Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – Genesis
Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date (NA): February 2, 1994
Nerd Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is one of those games that really needs no introduction. Most people are familiar with Sonic 2, but I think an alarming number of gamers have likely forgotten about Sonic 2‘s follow-ups in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. What do people remember most about these two titles? Probably just one thing… LOCK-ON TECHNOLOGY! That’s right. Sonic & Knuckles featured a cartridge slot in the top of the cartridge!!!! Holy crap that was cool. But what people probably don’t remember is that Sonic 3 is a wild adventure and worthy of so much praise. Even by today’s standards this is one of the best pick-up-and-play platformers ever made; dare I say, better than the first two Sonic games?
Behind the Scenes
After developing Sonic 2 in the United States, Sonic creator Yuji Naka was asked by Japanese Sega executives to return to Tokyo and begin development of a third installment with the original Sonic Team (as the previous title was developed by Sega Technical Institute in California). Yuji Naka has publicly stated that being back home put him in the best environment possible to create a game even better than Sonic 2, and we can’t blame him for feeling that way. Reflecting on the development of the game, Naka said, “I really wanted to create a great game, unforgettable… And it was terrifying. We thought we should flesh out the scenario to explore Sonic’s universe, and this decision made the project even bigger than it already was.” In 2011 at Joypolis, Naka said, “Sonic 2 was about the 2-player mode, so we said to ourselves that Sonic 3 would be about 3D.” Instantly you see the hefty goals Sonic Team had for the Sonic series moving forward, and you can only imagine the difficulty behind its development.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are technically separate titles on separate cartridges, but that wasn’t always the case. Sonic 3 kept growing and growing and was turning out to be a very large game, and with production costs exceeding the budget, Sega decided to split the game into two different parts: Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. Expectations were tremendously high for Sonic 3 but Sega was entirely prepared. A marketing campaign was set up with McDonald’s, and they were scheduled for 40 million Happy Meals, which meant one toy for every American child. The campaign’s start date coincided with Sonic 3‘s launch date. Even with high expectations, exceedingly positive praise from critics, over-the-top marketing campaigns, and Sonic being a household name, sales of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 were far below the sales of its predecessor with just under 2 million copies sold compared to Sonic 2‘s 6 million copies. Regardless, Sonic 3 was still a critical and commercial success.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Sonic and Tails thought they had destroyed Dr. Robotnik’s Death Egg in the previous game, but the Doc somehow managed to escape imminent death by making an emergency landing on a mysterious floating island known as Angel Island. Upon this floating island, Dr. Robotnik learns that it is because of the Emeralds that the island is able to stay afloat. The evil scientist concocts a way to collect the precious gems to aid in repairing his ship. Along the way, Dr. Robotnik comes across the Master Emerald’s protector, Knuckles, and tells him lies about Sonic’s true identity and motives. Can Sonic and Tails get the truth to Knuckles as well as destroy Dr. Robotnik for good?
It’s a great story that builds upon the previous story from Sonic 2, but this time around we’re on a new island in a new environment. As with most stories from simple platforming games, this one really doesn’t matter. All we really need to know is that there’s a bad guy and we’re supposed to defeat him! The story doesn’t really drive the game here, and as with most games from this era, we wouldn’t even know what the story was if we didn’t take the time to read the manual.
Sonic 3 kicks off with Sonic flying across the water as Super Sonic until some strange orangish/pinkish character bursts out of the ground and steals all of Sonic’s Chaos Emeralds. Through the backstory we know who he is and why he does this, but the epicness of this introduction is undeniable. This is our first encounter with Knuckles the Echidna who would become a mainstay in the series. Sonic 3‘s first zone starts with Angel Island Zone which is reminiscent of Green Hill Zone and Emerald Hill Zone from the previous two Sonic games. After having my ass kicked by Knuckles and my precious gems stolen from me, I began to take in my surroundings. The first things that stuck out to me are the music and the extremely vibrant colors.
The music in Sonic 3 is exactly what we would expect, but that’s the best thing about it. It doesn’t stray too far from the previous two titles, but it does carry its own weight. The soundtrack definitely has a new bit of flare and is maybe a hair more up-tempo as well. The music in all of the 2D Sonic games for the Genesis (including Sonic CD) are beyond top-notch and represent a high point for the Sonic franchise as a whole. The music in Sonic 3 seems to have a bit more of an electronic influence and is slightly more complex than Sonic 2, and one can only speculate that maybe it has something to do with the fact that the game was developed in Tokyo Japan as opposed to Redwood City California. But the music is superb, nonetheless, and seriously transcends perfection as it fully immerses you into the lush and wildly inventive stages. Carnival Night Zone features some of the most appropriately matched music in the entire series (it’s up there with the Christmas-like music from Sonic 3D Blast on the Sega Saturn).
If you’re a fully capable human being possessing excellent eye-sight along with a quality set of ears then you likely noticed the colors jumping off the screen right away. Have you ever seen the color green look so, well, GREEN? Okay, maybe you have. But c’mon folks, this is special. Angel Island Zone isn’t the only beautiful stage in Sonic 3 as there are five other pieces of art to behold. The second stage, Hydrocity Zone, features a neat set of stage gadgets like fans and spinning wheels that launch Sonic and so forth. Hydrocity also features one of the more rewarding boss battles as executing the right moves can be challenging, but once you finally get it figured out you’ll be so pleased with yourself. The other zones include Marble Garden Zone, Carnival Night Zone, IceCap Zone, and the final Launch Base Zone which houses Dr. Robotnik’s Death Egg.
Sonic 3 only features six levels, and some might consider that a step back from Sonic 2 which had double the amount of stages. But it is anything but a step back as Sonic 3 is abundant in other features including 3D Special Stages, an actual bonus stage for power-ups, shields, lives, and rings, and intricately developed stages loaded to the gills with loop-de-loops and many other interactive sets. Also, remember, the game was originally going to be a whopping 24-megabit cartridge (which would have cost Sega a fortune) housing all of the levels from Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.
Speaking of 3D Special Stages, let’s dive into what that’s all about. As I mentioned previously, Yuji Naka and the rest of the Sonic Team set out with the goal of making Sonic the Hedgehog 3 all about 3D and they accomplished that in a major way with the special stages. In previous Sonic games Sonic could access the special stages by jumping into a giant ring at the end of the stage (Sonic 1) or jumping into the ring of revolving stars above a checkpoint (Sonic 2), but in Sonic 3, getting to the Special Stage is no easy feat as they are now hidden throughout the levels! Once you find the hiding spot, you will notice a giant floating golden ring that will take you to the special stage by jumping into it. These special stages represent a three-dimensional high-point for 16-bit cartridge gaming as they have a distinct visual look unlike any Mode-7 graphics from the Super Nintendo. Sonic and/or Tails run on a giant sphere with blue and red balls strewn about. The goal is to collect all of the blue and avoid all of the red in order to win a Chaos Emerald. It sounds simple but it is truly challenging as the later stages have much more complex lay-outs that actually require jumping over red balls, not to mention the speed increases quite rapidly. Oh, and once you touch a blue ball it turns red, meaning you can’t go backwards, only forwards. Yikes!
Many players might get a sense of deja-vu throughout Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and for good reason. The game’s fundamentals remain mostly unchanged except for a multitude of subtle tweaks that provided a finer and more crisp feel to the gameplay. As before, Sonic could perform a spin dash and Tails was always running/flying around. But little things such as Tails having the ability to fly and lift Sonic into the air or Sonic’s ability to do a mid-jump shield called Insta-Shield added an entirely new layer of technique to how the game could be played. Instead of just having a simple shield, there are now three shield varieties such as electric (attracts rings within a certain distance), water (provides Sonic with the ability to breath underwater as well as giving him the ability to reach higher areas by bouncing off the ground), and fire (keeps Sonic safe from fiery projectiles as well as giving him a burst attack that propels him forward with some serious power). Even with a similar and comfortably familiar feel to Sonic 3, these are some minor examples of the small additions that make this game an entirely new experience. Hell, Sonic Team even developed a special compressing technique to give the game more detail.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is arguably the best in the entire series from 1991 to today (whichever year you’re reading this whether it’s 2014 or 2020, this statement holds true). There are many out there who might actually consider Sonic CD to be the superior of the original five (I’m one of them but I love Sonic CD for different reasons, Sonic 3 is probably technically superior), but it’s tough to argue that both are exceptional. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 will certainly go down as the most memorable of the series, but Sonic the Hedgehog 3 pretty much IS Sonic the Hedgehog 2, just more refined and superior in innumerable ways. Due to a changing landscape with 32-bit CD-based gaming on the horizon, Sonic 3‘s timing was very unlucky. Regardless of Sonic 3‘s sales, its reputation as one of the best platformers ever made will live on for forever.
There are so many moments from Sonic 3 that we’ll never forget. Like the time I loaned the game to my friend and made him promise he wouldn’t play on any of my files… only to get the game back a couple weeks later and he deleted all of my files. What a piece of crap that guy was. If you don’t have a Sega Genesis, fret not ye Sonic lover. There are numerous ways to play this game including numerous compilation discs or directly on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console or Xbox’s Live Arcade to name a few. If you loved Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which I’m sure you did, then you’ll fall head-over-heels in love with Sonic the Hedgehog 3. I can guarantee it!
Most Memorable Moment: I doubt I’m alone, but does anybody else remember in Zone I Act II, after the entire island has been bombed and is in flames… There’s a scene where you’re running and a giant plane is dropping bomb after bomb inches from your heels. Anybody else play that as a kid? If you did, then you probably remember pressing the right directional button harder than hell as if it would somehow make Sonic run faster! That short scene alone is a testament to the intensity of Sonic 3.
Nerd Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
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