Yuji Naka, former Sonic Team head and recent creator of the platformer Balan Wonderworld, is no longer with Square Enix, according to reports in Sonic Stadium and IGN. He apparently departed the company in the twilight of April.
Naka, of course, gained prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to his work as a Sega programmer and producer on games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2, and the terrifically soundtracked Sonic Heroes. In 2006 he left Sega to go independent and founded Prope, which published games like Let’s Tap and Real Ski Jump. A Siliconera report from 2019 details a company in stasis.
In 2018 Naka joined Square Enix. His most recently released game, Balan Wonderworld (note: not Wonderland, no matter how natural it feels to type that way), suffered a less-than-tepid reception. After playing the demo, Kotaku’s Mike Fahey wrote “I can’t honestly say I have a firm grasp of what exactly is going on in Balan Wonderworld.” Over at Polygon, Michael McWhertor likened it to 2019’s Cats, the bad-DMT-trip movie adaptation of a beloved musical. Review scores are a meaningless metric, obviously, and Metacritic is a blemish on games criticism, but even those numbers—a 36, alongside a 4.9 user score—are pretty hard to deny.
Sales weren’t great, either. Per Destructoid, sometime after its release the misbegotten platformer had sold only about 2,000 physical copies in Japan.
According to Sonic Stadium, Naka confirmed the news via his personal Facebook page back in April. IGN independently verified. But the specific details around Naka’s departure remain shrouded in fog. It’s unclear whether or not he was dismissed or if he put in notice of his own volition, nor is it clear whether or not the reception to Balan Wonderworld played a role. Kotaku reached out to Square Enix for clarification but did not hear back in time for publication.
Update: 11:20 a.m. ET: Yuji Naka tweeted about his departure from Square over the weekend: