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Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) artwork

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) review

"Sonic 3 is a masterpiece, plain and simple. It is the culmination of years of experience, talent, and refined technique; it is the masterwork of a gifted few that lets shine through their ingenuity and genius at their art. Sonic 3 is as evolved and fine-tuned as a platformer has ever been, and such brilliance has not been seen since. Sonic Team improved on an almost perfect approach to games, and gave the Genesis, and gaming as a whole, the most technically superb platforming experience it would..."

Sonic 3 is a masterpiece, plain and simple. It is the culmination of years of experience, talent, and refined technique; it is the masterwork of a gifted few that lets shine through their ingenuity and genius at their art. Sonic 3 is as evolved and fine-tuned as a platformer has ever been, and such brilliance has not been seen since. Sonic Team improved on an almost perfect approach to games, and gave the Genesis, and gaming as a whole, the most technically superb platforming experience it would ever know.

The new ground broken by the first Sonic the Hedgehog was again shaken when its sequel, Sonic 2, emerged and rewired the entire concept. Sonic 2 was faster by a large margin- and Sonic was already known for its unprecedented speed. The already large levels were bigger still and another charismatic critter was thrown in to give Sonic 2-player appeal: Tails. Sonic 3 saw release later on, and the with it, the seemingly flawless formula was improved upon again.

Sonic's basic, root foundation hasn't changed much. The heart of it remains the same: race through it all as fast as you can while you avoid death and collect rings. The thing is, though, it didn't need changing, and this is where Sonic Team really earned their money: they improved the Sonic game immensely on a technical level, but never dared change it conceptually from what it was. The result? New methods of running through, new methods of avoiding death and collecting rings, and new methods of enjoying their timeless outlay of platforming superiority.

In Sonic's game, there is now an array of shields to collect, each having differing properties to make them desirable in different situations. The lightning shield gives you a second jump in the air and also attracts coins to you as you run by them; the flame shield protects you from certain fire attacks, and also allows you to fly, kamikaze style. The bubble shield allows you to bounce and pounce on enemies, as well as breathe underwater. The striking balance between them is amazing, as well is their ease of use...

Sonic 3 remains a ''one-button'' game. Want to use a shield's special power? Jump in the air and press A. Hell, want to jump? Press A. Want to spin dash? Press down, then A. Let's say you're Tails, and you want to use his new flying ability- jump in the air, and tap on that A button. Through it all, however, Sonic 3 never feels ''simple-'' just easy to control.

And this ease of control helps solidify Sonic immensely. Throughout the game, there are moments when you lose input, and you are rapidly flung around the level in a visually impressive series of obstacle manipulations. For instance, you can cover a large amount of area by triggering the right springboard; this will then launch you into a pipe, which will spit you out into a loop-the-loop, which will spit you into another pipe, which will expel you onto another springboard, and then you'll land... very much in a different place than when you started. The hitch? None. In a worse game, these moments of thrilling warp could be a nightmare to come out of, control-wise. Not so in Sonic 3; these are a sheer blast to witness and they flow seamlessly back into the game's perfect control.

Sonic 3's levels are huge. They are easily the most expansive, in all explorable directions, ever put in a 2D platformer. They stretch out from the start, and they seem to get bigger as you think you close in on the edges. Sonic 3 feels so big you'd think you could never find every corner of it, nor find all of its rings or secret rooms or hidden powerups. Sonic 3's levels seem to be at least three times the size of the preceding games; games that were already built with staggering, imposing levels. At the end of each, in true Sonic style, is a robotic contraption of some sort, impeding your progress towards the next, even more impressive level. The bosses range from smaller, less threatening drones, to Sonic's archnemesis Robotnik in crazy machines of varying sorts. Some bosses test your brain a little more than others, and some test reflexes a little more.

And it all never slows down. Sonic and Tails run faster and faster than ever, and there is even less here to slow them down. The levels are so dialed, they are obvious in their refinement and revamping. It's built to flow just as much to explore, and both prove to be equally rewarding. There is a sense of importance and immediacy to everything they do; even when they defeat a boss, they don't just appear in the next level, they are practically shot out of a cannon into it. They're so determined, and so unstoppable, they seem to have no match, nor anyone that could stop them...

...Except Knuckles, in his first appearance in game. This character, who would become a very important fixture in the Sonic universe, is here to pepper you with impedance and cheap shots whenever he can; he seems to have aligned himself with Robotnik, but his true motives won't be revealed until the story unfolds at the end.

All of this is presented in a visual manner that remains unequaled and is looking to never be touched on again. It is my sincere belief that no 2D game touches Sonic 3 on the graphical level, and gaming's declining interest in 2D makes me sad to think no game ever will. Sonic 3 is a brilliant, vibrant game, full of effects and color that stand as both a benchmark and an earmark of a better time for games.

The levels are drawn beautifully; each zone is representative of a different theme, and none ever look or feel like the previous one. Sonic 3 is the Genesis' best example of color, as this is a vibrant, expressive game of seemingly infinite tones and hues. If the Genesis is so weak in the color department, how can the Snow level exist? Or the Launch Base level, which seems to have a shade of everything a 16.7 million color palette would offer? The levels here demonstrate a powerful command of game coding in general, but even more so a mastery of the Genesis hardware.

The effects thrown about are awe-inspiring as well; this was the first game I'd ever seen some of this stuff in. In the Launch Base, as Sonic runs in and out of the water, the parallax-ing background creates a boggling sense of dipping in and out; it fakes a 3D depth to the water that really makes you stop just to jump in and out of it. In the first level, the area around you becomes ablaze, and there are heat ripples coursing throughout the various set pieces; warping wasn't new to 2D gaming at the time, but Sonic Team's unique touch still makes this effect as impressive as the first time you'd seen it.

It's very difficult to describe just how beautiful one level can look, or how smoothly Sonic is animated, or just how deep the parallax runs; in fact, it's difficult to paint an image even with the allotted thousand words. Sonic 3 is simply a game of searing resolution, fluid animation, countlessly deep layers of parallax, and unprecedented color depth; playing it is a must just to see how good games can look.

The second Sonic the Hedgehog game might hold a closer place in my heart (I've played it more than any other platformer, ever), but the superiority on all feasible levels of Sonic 3 to it or any other platform game can't be denied. Sonic 3 is a stunning example of just why the crew at Sonic Team define what the topmost echelon of game development is. There exists an elite level of game programmers who know their craft and continually release the best of their business. Sonic Team serves as the ultimate example of that talent and Sonic 3 is the ultimate example of that talent expressed.

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Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)

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