Sonic Mania is packed with gameplay touches and Easter eggs to make it a fitting ode to the blue blur’s 2D origins. But for the Mania development team, those nods were never included just for the sake of it.
“Our approach to references was always ‘game first,’ including them only when they aligned with Zone gimmicks/decorations/locations that we had already planned,” game director Christian Whitehead said in an email interview with IGN.
Reflecting on the game’s success and fans’ reactions to Sonic Mania since its launch, Whitehead noted how the response to Studiopolis’ reveal in 2016 “spurred us on further to have fun with these deep cuts.” These “deep cuts” still had to make sense to the fiction of the world, though. So despite Whitehead jokingly suggesting Axel from Streets of Rage early on, he knew the character’s human look didn’t mesh with the rest of the game.