Sonic Superstars, the new 2D Sonic platformer from Sega coming out later this year, looks a lot like a fresh take on the famous blue blur. It ditches pixel art for a cartoony new visual style that looks pretty good. But if you were hoping for a future Sonic game to return to its classic pixel-art roots, that might not be happening anytime soon, going by recent comments from Sonic Team.
Last year saw the release of Sonic Frontiers, the latest entry in the franchise to go full 3D with an open-world-like design. The game was cool, if a bit messy and lonely at times. But Sonic is a flexible franchise. (I mean, they pretended to kill him in a visual novel earlier this year!) So while Frontiers is out there giving fans the chance to play as Sonic in a big, open 3D world, another game out later this year—Sonic Superstars--is set to play a lot more like classic Sonic games.
Takashi Iizuka, the lead producer on Sonic Superstars and the head of Sonic Team, the developer behind the franchise, recently spoke to GamesRadar about the upcoming platformer and why the series hops between 2D and 3D. Iizuka explained that Sonic Team believes the Sonic franchise always needs a modern 3D game and a classic 2D entry, too.
“Those are our fundamental pillars that we need to have,” said Iizuka. “We’re expanding into movies and TV, but we still need to have both the 3D and the 2D lineup for our gaming audience.”
According to Iizuka, Sonic Frontiers is all about the “open zone” concept and cementing that as what 3D Sonic games will likely be for the next decade or more, calling it the “evolution” of the 3D Sonic entries and adding that he and the team were “very proud” of the game. On the flip side, the upcoming Sonic Superstars is going to be what the team will build on for future 2D entries moving forward. And part of that evolution includes moving away from pixel art.
“We look at the pixel art—it’s great—but when we think about 10-20 years in the future, we don’t think it’s going to be a viable art style or presentation for our players,” said Iizuka. “And in order to advance and really step things up, we did want to make sure that we’re presenting something that 10-20 years down the road we’re still evolving and creating new content for.”
While some might recoil at the idea of pixel art being talked about this way, I can see Iizuka’s point.
I’ve talked to and played games with younger family members and friends and whenever they see me playing pixel art games, like Shovel Knight or Sonic Mania, they often dismiss them as “old looking” or “ugly.” And considering Sega and Sonic Team want the Sonic franchise to continue to expand, pixel art might not appeal to younger gamers in 2023. But don’t worry, you can still enjoy Sonic Mania while they play Sonic Superstars or Roblox or whatever.