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Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) artwork

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) review

"After two successful Sonic adventures on the Mega Drive, it was inevitably going to be debatable on how Sega could improve Sonic further in his third outing. Originally planned as being an isometric 3D game (like Sonic 3D), the idea was scrapped for being too radical a change. Nonetheless, Sonic 3 changed some of the ideas of the traditional Sonic approach of high-speed racing through levels with a more cautious approach with plenty of traps and obstacles, whilst introducing various level..."

After two successful Sonic adventures on the Mega Drive, it was inevitably going to be debatable on how Sega could improve Sonic further in his third outing. Originally planned as being an isometric 3D game (like Sonic 3D), the idea was scrapped for being too radical a change. Nonetheless, Sonic 3 changed some of the ideas of the traditional Sonic approach of high-speed racing through levels with a more cautious approach with plenty of traps and obstacles, whilst introducing various level routes for the various characters available and levels being up to three times larger and having much more breadth than its predecessor.

This time in the Sonic universe, Sonic had thought that Robotnikís Death Egg ship was gone for good when the explosion of his mech suit caused the Death Egg to fall out of orbit and down to the planet. The legendary Angel Island intercepted its fall where Robotnik envisaged on his mechanical prowess to repair the ship and needed the juice of the chaos emeralds to repair it. By tricking the islands last ancient inhabitant, Knuckles the Echidna, into believing that Sonic was after the chaos emeralds, Knuckles tries to stop him by rudely ambushing him while in Supersonic mode briskly deflating his ego to normal Sonic. Knuckles then disappears inland, only to make cameoís throughout the game to cause Sonic further annoyance, itís up to Sonic and Tails to stop Knuckleís, Robotnik and get the emeralds. Are you up for the challenge?

Sonic 3 introduces many radical changes to its formula from the start. The most noticeable change at first glance is the save system, allowing you to save the zone you were last in, along with your chaos emeralds for those times when you need to get on with life. In game, youíll notice that Tails can actually be flown by simply double jumping, albeit for a limited amount of time whilst there are now more power-ups with special types of shields for instance, enemies themselves are more dynamic and tend to throw items or self-destruct much more. Special stages and bonus stages are independent of each other, the special stages (for getting chaos emeralds) are found by jumping into giant rings hidden throughout levels whilst Bonus stages are accessed by having enough rings when passing through checkpoints. Bonus stages exist solely for getting extra rings and power-ups whilst the special stages have once again been reinvented, this time youíre in a pseudo-3D level collecting all the blue spheres whilst avoiding reds, challenging but the easiest Sonic special stage yet though.

Another notable change, a quite significant one at that, is the branching of the shield power-up. Where traditionally you would have a shield that would disappear once youíve been hit, Sonic 3 presents you with a lightning shield, a water shield and a fire shield. Lightning shields deflect flying parts from enemies while also attracting rings into your possession nearby (my brother gave this the ďmummy shieldĒ moniker hence), the fire shield protects you from anything fiery, duh, whilst the water shield lets you stay in water without drowning until you get hit. This really does add quite a bit of freshness to the formula and has been pulled off nicely, fitting well with the games intention of adding some slight reinvention to the series. Whatís more, the power-ups leave you to experiment with the special jump side-effects, the thunder shield allows you to double jump while the fire shield allows you to fly half way across the screen in mid-air, pretty cool and useful in the game at times, although not groundbreaking.

While the game layout in Sonic 3 is similar to its predecessors, parts of the gameplay are significantly different. Where the sequential layout of zones is intact, levels feel more merged together as between zones are transited by cut-scenes to link them, similarly with acts being linked with a boss at the end of the first act. The zones themselves are three times bigger and are far more obstacle-ridden than before, the high speed mayhem find in Sonic 2 is diminished in favour of real platform jumping and nasty falls while often giving you more routes in where to go but sometimes leaving you in unnecessary head-scratching in where to go next. Some parts of zones are only accessible when youíve got Tails handy and other parts are only accessible when youíre playing with Knuckles by locking the cart on to Sonic and Knuckles.

As per usual with the zones in Sonic games, the environments that youíre playing in are varied considerably, and seem to continue with the tradition of starting the game with some peaceful green-grass zone (although this gets set on fire by a Robotnik agent midway through the stage), a pain-in-the-neck water level in Hydrocity, and a zone full of endless bounce obstacles in Carnival Night. As you can guess the levels are pretty varied in types of action, becoming gradually harder and obstacle-ridden throughout let alone harder to navigate through. The level designs are fantastic, highly detailed backdrops and foregrounds alike, impressive parallax-scrolling techniques and are probably one of the best 2D graphics showpieces on the Mega Drive. Gone are the slowdowns found from Sonic 2, this is the real deal, and the sprites up to the level backgrounds have been made beautifully and stand up today. Further on the audiovisual front, the music is pretty good as well, funky upbeat tracks for many levels that you might want to listen to in your free time. Well, itís just a suggestion.

Sonic 3 isnít a lengthy game to get through on its own, any seasoned gamer could easily blast through it in a few days, given the save system. For the real deal, you have to get Sonic and Knuckles and slot this onto it, in doing so you get the worlds of both game combined into one super-game and in which you can play as either Sonic, Tails or Knuckles with routes in the levels catered for each characters needs. It was the original intention of Sonic 3 before high-production costs forced Sonic 3and S and K to be separate games. Other than that, Sonic 3 has a split-screen 2-player mode but involves racing through each course for five laps as opposed to a race through a selection of in-game levels. Itís a bit of fun but has little lasting appeal, and doesnít feel as competitive and exhilarating as from Sonic 2.

Sonic 3 is a fine instalment to the series. The Ďdarkerí feel to the gameplay by compromising speed, in favour of time-precision platform jumps while harder, is still great fun and makes the series feel different as opposed to a direct rehashment of a successful formula. On its own, itís definitely a fun and entertaining game and makes for a noteworthy addition but when combined with Sonic and Knuckles you have one massive adventure. Sega have genuinely churned out another great Sonic game (at a time when Sonic was consistently good) but while Sonic 2 is better than this on its own due to its sheer length, Sonic 3 is still an essential own for any Mega Drive collector but due to its marginally higher rarity expect to pay a bit more.


bigcj34's avatar
Community review by bigcj34 (July 10, 2007)

Cormac Murray is a freelance contributor for HG and is a fanboy of Sega and older Sony consoles. For modern games though he pledges allegiance to the PC Master Race, by virtue of a MacBook running Windows.

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