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CONSOLE: Sega Genesis DEVELOPER: Sega Technical Institute PUBLISHER: Sega
RELEASE DATE (NA): February 2, 1994 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

The need for speed is key in three.

Back in 1991, Sega introduced their new mammalian mascot to the world for the sole purpose of overtaking the video game dictatorship held by Nintendo's own Super Mario and bringing their relatively new high-tech console, the Sega Genesis, into the forefront of the industry. And they did indeed succeed: Sonic the Hedgehog topped the charts and took the gaming world by storm by offering something not yet experienced on a home console: speed! Yes, Sonic could run like the wind, resulting in quick dashes across the countryside (and longer levels overall as a result), and it was just what people were clamoring for. The Genesis was on top for a while with the aid of that hedgehog. The success was repeated with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which introduced 2-player mode for those who wanted to enjoy Sonic with a friend. It sold almost 7 million copies -- not an easy feat, even by today's standards -- so you could place a safe bet that Sega immediately considered another sequel. The result is this, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and it maintains the high level of quality expected of a Sonic title.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 takes place immediately after the end of the previous game. The Death Egg, Dr. Robotnik's orbiting space vessel, had been pretty much destroyed after careening from the sky following a showdown against the blue hedgehog. The remainder of the Death Egg, along with Robotnik, end up crashing on Floating Island, a legendary locale that no one had actually seen in person prior. Floating Island is the home of Knuckles the Echidna, a character who would later become a popular series mainstay. Dr. Robotnik convinces Knuckles that Sonic and Tails are coming to the island in search of the coveted Chaos Emeralds (and when Sonic arrives, Knuckles takes his emeralds). Knuckles, the protector of these precious jewels, does his best to ensure that the Chaos Emeralds never return to their hands. So Sonic's mission is clear: get the Chaos Emeralds back, and track down Dr. Robotnik before he fully repairs the Death Egg. Will he be able to accomplish this? Of course! He's Sonic the Hedgehog, after all! He can do anything! ...Er, except NOT get his inventory stolen...

Most of the basic gameplay elements from previous iterations remain intact here. Sonic can walk around freely, although he is more often known for running or curling up into a blue ball and racing along the given paths, many of which are far more twisty than usual. This time, the levels are far larger than earlier games, leading to multiple ways to get to the end of a level. I also didn't feel that rushing through a level put me at as high of a risk as before. I didn't run into half as many enemies from failing to slow down as I had done before, leading me to believe that the various stages here are a bit easier this time around. However, the boss fights are just as difficult as before, so have no fear that everything will be a cakewalk. I am also pleased by the fact that the levels interconnect in some way, either directly or via brief cutscenes between Sonic and Knuckles; that's a bit of finesse that makes Sonic 3 all the more enjoyable. The concept of collecting rings is also present, in which you snag rings you find in your travels; 100 rings equals an extra life. If you get injured, your rings go flying off in every direction, so collect what you can, or else the next hit will be fatal -- an injury with zero rings brings forth death! Furthermore, if you have at least 50 rings and cross a checkpoint tower, a sparkly portal will appear above it. Enter, and you'll appear in a large dispenser, similar to what you'd find in a grocery store. Normally, candy would come out, but instead, you spin the knob and power-up orbs fall out. Try to get what you want before you fall off the screen!

...that's right, I said power-up orbs. This is one of the new features of the game as well; Sonic can surround himself with an element-based spherical shield to fend off certain types of dangers. The fire shield defends against toasty obstacles, the water bubble shield allows you to bounce around and also to breathe freely underwater, and the lightning shield defends against electric attacks and also acts as a magnet for nearby rings if they are a tad out of reach. This shielding was briefly explored in Sonic 2, but expanded upon here. But if that's not enough protection, they have retained the ability to transform into Super Sonic (or "Super Saiyan Sonic" for those who are fans of Dragon Ball Z and enjoy alliteration); after collecting 50 rings, you can double-jump to become the practically invincible golden Super Sonic. Every second, you lose one ring until you hit zero, after which you resume regular Sonic form. Want to last longer? Collect more rings. That should be automatic.

But there's still one aspect that is missing: how will I get those pesky Chaos Emeralds? The first two Sonic games had tough bonus levels that required extensive reflexes in order to succeed. Fear not: Sonic 3 also has a bonus stage, occasionally titled "Blue Sphere". In order to reach these, you must find giant hidden rings within all the stages -- usually, they're stuck behind breakable walls, but you never know where they'll be hiding. In these bonus levels, you are placed in a three-dimensional world (pretty much a giant sphere), where your goal is to change all the blue spheres to red ones by passing through them. Simple enough, eh? And as a bonus, if you change all the orbs on the outside of a group to blue, they will all turn into collectible rings! That's neat. But if you touch a red sphere, the bonus level ends and you lose the chance to get that Chaos Emerald until your next encounter with a ring portal. Okay, this all sounds easy, so where's the real challenge? Well, first of all, you are constantly running -- there is no stopping whatsoever. Furthermore, with every bunch of blue orbs you change to red, you start moving faster and faster. Eventually, it's like a sprint! At least you can jump over any obstacles that may get in your way, but even then, you must rely solely on top-notch reflexes. It's good fun, though, and perhaps my favourite of the bonus stages from the original trilogy.

If Sonic the Hedgehog 2 looks good, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 looks damn good. Everything is more detailed than ever before; Sonic's sprite has been slightly redesigned to give him a more defined look. The environments look less blocky than before (especially noticeable in the evolution from the original Sonic to now). All the levels are very colourful and exotic, and the 3D look of the bonus stages is pretty nice as well, if a little basic. Meanwhile, the music maintains the high level of quality that I had come to expect from the series. In fact, they hired a new composer (Jun Senoue), who introduced a slightly more rock-based flair to the game. It's quite entertaining. Sound effects are typical, mostly taken from the last game, so I suppose they also maintain the quality of olde.

Overall, I'd say that I definitely prefer this over the first Sonic game of the series, and it's on par with the second one in terms of overall charm. The atmosphere has changed a bit to a slightly more cinematic style, but the general formula of Sonics past is withheld for this iteration as well. It's definitely as worthy of attainment as the first two, plus it completes a fine trilogy before the series started leaning towards the 3D aspect of gaming. Thankfully, for those not willing to go eBay hunting for the original cartridge, this game is readily available elsewhere. You can find it on the Sonic Mega Collection for the GameCube, the Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC, via the Wii's Virtual Console service, and also on the new "Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection" compilation for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. You now have no excuse! Grab it now!

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