Sunday, 5 February 2012

Retro Games Review: Sonic The Hedgehog 3

Confab Retro Games Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Publisher: SEGA
Original Platform: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive
Currently available on: DS, PSN, PC, Virtual Console, XBLA
Genre: Platformer
Players: 1-2

With the recent release of the well received Sonic Generations and the upcoming Sonic 4: Episode 2 downloadable title, Sega's insanely fast blue mascot is once again having a long overdue successful return to gaming. With this in mind, Confab has taken to reviewing a blast from the past in Sonic's history and one of the most successful 16-bit titles and well reviewed games he's ever starred in: 

Do you like fast paced action? Well you'd better, because the world's fastest Hedgehog doesn't like to hang around waiting! The cool blue spiky SEGA mascot was a hero in his time, pushing out games that helped redefine platform gaming in the 90's. The Sonic the Hedgehog games on Sega Genesis were quite simply, pretty darn awesome. Expertly crafted platforming games with a focus on speed and skill. I've yet to meet anyone my age (late teens) that hasn't played at least one Sonic game, (and I know people who haven't played the Zelda games--Heresy!) and there's probably a good reason for that. The first game was hugely popular and successful worldwide and lead to the follow ups: Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles. All fantastic games in their own right, but for the sake of picking and choosing, I'm going to focus mainly on the third one for this look back on a game that entertained millions.

So, unless you were born deep underground sheltered from the sun for many, many years, you will have heard of Sonic the Hedgehog a too-cool-for-school blue hedgehog with a need for speed. The games work in levels called zones, with two or three Acts for each usually, with the goal of getting from start to finish that will lead you to the climactic face off with the evil Dr. Robotnik to thwart his diabolical schemes for world domination! To reach the end however, you'll have to speed your way through sprawling areas that are different with every level, be it the jungles of Angel Island Zone, or the snowy tundras of the Ice Cap Zone. Each level offers new enemies and challenges for you to overcome as you plough through them at awesome speeds. Even at the moments that require careful moments and concentration, it doesn't bore. And whilst some moments may be rather frustrating, it's very rewarding to finish each level or take down a boss. There are plenty of hidden areas to explore too, paths that may lead you to extra lives or power ups to aid you, or you may stumble upon one of the giant hidden rings that teleports you to the Special Zone! If you play the game with Tails or Knuckles, thanks to their flying and gliding abilities, they may help you reach areas that Sonic never could. And that's what's so fun about playing through the levels; it doesn't get old. Multiple paths, and hidden challenges draw you back into playing more!

The level design overall is really cool and challenging, but not entirely confusing with moderate puzzling sections and plenty of spikes, traps, pitfalls and enemies to keep you on your toes, before finishing with an epic boss battle against Dr. Robotnik and whatever fiendish weapon he can pull out against Sonic! Beginning in 3, at the end of each first act, there would be a midway boss that wouldn't be quite so difficult, but as with the main boss battles, always very unique with different attacks, defences, patterns and ways to take them down. The boss battles are always incredibly tense, as you frantically begin to memorise the movements of your enemy and any weak spots they provide. Difficult, but the sense of triumph you get when you take down a particularly hard boss is immensely satisfying.

Something that needs a huge mention in Sonic 3 is the music. All the Sonic games have absolutely amazing soundtracks that I can't give enough credit to. Memorable themes and melodies will be stuck in your head for days, much to your own delight rather than dismay. With tense epic boss battles, the music matches the tone of the fights to a tee, the drama is practically dripping out from your TV! Quite simply, it's freakin' amazing! It's also worth noting that Michael Jackson was originally involved with the soundtrack of Sonic 3, though was never officially credited in the game.

The visuals are beautiful for the Mega Drive, incredibly colourful and no level is ever dull. The sprites are fantastic, the movement of Sonic flawlessly handled and the animations of the enemies and environments work really well. It's most certainly a very pretty game and the frame rate, as far as I can remember on the Sega Mega Drive, was incredibly smooth considering the speed that you're moving through the levels, which I find rather impressive. With Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, some more special effects were used, engaging in simple three dimensional background effects for level animations or most prominently certain boss fights that still look really cool today. The Special Zone is just a huge 3D sphere that you have to navigate around collecting blue balls and avoiding the red. The graphics really set these sections apart and are well handled for the console. As with the level design, the art of each level is unique to itself, and captures the look of some excellent locations. Sonic Team managed to squeeze a lot more out of the Mega Drive since the original Sonic with more detailed backgrounds and sharper sprites.

                Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)           Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)

Depending on your skill, a full playthrough would perhaps be about 2 to 3 hours if you're able to absolutely smash through it, but there is so much replayability. The games charm, music, and the various bonus stages will keep you coming back for more. Although scoring systems have become redundant in a lot of games nowadays, that is also a feature that adds to the longevity and back in it's release I imagine would have been great fun for trying to beat your friends high scores on your playthrough!

Upon the release of Sonic & Knuckles, it was possible to place your Sonic 3 cartridge on the top-loader of Sonic & Knuckles. This was an amazing idea at the time, because what this meant is that the two games would now be combined, giving you more features and levels to play through! Originally, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were the same game, but due to time constraints in development they were split into two. This is the way the game was truly meant to be played as Sonic 3 is only half the story! With all the levels combined, you now had the chance to play through the story and play through as Knuckles in Sonic 3's levels, and Tails in S&K. Not only that, but that adds tons more playability to it; New characters to play through different areas with, and a chance to collect all the Chaos Emeralds from Sonic 3 and then the Super Emeralds after that, allowing you to turn into the legendary Hyper Sonic, Super Tails or Hyper Knuckles! Sonic & Knuckles is essential for playing Sonic 3, there is no doubt about it.

So if you're howling in despair at the rather pitiful releases following our blazing blue speed demon lately, with a three-dimensional Sonic stumbling around like a drunken mutt in games of stinking mediocrity, why not revisit these absolute gems and let the nostalgia flow!

Andy Robison


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