“Besides Nintendo, there really aren’t that many character-type games in Japan,” says Sega’s Shun Nakamura. Sonic is one of the remaining few Japanese characters that isn’t from Nintendo.
During the 1980s and 90s, Japanese gaming was dominated by characters. “As graphics got better, I think game companies have moved away from stylized characters to more realistic ones.”
Shame because Japanese artists excel at creating characters.
The lack of game-specific characters has quickly been filled by anime and manga characters getting starring roles in video game adaptations.
“Creating new characters is hard,” Nakamura says. Managing them isn’t easy, either. Just look at the roads Sonic has travelled over the years—from 2D video game hero to 3D character who kisses humans.
Nakamura has designed and worked on Sonic games since 1997's Sonic R. Most recently, he produced Sonic Forces.
“When we collaborated with Nintendo,” Nakamura continues, “we saw how carefully they managed their characters.” Sega and Nintendo teamed up for several Olympic-themed games with Mario as well as two Smash Bros. games. Sega realized it needed to do the same for Sonic.
“Several years back, we drew up rules for how Sonic should be portrayed,” he says. “These guidelines were created to strengthen the tone and identity of the character.”
Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces are Sega showing how it can manage the different iterations of the character: Sonic Mania harkens back to the Genesis era, while Sonic Forces looks to the Dreamcast period.
But does that mean that future Sonic games will draw from either the Genesis era or the Dreamcast era?
“If you only repeat what you’ve done before, it’s not interesting,” Nakamura says. “I think it’s still important that we do new things while staying true to the character.” As long as Sonic isn’t making out with humans, that sounds good to me.