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Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) artwork

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) review

"In a way, the game feels like a return to form, since it flows more like the first Sonic title than the second, and dare I say, acts almost like the real successor to Sonic 1."

I think sometimes Sonic the Hedgehog 3 gets a bad rap. Having to follow one of the most popular games on the Genesis, Sonic 2, the expectation for this successor was big. A common complaint I've noticed people give the game is that it just doesn't have as many Zones as its predecessor, taking away the supposed epic scale Sonic 2 had going for it. I actually view this as Sonic 3's greatest strength. Now, I know this and Sonic & Knuckles were originally meant to be one game, but it really was a good decision to split the two in half, giving the development team time to add more love and attention to the six Zones present in Sonic 3. I fear how the whole thing would've turned out if they followed Sonic 2's development cycle of cramming in as many Zones as possible, economy class-style. In a way, the game feels like a return to form, since it flows more like the first Sonic title than the second, and dare I say, acts almost like the real successor to Sonic 1.

Since there are only six Zones, the developers had to make quite the impression with each Act, and they excelled at that. The previous Sonic games are known for their sizable stages that your speeding hedgehog can zip through, gaining access to various routes and hidden pathways. Sonic 3's level designs are ginormous in comparison. And it's not like in the past where, in certain Acts, you can just run as much as possible to the right and finish in a respectable time, because in this game, you can run your heart out, but you'll likely only reach the halfway point in most Acts. Sonic 3 really makes you work for your level completion.

Hydrocity Zone, for example, is a complex series of underwater hazards and towering dry areas that reach amazing heights. An evolution of Sonic 1's Labyrinth Zone, you'll fight and panic in the water as you search for air bubbles, jumping over spikes and gripping onto conveyor belts to safety. The dry areas aren't any less challenging, either, as you attempt to climb higher and higher in both Acts, trying not to fall from disastrously high levels while carefully jumping from one spacious platform to the next. Marble Garden Zone is another great workout, forcing you up and down steep hills in layouts that are borderline vertically-exclusive; make a careless mistake, and you'll probably fall back to an area close to the start. Not making it easier on your poor avatar is the need to fly to previously-unreachable platforms by running on spin tops. There's a catch to these: prematurely touch the ground with one and watch the top dash forward like crazy, usually stopping when you bump into a spiked mace or oil pond.

The Acts are so large and maze-like in design, that you can actually run out of time on several occasions! As someone who has played and beaten the game an absurd amount of times, I will admit to running into this obstacle. That's just how big and engulfing the Zones are.

Also worthy of mention are the panic-inducing Blue Sphere levels, Sonic 3's method of obtaining the seven Chaos Emeralds. Similar in spirit to Sonic 1's anxiety-driven special stages, which tosses you into rotating mazes, forcing fast reflexes and quick timing to survive, the Blue Sphere levels place you in a maze with a third-person perspective. The goal is to collect all the blue spheres to win. Sounds simple, but several things make this objective much harder, like the fact Sonic and/or Tails run forward of their own free will, regulating your involvement only to sharp turns and jumps. Making things increasingly difficult is the constant build-up of speed the longer you stay in each level, meaning colliding with game-ending red spheres and bumpers is inevitable. As stressful as they sound (and are), I enjoy and welcome the challenge. They're a far cry from Sonic 2's somewhat lax special stages that have you jogging through tunnels.

Sonic 3 is not all sunshine and roses, however, as there is one design flaw that crops up during Carnival Night Zone. At one point, you get locked in a small area, and the only way out is a path that leads down, but a bouncy, rotating cylinder is blocking the exit. Naturally, you think jumping on it will create an opening big enough to sneak out from. Problem is, this is impossible to accomplish, so you're stuck. Keep in mind, this game came out before you could quickly check stuff on the Internets, meaning players either had to find a guide at a book store, use the tip phone number in the manual, or, with the help of a controllable Tails as backup, "sequence break" the game so progress can be made. I was in the latter group. You know what the real solution is? Stand on the cylinder, then push up and down on the D-pad to move it... Would've been helpful if they mentioned this in the manual or give you some practice sections beforehand. Nothing. To this day, this hiccup still boggles me, how the developers didn't think this ominous segment would confuse players.

Despite that one goof, Sonic 3 is a great platform title that's a solid entry in the series. Like the first Sonic, it may not have that many Zones, but it makes up for it with girth. With that said, I highly recommend you don't play this as a standalone experience, as it's truly meant to be played connected to Sonic & Knuckles. I might sound like a hypocrite for a second, but listen: together, the two act as one amazing trek through 14 Zones. Now, unlike Sonic 2, since both titles actually have fleshed-out level designs due to more development time, you won't get this odd, uneven balance playing through the full game. It's the exact opposite here, and with the help of a save function and other goodies littered about the journey, makes Sonic 3 & Knuckles the quintessential Sonic game for the Sega Genesis.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (August 30, 2012)

You have no idea how close I was to using a Cool as Ice quote for my Riding Hero tagline...

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dagoss posted August 30, 2012:

When I was a kid and rented this game, I did not get past the infamous Carnival level. Maybe there was something in the instruction manual about that...

Sonic 3 + S&K is hands down my favourite Sonic game, my favourite game on the Genesis, and one of my favourite games period. When you get to the end, it just feels so epic.

It's ashame they stopped making Sonic games after that.

... I said, it's a shame they never made another Sonic game, ever!
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pickhut posted August 30, 2012:

Yeah, right before submitting the review, I combed the entire manual to make sure I wasn't wrong about that one part. It's really weird they don't mention it anywhere... Hilariously, the only advice the "Tips" section of the book gave me was to press the reset button if I'm stuck.

I love S3&K, too. Played the hell out of that game during the summer of 1995.

Thanks for reading!
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zippdementia posted August 30, 2012:

I think that segment was part of the "buy the strategy guide or call the tip line" craze of the 90's.

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