After graduating from high school, Naka decided to skip university and stay in his home town. During this time, Naka worked long hours at various menial jobs. After quitting his last job, Naka saw that Sega was looking for programming assistants. After a brief interview, he was hired and began working on a game called Girl's Garden, which earned him critical praise and fan appreciation.
He programmed the original Sonic the Hedgehog game, while Naoto Ohshima designed the characters and Hirokazu Yasuhara designed the levels. Naka has also produced many other titles like Nights into Dreams..., Burning Rangers, Phantasy Star Online, Sega Superstars, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg and Rodea the Sky Soldier. In early games he was often credited as "YU2" (in reference to Yu Suzuki) and "Muuu Yuji". He is one of the few famous Japanese game creators to speak fluent English.
When asked about the famous Nintendo vs. Sega console wars of the 1990s in an episode of Icons, he states that his intentions while making the original Sonic the Hedgehog game were different than the direction it was taken, and that the comparisons between Sonic and Mario were a misunderstanding by the media. He also says that he is good friends with Nintendo and that Sega had respect for Nintendo and the Mario games which were viewed as a watermark of quality for Sega to strive.
In May 2006, it was announced that Naka was leaving Sega to create his own game studio, Prope. This decision bears resemblance to Naoto Ohshima's departure of Sonic Team in 1999, when he founded Artoon.
In 2018, Naka joined Square Enix and founded its action game brand Balan Company with Ohshima. Naka is currently directing Balan Wonderworld, with Ohshima as character designer, and with Ohshima's Arzest developing. It is the first time the two have worked together since Sonic Adventure.
Naka is also known for the development, during his spare time, of a NES/Famicom emulator for Sega Mega Drive, but it was never released for legal reasons. This may be the first software emulator running on a console.
- Yuji Naka was given a Ferrari as a golden handshake to persuade him to rejoin the Sonic Team when he left in the early 1990s.
- In Shadow the Hedgehog, some G.U.N. soldiers sometimes say, "Mr. Yuji Naka is alright."
- According to Naka, he was the one to approach Nintendo about the idea of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.
- The Level Select cheat code in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is accessed by putting Yuji Naka's birthday into the Sound Test. (19, 65, 9, 17)
- According to an interview with Nintendo Power, when Yuji Naka played the original Super Mario Bros for the NES, he would dash through World 1-1 as fast as he could to reach the level-skip cheat in the next level. This inspired him to create a game, such as Sonic, where the goal was to finish the level as soon as possible.
- In the thirteenth episode of the anime series Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls, the credits reveal that Naka is the voice of Center-sensei, the otherwise unidentified instructor at Sehagaga Academy.
- Naka was originally supposed to appear in the Sonic the Hedgehog film as an extra but was forgotten during production.
- (archived by the )
- Sega-16 History of Yuji Naka (archived by the )
- Sega's Yuji Naka Talks!. Gamespy. Retrieved on 3 January 2015. “I will go on the record here and state that we at Sega have always had nothing but the utmost respect for Nintendo and the Mario games. Even when they were our direct competitor in the hardware arena, we have viewed the games as a watermark of quality for us to strive towards. It is a pleasure and an honor for us to work with Nintendo as a third party today.”
- Frazer, Robert (1 August 2005). SEGA: The Beautiful Journey Continues. Panzer Dragoon Legacy. Retrieved on 7 April 2018.
- Purchase, Robert (2 October 2010). Yuji Naka: Sonic & Mario "was my idea". Eurogamer. Retrieved on 14 April 2018.
- Oliver, Tristan (24 September 2010). Yuji Naka Speaks of Super Mario’s Inspiration. TSSZ News. Retrieved on 14 April 2018.
- Yuji Naka on Twitter. Twitter (1 May 2019). Retrieved on 2 May 2019.