The announcement of a new Sonic the Hedgehog game is always news, but with the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, the folks at Sega are taking a novel approach by marrying old-school Sonic gameplay and new-school delivery. Sonic 4 will be a 2D game with 3D visuals for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii and will be distributed as a downloadable game upon its release this summer. To learn more about what to expect from the game, we spoke with Sega associate brand manager Ken Balough.
GameSpot: Why did you choose to go with a title like Sonic 4? Does this mean this is a direct sequel to the Genesis games?
Ken Balough: I think one aspect to keep in mind is this game is truly a labor of love. A lot of us grew up on the Sega Genesis console; in fact, I remember vividly the first day I got mine with Revenge of Shinobi and Moonwalker. Ever since Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 has been a game classic Sega fans have always wanted to see. It was the right people, at the right time, getting together and finally making this game we've all wanted to see.
While the game is a brand-new adventure, it will definitely pick up after Sonic & Knuckles. However, what you are looking at is the beginning of a new story arc.
GS: The subtitle is Episode 1. Does this mean it's episodic content?
KB: As mentioned, I think the best way to view it is as a first part in a much larger adventure. When Sega released Sonic 3, ultimately it was the part 1 of a story that saw its conclusion in Sonic & Knuckles. In that same spirit, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a bigger story, and this is that first chapter. I think it's also safe to say that by the end of the episode one, fans will be very excited to see what's in store for episode two!
GS: Why did you decide to make this a downloadable title?
KB: In recent years, we've seen a huge surge of classic game properties making a return in this arena. [Downloadable] games offer players a chance to play terrific games without breaking the bank. It's also a promise to Sonic fans. We're going to deliver a Genesis-era Sonic game as if it were created today that goes to the core of what classic Sonic fans desire. This means [the fan] gets to judge us on our work each step of the way, and we plan on delivering that goal in a big way.
GS: In terms of graphics, the game appears to use 3D graphics. Why take that route instead of an HD makeover or a more traditional approach like Capcom's recent Mega Man games?
KB: One of our goals was to make a gorgeous-looking 2D Sonic game. This approach allows fans new and old to see what a 2D Genesis-style game would look like today with modern graphics.
GS: As far as gameplay goes, should we expect classic old-school Sonic 2D mechanics or something new added into the mix?
KB: All the Sonic favorites [are] here for sure! Spin dash, power sneakers, etc. But you will also see the homing attack added, and in true Sonic fashion, you can compete with your friends for the fastest level times through leaderboards.
GS: What can we expect from the music? Will it sound like the old Sonic games?
KB: It will sound like an evolution from the original series. Expect to hear very familiar tempos and styles of music that resonates with 16-bit games but also has a modern appeal.
GS: Will there be any differences between the different versions? That is, will the Wii have motion control, or will the PS3 and 360 run at 1080p?
KB: For all intents and purposes, the games are designed to be identical. There are a few differences per what each console can output visually: Wii will be at 480p, while the XBLA and PSN versions will run at 1080p. However, for certain areas of the game, the Wii will be able to use motion control, and the PS3 will be able to use the Sixaxis.
GS: Is this where the Sonic franchise is moving, or can we still expect to see console and portable titles?
KB: Sonic as a brand is definitely not moving away from our packaged console versions. Making Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I for download is just a new way to offer a great Sonic experience through a different medium.
GS: Thanks for your time, Ken.