Honestly, if they were going for references for references' sake, like I very much believe they'd go the route of referencing memes, or recent titles, as those are what would resonate most with kids who's watching this with Sonic. Maybe some classic stuff with Mania...
...but going to the extent that the animators/creators of this show are doing goes beyond that level. You don't just make references to Chaotix, AoStH, and a random issue of Archie Sonic (which only would've been widely available in one country no less), or hell - go to the effort of literally frame by frame recreating the intros of the original games, right down to the exact letter of animation that is present in that promo.
I'm sorry, but it's extremely obvious that these references are being made by a group of people who actually know about the series, and enjoy it to a high degree, to go so far as to go beyond the games and extend the references to additional media like AoStH or Archie.
What I'd consider a "pandering reference towards some kids" is placing Sanic into Forces via a t-shirt. I don't consider adding things that are actually smart references that require additional knowledge of the series to get as "pandering". If you didn't know about the Death Egg arc in Archie, it'll look like a generic Sonic comic cover. If you do, it shows how much research the creators placed into making this episode.
Like using that same line of logic, you could basically use that as a black mark against Mania as well. "They're just pandering to Classic fans by putting Nack, Bean and Bark into the game via cameos". There's a pretty conclusion line of difference between pandering references for no reason, and placing in smart additional details that are designed as pure fan-service for fans of the series.
The same way you can tell from the beginning that Mania is developed by a set of passionate fans who are in love with this series and want to do it justice, you can tell that the creators of KO are big Sonic fans and also want to do it justice as well.