Well, it took another crack at this game to completely change everything opinion-wise. Playing all four Sonic games in the classic series (minus the other notable games around that time) was a great time for me, because it showed how much better the series got up until that point. For years, I would always say that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was my favourite game in the franchise, probably because it’s the one I played the most as a child, I’m not into nostalgia and if I do see something in my childhood I will take off the rose-tinted spectacles and see it for what it is. I mean I could have reviewed the Sonic games and especially this one again without playing it and call it a day, but I want to be legit. So how does the third game stand up?
Sonic 3 & Knuckles (ソニック3とナックルズ Sonikku 3 to nakkuruzu), developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega and was released in 1994…well that’s true, but here’s what happened. Sonic 3 & Knuckles was developed as one game, but due to time constraints and the fact that the game would have been 34 megabits, meaning that cartridge costs would have been expensive, the game was eventually split into two, starting with Sonic 3, released in February 1994 in the US and Europe and in May 1994 in Japan, then Sonic & Knuckles was released in October 1994 in the US, Europe and Japan, whilst Australia would get it in November 1994. BUT, it would get a PC release that was released in 1997. Now I may not have got Sonic 3 if it wasn’t for a friend of mine getting me a copy. He didn’t have to but he did it, so for making this review possible, thanks buddy.
How to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles? If you have the original cartridges, then get a copy of Sonic 3, then get your Sonic & Knuckles cart, now on the top there is a slot, this is known as ‘Lock-On Technology’ the only cartridge to use this in the history of gaming by the way. You place Sonic 3 on top of Sonic & Knuckles and turn the Mega Drive on and you’ll get Sonic 3 & Knuckles as long as both cartridges are clean. Or you can get it on Steam, no biggie.
So this game follows the events after Sonic 2. The story is that Sonic defeated Dr. Robotnik and this somehow causes the Death Egg to crash-land on a floating mass land known as Angel Island. Whilst repairing the Death Egg, Robotnik finds Knuckles the Echidna, the last survivor of an ancient civilization who happen to be Echidnas too, and is also the guardian of the Chaos Emeralds in that said island. When Robotnik finds out that the island is powered by the Emeralds and can use them to power the Death Egg again, and knowing that Sonic & Tails could return, he allies with Knuckles by lying to him, saying that Sonic & Tails are the enemy and want to steal the Emeralds, just so Robotnik can take the them himself in front of Knuckles’ nose.
Meanwhile, Sonic & Tails arrive with Sonic using the Chaos Emeralds to turn into Super Saiyan Sonic to storm through the island. But Knuckles ambushes him, knocks the Chaos Emeralds out of Sonic and takes them from him. So Sonic & Tails venture through the island, with Knuckles constantly hindering their progress. So NOW we have a proper story but if you play the game overtime, more of the story will unfold in a way that you’d least expect: Level Design.
The gameplay is similar to Sonic 2 and not Sonic CD, though somehow the physics feel a bit better since then. As always, you do what you always do, run, jump, bop enemies, collect Emeralds, and defeat Robotnik. It’s kind of difficult because I don’t want to repeat everything. All I can say is that it’s a 2D platform Sonic game and it’s improved in terms of story, graphics, level design and physics.
We now have some new shields of the elemental form. Fire Shield will protect you from fire and lava, the Bubble Shield will prevent you from drowning in the water areas and Electric Shield will protect you from rare electric attacks but gives you a double jump which can be useful at times. For the multiplayer we have Competitive Mode where you can race through five stages that are not in the main game. I’d say it’s a lot better than Sonic 2’s multiplayer mode but no one would miss it if it was left out.
And you know, while I was playing this, it clicked on me. Sonic 3 & Knuckles, may be my favourite Sonic game, as in #1 favourite. I love everything about it, and it’s the one I’ve enjoyed the most. Then again, I love Sonic 2 and I will always treasure it, but in terms of how better and how much I’ve enjoyed it more, Sonic 3 & Knuckles comes up in front a little.
The graphics and level design are brilliant, and I can describe them, unlike Sonic CD and their eyesore.
Angel Island – Take Green Hill and make it ten times better by design. While I love Green Hill, I adore Angel Island in terms of design and perfect level design. A tropical jungle, a lush, green area, it’s so beautiful…And then halfway, the place gets burned down. HOLY CRAP! That’s never happened in a Sonic game before.
Hydrocity Zone (Hydro-City, not Hydrocity) – Probably the best water level in Sonic history. Why is that? Well as well as having an Atlantic like area, or better off, a technologically advanced Aquatic Zone, it’s also an example of a water level done right, a far cry from Labyrinth Zone. Highly memorable, highly fun.
Marble Garden Zone – A much better version of ‘once inhabitable lands’, this one feels decayed and looks like it could fall apart…and it does. It has many parts, many tricky situations but I enjoy all of the situations coming my way.
Carnival Night Zone – So in an island where we have near enough ancient ruins at this point, how did they get a Carnival? Who cares, it’s a Sonic game and Sonic games needs at least one Vegas-style game and here it is. In terms of foreground, it’s highly vibrant, has all of the objects from every single one of these types of levels and it’s quite fun. The background looks like Vegas, dank, few colours and you can feel your wallet wasting away. And yes, I was one of those children who was a victim to ‘The Drum’.
Ice Cap Zone – When Sonic snowboards to his stage, you know it’s going to be good. And oh boy, it is as it’s one of the best ice levels in a video game. We’re inside an icy mountain, a cave-like structure, it’s so beautiful and upon going outside, you see the arctic…modern day (we need to protect the environment, a message less subtle than how Sonic portrays it with no words what-so-ever. And most importantly, it has the best piece of music in classic Sonic games. It’s one of my favourite stages and a true beauty in level design.
Launch Base Zone – The crash site of the Death Egg, construction pieces replaces the lush beauty of Angel Island. The level is…OK, I mean I’m not too much of a fan of the level overall. But at the end, you battle the final boss before battling the final, final boss…if you’re playing Sonic 3 only, but I played this game with both cartridges to get the full experience. Soooooooo…
Mushroom Hill Zone – …ooo we have a forest level full of giant mushrooms…probably a middle finger to the Mario series. If you started the game as Sonic & Knuckles, this would be the first level. But playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles, it feels like a ‘break time level’; a game that gets challenging, though not that much, and then the game goes, ‘hold up, this is too much, let’s lighten the mood again before another storm. Act 2 changes the colours to change the season, what would be summer ends up being autumn and I love it.
Flying Battery Zone – Strange seeing a level so early like this, but it’s not too hard and if you played the game as Sonic 3 & Knuckles, you won’t get that effect. So we’re inside a big battleship. There are loads of traps that may hinder the first-time player and may have capsules that may not have innocent animals because Robotnik is a jerk. It also has the worst mini-boss in the Zone, not because it’s hard but more stupid.
Sandopolis Zone – We’re in Egypt! In Act 1, we have ancient Egyptians artefacts and buildings, we have quick sand and a background desert, Act 1 gameplay-wise is OK, if a bit long. It’s Act 2 I absolutely hate; it just overstays its welcome. In Act 2, we’re inside a pyramid, with ghosts, and they’re annoying. It’s an Act that puts more puzzle elements and whilst I don’t have too much of an issue with it, I just got bored with it pretty quickly. And for this analysis, fans may agree with me since not many people like this zone anyway.
Lava Reef Zone – The fire level and a great one at that, in fact, you’re in a volcano. Many rocky paths and lava aplenty. Act 1’s music is incredibly sexy; it’s probably my second favourite music pieces in this Sonic game. Act 2 completely changes everything as the molten cools and crystallised rocks form, the setting has changed and so has the music, you can get a bit of Act 1 in this new music, but it’s such a strange transition compared to the other music in this game.
Hidden Palace Zone – So we have a one act level, but it’s an important one as it’s a story transition and Knuckles is a boss. It’s near enough of a continuation of Lava Reef Zone Act 2 design-wise.
Sky Sanctuary Zone – ANOTHER uninhabited level and it crumbles, though this seems to fit the one-man guardian in a floating island that no one uses. But it’s near enough another one act level that’s another story transition.
Death Egg Zone – It’s a final Zone that’s worthy of a final Zone, we have 2 acts for Death Egg and I love it and it has some challenge to it, mostly the conveyor belts with missiles shooting at you. It’s a mechanical fortress and it’s dark and gloomy but the design for it is epic with a background that barely ever moves, giving you that feeling that ‘YOU ARE IN A BIG ASS SPACE STATION’. We then go outside into space where we see the introduction of gravity changing areas where we can run on the ceiling (and dance). And then we get a number of bosses and we can finally make Robotnik drop the Master Emerald.
Now this is where I get to the Special Stages. And these are probably the best Special Stages in a Sonic game, yep, much better than Sonic CD. It’s like running on a giant checker ball and you have to collect blue balls (Sonic’s Blue Balls). Collecting them all will give you the Chaos Emerald, but don’t touch the red balls or it will end the stage, they’re challenging but you feel good when you get the Chaos Emeralds. For the first time, for this review, I managed to collect all the Chaos Emeralds, though I only managed to collect one Super Emerald, but it doesn’t matter, as long as I have all the Chaos Emeralds, after the Death Egg Zone, I can now access…
Doomsday Zone – At this point, my heart was pounding, this has never happened before. I wasn’t too worried but I had enough lives to spare. So with the powers of the Chaos Emeralds combined, I turn into Super Saiyan Sonic (or Super Saiyan Sonic 2 if you collected the Super Emeralds) and the race begins in space where you chase down Robotnik and defeat him once and for all. Pretty epic stuff and I love the music.
I think this is it because this is an unbelievably long review but it deserves it. Overall, this is one of the definitive best 2D Sonic games out there. The gameplay is varied for everyone of all types of gaming can adapt to, so if you want to explore or run through it, you can do just that. The graphics are fantastic, the music is some of the best of what the Mega Drive’s sound chip has to offer and…It’s just a near-perfect game. And remember, if you’re going to play this, make sure to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles, not Sonic 3, then Sonic & Knuckles, it’s a big adventure when you use Sonic & Knuckles’ lock-on cartridge.