‘Shadow doesn’t need a gun, he is a weapon’ – Sonic Team talks Shadow Generations

‘Shadow doesn’t need a gun, he is a weapon’ – Sonic Team talks Shadow Generations

 Shadow the Hedgehog is something of a cult favourite among Sonic fans, so it’s no surprise that Sonic X Shadow Generations has a lot of hype behind it.

Rather than simply remastering 2011’s Sonic Generations and releasing it on modern formats, Sonic Team has decided to add an entirely new section to the game starring Shadow.

It’s similar in nature to the Bowser’s Fury section that was added to the Switch port of Super Mario 3D World, in that it offers a somewhat different experience to the ‘main’ game.

It’s a decision that’s got the Sonic community excited, as was made clear by the huge reaction when we uploaded some Sonic X Shadow Generations gameplay footage to our YouTube channel.

After going hands-on with the game at Summer Game Fest, we then sat down with Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka to discuss the changes made for this new version, as well as the current status of the Sonic franchise in general.

Sega has declared this the Year of Shadow. Obviously you have a movie and merchandise planned, but what can we expect in the game space?

As far as games are concerned, Sonic X Shadow Generations is the big game, and we have lots of great content in that game related to him.

But outside of the console space, we do have mobile games that will have Shadow content, and the closed beta for Sonic Rumble which just happened.

You came up with the character originally. What do you think makes him so popular, 20 years later?

Sonic is a really cool character who people love, but what makes Shadow unique and appealing is that he’s this dark hero.

Whereas Sonic is always going to be a hero doing that heroic thing, Shadow is a little bit more complicated and on that edge where he could end up doing something that no longer makes him a hero.

It’s that difference that’s a good juxtaposition but also makes him a really cool character.

‘Shadow doesn’t need a gun, he is a weapon’ – Sonic Team talks Shadow Generations

Shadow will have a starring role in the Sonic 3 movie out later this year. You’ve not officially announced who’s voicing him, but could you tell us what qualities you looked for when you cast that role?

Shadow is in Sonic 3 and when I worked with the movie team to make sure the characters were portrayed appropriately, what I wanted to focus on was the personality and attitude of Shadow.

Even if we’re moving into a different medium, I wanted to make sure that Shadow felt really true to the character. So as a character advisor on the movies, I did want to work with the creators to make sure that Shadow still felt like Shadow in the movie.

Will we see Shadow pick up his gun again, or is that a period of history you’re not keen to revisit?

Yeah, in the games Shadow did use a gun. But when we talk about Shadow, he would use whatever he needed in the moment to get the job done. So he would pick up a gun or ride a bike in order to get the job done – he’s that kind of character.

But he’s also extremely powerful on his own and doesn’t really need a gun or anything because he can do it himself – he is a weapon. So as long as there’s no need for Shadow to use a gun, he will probably not use one.

“He’s also extremely powerful on his own and doesn’t really need a gun or anything because he can do it himself – he is a weapon. So as long as there’s no need for Shadow to use a gun, he will probably not use one.”

Does he need a gun in Sonic X Shadow Generations?

No. (Laughs)

Is dedicating a year of content  to a single character something that’s a special case for Shadow, or would you consider doing it for other characters in future such as Knuckles or Silver?

Well actually 2024 is also the 30th anniversary of Knuckles, so it is also kind of the year of Knuckles as well! We did have the Knuckles TV show on Paramount Plus which got to celebrate that.

We did want to pick a character that would get fans excited, so that’s why we picked Shadow [this year]. But whatever we can use to get fans excited in the future, we definitely want to look at.

What can you tell us about the development team behind Sonic X Shadow Generations? Who’s working on the game?

This game is developed in Japan by Sonic Team. The director of this game is actually Mr Shigihara who was a designer on the original Generations game. We do have a lot of other staff working on the new game who worked on the original.

Your teaser art features a lot of reference to Chaos, the colourful creatures from the classic Sonic Adventure games. This has led to speculation you could be reviving the Chao Gardens mini-game…

Thank you for bringing this up, because it is something we want properly communicated so that there’s no confusion! There is no Chao Garden in Sonic X Shadow Generations.

There are Chao that appear on the key visual and art work, and the reason is because there’s a Chao Rescue gameplay feature. For those who played Sonic Generations already, there is additional gameplay through this feature. But just to be clear, there’s no Chao Garden in this game.

Fans clearly want to see that return, based on the reaction to that art. Would you consider bringing it back in the future?

At some time, yes, because we hear the same thing. Everybody wants it!

Did you consider bringing the Sonic Generations exclusive levels to this version?

No, there’s no 3DS version gameplay in this version: it’s based on the console version.

But back in the day, the only Nintendo platform which had Generations was 3DS, so this is going to be the first time Nintendo users will get to experience this kind of gameplay, because it was only on Xbox 360 and PS3.

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We noticed in the demo that the two games – Sonic Generations and Shadow Generations – are treated like separate games. Does that mean we should expect a similar volume of content from Shadow?

For Sonic Generations, the story is that everyone got sucked into The White Space, and there you went back through the history of the Sonic franchise. Shadow Generations is happening in parallel to this story, with Shadow also sucked into The White Space and revisiting the famous places from his past.

The difference is that, in Sonic Generations the hub world is 2D sidescrolling, whereas in Shadow the team created an Open Zone hub world like in Sonic Frontiers, where you can run around and do what you want.

So although you talk about Sonic and Shadow Generations being different games, they all feed into the same story and there are a lot of similarities within the game format. It should hopefully feel like a very similar experience and pleasurable playthrough.

Why did you decide to use the Sonic Frontiers style gameplay for Shadow’s hub?

For 3D Sonic games, the design used to be quite linear, which is what we wanted to change with Sonic Frontiers. This new experience became the Open Zone format, which people really liked.

So when we were looking back at what people liked about Shadow’s games in the past, we wanted to apply that Open Zone format somewhere in the game to add something more recent to the experience.

‘Shadow doesn’t need a gun, he is a weapon’ – Sonic Team talks Shadow Generations

It’s been a few years since Frontiers was released. Should we see the inclusion of Open Zone gameplay here as evidence that you’re quite pleased with how that went?

Some time has passed and I think the big feeling is that the Open Zone format was successful in doing what we wanted to do, which was to bring something new to the table.

We saw that a lot of people who left Sonic games came back, because they thought the style of gameplay was interesting. And also, people who wouldn’t usually be interested in Sonic games also reacted positively to the format.

So I feel really glad that the team decided to challenge themselves with the Open Zone format and I believe it was really successful, because we see lots of people reacting positively to the format.

So in the future, I would really like the team to feel proud about what they made and go and make some more Open Zone format games.

The levels in the original Generations were chosen partly via a fan vote based on their popularity. How did you go about choosing Shadow’s levels for this game?

When we were thinking about the Sonic Generations format for Shadow, we knew we’d need to relive the history of the character and show the moments that were really important for him.

In doing so, the development team looked at what games were popular and which stages were popular within those.

“In the future, I would really like the team to feel proud about what they made and go and make some more Open Zone format games.”

In the past, you’ve talked a lot about having different pillars of Sonic games which appeal to different audiences, such as 3D games like Frontiers and 2D games like Mania. Could remasters of classic games now offer another pillar alongside these? It seem you have many 3D titles to revisit.

When we think the breakdown of how the pillars work, we think about the gameplay. So the 3D Sonic gameplay is one pillar that we want to keep, but we also realise that there are a lot of people who prefer the 2D gameplay. So we’re thinking about the pillars in terms of gameplay experiences.

We do have games like Sonic Colors and Sonic X Shadow Generations that fit that 3D model, and then 2D games like Sonic Origins Plus, which are also remakes.

We do have a rich history of games which I think we’ll want to bring back and remaster in the future, but we don’t have anything to announce or talk about at the moment.

It was really great to see Oshima-san return to the Sonic series with Superstars last year. Was that a one off, or would you like to collaborate with him again in future?

It was really fun to work with Oshima-san on a game. It was a long time since we last worked together, so it felt very nostalgic. We’d been away from each other for so long, but then everything worked like it used to.

I had a blast working with him making the game, and I think Arzest did a great job executing on reaccreting that classic Sonic game from scratch.

Personally, it was so much fun, I have a great relationship with Oshima-san, and I hope we can carry that into the future and maybe work on something else in the future.

‘Shadow doesn’t need a gun, he is a weapon’ – Sonic Team talks Shadow Generations

You’ve had a Sonic game at every Summer Game Fest in the past three years; Frontiers, Superstars, and now Sonic X Shadow Generations. What’s the secret to maintaining such a prolific production run?

Game development is nothing like it used to be. It takes so much time nowadays – Sonic Frontiers, for example, took five years to develop. I think back in the day, some games took less than a year!

What I constantly thinking about is planting seeds and making sure that all of those seeds are getting planted, and there’s enough of them.

You then need to wait for games to get developed and make sure you get that cadence down of having them ready for market, because of all the prep work you need to put in three or five years in advance.

How far in the future do you need to plan? Do you know which Sonic games are coming out in ten years?

Ten years is a little too long! I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so I really want to make sure we have something for the fans and that years don’t go by where they don’t have Sonic products.

We want to make sure they’re happy and that requires a lot of hard work and communication internally, making sure we’re prepared, and that I’m thinking about the many futures. After 30 years of experience, it just comes naturally!