At certain times throughout your life, you remember a variety of moments that are incredibly important to you, and 25th December 1994 was one of mine. It’s how my love of video games began, from the beginning to now writing about them. That moment was when I first played Sonic 3.
I’m lucky in the fact that there’s a picture of that day, capturing the moment.
I had been asking for a Mega Drive all year after only having a Sega Master System for a few months, playing through Alex Kidd and attempting Sonic 1 and 2. It launched my interest into what else these games could offer.
So with Fleetway’s ‘Sonic the Comic’ series in full publication at the time, I had seen ‘Sonic 3’ being advertised as it had launched back in February 20th of 1994. It seemed with its third game, the colours, the graphics, the ‘Blast Processing’ was perfected to a tee..
When all the presents were ripped open, there was one more that appeared from nowhere. Thinking back, when Andy is given his last present in the original Toy Story to reveal Buzz Lightyear, it’s not so dissimilar to that.
I was in awe.
My parents set it up, I pushed the power button, and it started.
It was the third game in the series of Sonic, which launched him as Sega’s mascot only 3 years before. In that time, he gained a sidekick, Tails, along with a spindash by holding ‘Down + A’, and not only appearances in his own games, but from the cartoons when they were broadcast on Channel 4 every a Sunday morning.
So to have this at Christmas, made my year.
As soon as the ‘SEGA’ logo appeared, I was brought to the screen above, with the ability to create a save file for my progress.
A feature nearly unheard of in its time, especially for the Mega Drive. This wasn’t mainstream but was about to be universally accepted as the norm.
The game started with a small cutscene, continuing from the last game, where Dr Robotnik’s ship called ‘Death Egg’, has now crash landed onto a mysterious Floating Island, and its protector, an echidna called ‘Knuckles’, has been lead to believe Sonic and Tails are the enemies wanting to steal the seven fabled Chaos Emeralds.
After mercilessly stealing the ones you collected throughout the second game, you are now at the beginning of ‘Angel Island Zone’, exploring a jungle and what it contains.
During development, ‘Sonic Team’, SEGA’s group that were involved in developing SOnic 3, wanted to put their all into this game, and it was decided to split the game into two, with the latter being released as ‘Sonic & Knuckles’.
It was going to be called ‘Sonic 3: Part One’, which is why it shows Sonic giving a ‘one’ with his hands in the box art.
I didn’t get to play it completely until a couple of years later, renting it on occasion, but it completed the game, with features such as:
- Knuckles as a playable character.
- Another seven Special Stages with ‘Super Emeralds’
- Unlocking another ‘Super’ form
- Another 6 levels
There were more surprises, but it made the game even better.
The music of the franchise has always been fondly remembered, from ‘Green Hill’ to ‘Super Sonic Racing’ from Sonic R, but Sonic 3’s soundtrack has been known as the highlight of them all, and not just because they’re catchy tunes. It’s a small known fact that only came to light in the past few years, but it does turn out that indeed, he was brought in to compose the whole soundtrack, but because he wasn’t happy with the quality of the sound chip in the Mega Drive, he wasn’t satisfied, and in turn left the project, leaving Sonic Team to quickly scramble and finish the tracks.
This was also around the same time as the scandal broke in 1993 so another rumour suggests that to keep as far as they could from this, Sonic & Knuckles replaced the tracks that had anything to do with his efforts. A compilation PC release in 1997 completely replaced all the tracks with a remixed, MIDI soundtrack.
Sonic Retro has been leading the research of this, along with the gaming site ‘Game Trailers’’ popular ‘Pop Fiction’ series only delving into this late last year, talking to the people involved in this situation in 1993, and was given credence to tracks still remaining in the game made by Jackson.
The ones in question are:
The end credits, which sound similar to ‘Stranger in Moscow’.
‘Carnival Night Zone’ being a mix of ‘Jam’ and ‘Smooth Criminal’.
The mini-boss theme has a shout twenty seconds in, which always reminded me of him anyway, and it just sounds like his style as well, so it made sense as to why this was replaced in Sonic & Knuckles.
Maybe it was a subconscious attempt, as I’m known for having a soft spot for the King of Pop, owning many vinyls of his albums and attempting to moonwalk. So finding this out around 7 years ago was a great surprise, and even though SEGA won’t officially acknowledge it, it’s great that the music he worked on is still present in a game as huge as this twenty years on.
But on the whole, the soundtrack is a masterpiece in heightening the experience in facing a boss, or running through a level. The final boss theme is a favourite of mine, along with the original mini-boss theme.
The game also introduced more prevalent cut scenes, that showed how the level would change when encountering Knuckles across the game; whether it be destroying a bridge you were on or bringing you to one of Robotnik’s many inventions, you were never sure just when he would appear.
Six zones brings many dangers and more abilities, from a snowboard in Ice Cap Zone, to facing off against Robotnik in the air by only holding onto a flying Tails. Each level brought their own challenges and fun sections throughout, and made you want more by the end. Signposts made their return to checkpoint your progress, and collecting fifty rings would bring you to a ‘gumball’ bonus stage, collecting power-ups. The power-ups were improved in Sonic 3, with varieties such as lightening, which acted as a magnet to collect rings, a fire or water shield to protect you against these elements as well. Transitions between the acts and levels were also introduced, with showing how Sonic arrived in the next zone. Being launched from a cannon, to falling from a bridge and landing in Hydrocity Zone, each one had its own surprise, and was a great way in linking all of the levels.
The Special Stages returned once again, with having to collect blue spheres and dodging red ones in order to collect one of 7 Chaos Emeralds. These would accessed by finding a large golden ring, hidden across all of the stages. It gave a 3D perspective where you could move in four directions on a grid, giving you the freedom to roam the stage while avoiding the red spheres. For me, this was the favourite type of the ‘Special Stage’ out of the three games. Sonic 2 could have bombs appear without notice while constantly running forward, or Tails losing the amount of required rings to complete the stage. Whereas in Sonic 1, you had to take a motion sickness pill after five minutes with the constant rotating, spinning through a maze and avoiding the exit blocks. Collecting all of these will once again give you control of Super Sonic, with faster speed and invincibility. Super Sonic’s yellow aura and green eyes, was a light reference to the ‘Super Saiyan’ from the anime Dragonball Z.
This was when the Sonic franchise was at its peak. The game should have failed in all honesty, with the expectations that the previous two games set, along with only half of this game being released.
But it didn’t.
It met all the expectations while laying new innovations that the series has still not yet matched.
I believe that we are all influenced by our favourite medium. Whether it be music, films, television, or games, it shows us in how we see certain situations in a different way from others, and that can drive great ideas when needed.
With Sonic 3, impatience is something I took from it; the objective of going from left to right by any means is a staple of all the classic Sonic titles to get to the end of the stage.
Sometimes you need to look back on something in your life in order to figure out a problem in the present. Looking at that picture shows a 5 year old full of curiosity; totally immersed into a TV screen, wondering what’s going to come next. But in 2013, that’s now on an iPad or at least, a 3DS, but I feel that people still long for a one on one with a game, instead of being interrupted by an ‘Achievement’ or whoever could be online. The commercialization that have made games universally accepted now is both great and a shame at the same time, with the majority of this just wanting the same type of game every year, such as FIFA and Call of Duty.
The game is a lesson in game design, sound, and pacing. From the other video games that influenced me such as Metal Gear Solid and Tomb Raider II, this is the one it all comes back to. I don’t have a lot of patience, and I do think that its mostly because of this game. You need to jump, dodge, and run through the level as fast as you can. You don’t have to, but if you do, thats when the game excels. You miss everything and nothing at the same time.
Sega may have mismanaged their prized possession in recent years, Sonic 4 comes to mind, with the surreal physics, the quality of the music, and the rehash of levels from Sonic 1 and 2. But I do believe that the reigns will be handed to a trusted developer to make the true Sonic 4 that people want, and I do hope that day will come.Ideally, it will land in the hands of the developers who created the universally acclaimed ports of Sonic 1 and 2 for iOS and Android.
But for now, search for Sonic 3 on your Xbox, SEN, Steam account, and see how Sega once showed how they excelled where Nintendidn’t.