Last week we looked at Mario’s outing on the 3DS so I think it’s time we look to his old video game rival and the game that’s widely accepted in his fan base as one of, if not his best out of it (mania has since become a rival to that statement).
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was released in 1994 for the Mega Drive. The hotly anticipated sequel to the revered Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and… It proved too big of an undertaking with their original plan. So big the game had to be split into two with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 being the first half and Sonic & Knuckles being the second that you could either play separately or thanks to its special design, slot Sonic 3 into the top of it and play the true game Sonic 3 and Knuckles (also where the whole & Knuckles joke came from if you were wondering about that piece of internet info).
Today of course I’m looking at the complete version which is oddly hard to find as whenever they release collections of Mega Drive games this one is oddly absent (as in all forms of Sonic 3 rather than just the complete one) fortunately I have the Mega collection on the Game Cube that has not only its separate components but also the combined form as an unlockable. There are some theories to its odd absence and they are mostly due to the claims that Michael Jackson was involved in the working of the music.
Set right after Sonic 2, Sonic 3 starts with Sonic and Tails searching for the crashed death egg and finding it on strange floating island. Sonic flies off ahead, going Super Sonic only for him to be upper cut by the islands guardian Knuckles the echidna (first appearance) who has been tricked by Robotnic into thinking Sonic is trying to steal the islands wonders. Knuckles knocks the Chaos emeralds out of Sonic and runs off.
Playing through the game you find this strange island seems to have been home to an advanced civilization as you run through strange wildernesses, ancient ruins and Robotnic’s facilities he’s using to rebuild the death egg before going into his Space Fortress for a prophesied final confrontation in space as Super Sonic (if you have the 7 Chaos emeralds by the end, also first time that happens).
The game has 4 different character options to play this time. Sonic and Tails, Sonic on his own, Tails on his own and Knuckles. The Sonic and Tails (all forms) follow the same routes through courses (though Tails won’t get the Doomsday zone even with the Chaos emeralds) while Knuckles will often go his own exclusive paths (resulting in a different final boss). Unlike the last game though when playing as Tails you will now have limited ability to fly allowing him to get to some areas Sonic would have trouble with. Knuckles, as said early though, is considerably different, not as fast or as high at jumping as Sonic he can however glide and climb up walls as well as destroy certain walls that lead to his exclusive routes.
Each zone is split into 2 acts with a mini boss at the end of the first and a fight against Robotnic at the end of the second. A lot of the zones have unique mechanics that make each Zone feel different and not just the same repainted with a different aesthetic. 14 stages in all if you’re playing the complete version making it considerably larger than its predecessors, with very memorable levels like Angel Island Zone and Flying Battery Zone (though I really didn’t like act two of Sandopolis Zone).
Each level also has hidden in it giant rings that will send you to the bonus stages The Blue Orb stages, probably my favorite bonus stages they ever did. These in a pseudo 3D setting (like Sonic 2’s) have you having to turn all the orbs in the stage from blue to red but touching a red orb ends the game. Complete these to get the Chaos emeralds. Collecting seven for Sonic and Knuckles will unlock the ability to go Super Sonic and Super Knuckles when you collect 50 rings.
In the original version of Sonic 3 the game would end at Launch Base Zone but if you are playing the complete version you go on to Mushroom Hill Zone. Go into a secret ring after collecting the 7 Chaos emeralds. It will now allow you to try and get the Super emeralds. Collecting all of them allows Sonic and Knuckles to go Hyper (which means a lot of flashing so watch out epileptics… I’m not joking) but also Tails to go Super Tails who can unleash his FLICKY ARMY OF DEATH which makes even the final boss facile (assuming you can get to him with the ability to go Super)
Now at 14 stages and having to get the emeralds for at least 3 different runs (assuming you don’t want Sonic alone) may seem too much in one sitting. Well good news this game has a save feature instantly making it superior to its peers.
The main difference mechanically in this game to those is the addition of the Elemental Shields. Water, lightning and fire. As well as allowing Sonic to take a hit before rings go flying they also have special abilities. First each has a bonus jump feature: Water being a bounce; Lightning being a second jump; while fire sending you forward as a fire ball. They also protect you from their respective elements: Water giving you limitless air (very helpful as the second level is a water one); Fire protects you from fire and lava (making one of the bosses facile if you have it, which you can get just before him); and Lightning… you get the idea, though it also has the bonus ability of magnetically pulling rings to you, extremely handy if you want to go Super/Hyper.
It is a real shame this game is so hard to find nowadays as if you play it its heads above its contemporaries. The bonus stages are fun and once you have all of them completed, grabbing the giant rings gives you 50 rings (enough to go Super). The music is some of the best in the franchise (sadly probably the reason it’s not easy to find now). So if you can hunt this game down and especially if its complete Version I can’t recommend it enough.