When Sonic Mania arrived in 2017, it was a massive success for the franchise. So much so that it seemed inevitable that a sequel developed in conjunction with Christian Whitehead, PagodaWest Games, and Headcannon would be next for the Blue Blur. Unfortunately, it never happened. We asked both Takashi Iizuka and Christian Whitehead what happened to Sonic Mania 2.
Headcannon continued working with the Sonic brand through 2022’s Sonic Origins and its 2023 update Sonic Origins Plus, while Whitehead founded his own studio, Evening Star, alongside fellow Sonic Mania developers in 2018. This past June, Evening Star announced its first game, titled Penny’s Big Breakaway, coming in early 2024.
Instead of the expected Sonic Mania 2, in June 2023, Sega, Sonic Team, and development studio Arzest (headed up by Sonic co-creator Naoto Ohshima) announced Sonic Superstars. The game feels like a continuation of what Sonic Mania accomplished in 2017, but with modern visuals, special Emerald Powers, cooperative gameplay, and exclusively all-new zones. However, many wondered why Sonic Mania 2, which seems like it would have been an ultimate slam-dunk hit, never came to fruition.
In 2021, reports from a gaming insider named Zippo surfaced that internal plans to create a true successor to Sonic Mania had been scrapped due to differences between Sonic Mania’s external developers and Sega. While not directly confirming or commenting on that particular report, Iizuka confirms that he had talks with Whitehead following the release of Mania.
“There was a period after the development of Sonic Mania when we worked with them to consider concepts for the next generation of Classic Sonic,” Iizuka says. “It’s too bad that it didn’t become a finished game. Still, I’m pleased that the next generation of Classic Sonic that we talked about with them has been achieved with Superstars.”
One major hurdle to providing a true successor to Sonic Mania is that Iizuka and Sonic Team wanted to move away from the pixel-art graphics with the next new title in the Classic Sonic series. “When you make a 2D game using pixel art, you kind of end up targeting a very specific core audience,” he says. “We wanted to bring this game to as many people as possible and in order to really make it look and feel as appealing to a wider audience, we needed to use the 3D assets to really give it that current look. But we do know that core fans want that old Classic Sonic look, they want that old classic Sonic feel, so we focused on making sure the controls were solid and the look and the feel was really representative of a classic Sonic game.”
Whitehead backs up this story with his own recounting of the events. “When we started Evening Star, it was always our goal to move beyond 2D pixel art into 3D games, and develop all-new, original IP,” he says. “Evening Star did work with Sega to explore possible directions Classic Sonic could go after the success of Sonic Mania. Sonic Mania 2 was never in development, though, because we actually agreed early on that we should try to make something fresh, like hand-drawn 2D or 2.5D. At the same time, Evening Star was developing our new Star Engine, so we also ended up making a cool Sonic prototype that played with depth in 2.5D, and some other gameplay ideas.”
Following those initial planning sessions and a mutual decision to not proceed with development, Evening Star began work on Penny’s Big Breakaway. “As Iizuka-san said, though, [Evening Star] did not continue to full production on the game, at which point Arzest took the helm and made Superstars alongside Sonic Team,” Whitehead says. “We moved forward with our plans to develop an original 3D title, which is, of course, Penny’s Big Breakaway! Superstars looks awesome and our team is really excited to play it when it comes out.”
Penny’s Big Breakaway
Whitehead also dashed away one of the big points of speculation among Sonic fans: that Sonic Mania 2 falling through was the result of bad blood between Sega and members of Evening Star. “Contrary to any rumors, we maintain a friendly relationship with Sega and hope fans are pumped to play both games once they release,” he says.
Though Whitehead and his team aren’t involved with Sonic Superstars, the influence of their work and ideas is apparent. “A lot of the things that we talked about with Christian, you know, ‘Let’s make it a visually rich game that’s not based in pixel. Let’s not do the Mania thing of reusing stuff. Let’s make something brand new with all-new levels,’ that’s where the start of the concepting happened after Mania, but everything came to a stop,” Iizuka says. “When we kicked off Sonic Superstars with Ohshima-san’s team, a lot of the conversations that we had with Christian were already in our heads, and we did start creating a new game already in a similar vein of, ‘Let’s make something new’ and ‘Let’s make something not pixel.'”
Even beyond some concepts seemingly making the jump from the early Sonic Mania 2 concepts to Sonic Superstars, Sonic Mania’s success was instrumental in the creation of Sonic Superstars. “During Sonic Mania’s development, I didn’t expect this level of fan reaction or success,” Iizuka says. “That success created the opportunity to think about the next generation of Classic Sonic and led to Sonic Superstars. Sonic Mania helped us realize that fans still wanted and enjoyed the Classic series.”
On Twitter, Whitehead has provided further confirmation that he approves of the work being done on Sonic Superstars, with one retweet about the game’s physics engine simply containing the thumbs-up emoji, and another tweet stating, “Will have more to say on this when it’s appropriate, but the Mania physics were indeed fully translated to modern 3D.”
Despite Whitehead’s confirmation that this work was done, Iizuka says the programming is completely unique to Sonic Superstars, created from the ground-up by Arzest. “The team referenced not only Mania, but we referenced Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Mania when we were creating Sonic Superstars,” Iizuka says. “The game was created from zero – from absolutely nothing – but we were still looking at all those four Classic games and creating physics that are going to match and feel like what the Classic series needs to be, from scratch. When we’re talking about the Classic series and how we’re referencing the physics, those are the four titles we were looking at.”
Because of all that, Sonic Superstars looks to not be the Sonic Mania 2 that many envisioned or expected, but instead a spiritual successor. The physics play much like fans of Sonic Mania and the other beloved Classic Sonic games play, but with modern visuals and other various features. Sonic Superstars is set to arrive on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC this fall. For more on Sonic Superstars, be sure to visit our exclusive content hub by clicking the banner below.