
Iizuka: I’m truly grateful to all of you who purchased the original Sonic Mania to make it possible to continue with Sonic Mania Plus. Since it’s a traditional 2D game, you might get the impression that it was made for those who are familiar with the Mega Drive version from back in the day, but actually, the game is being enjoyed by a very wide age group. Especially overseas, where most of the downloads come from players that are about elementary school age. Now that the game will be easier to obtain in availability and pricing with Plus, I hope to see those who have yet to play it give it a shot. It’s also a title that I can proudly recommend to the elementary school children of Japan.
Sonic Mania is available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Sonic Mania Plus releases in the West on July 17, 2018 and in Japan on July 19.