Gameplay, Story and Value:
We’ll start with the easy bits first. Sonic 3 controls just like Sonic 1 and 2 before it, featuring the Spin Dash introduced in Sonic 2 but lacking the running in place ability from Sonic CD. New is the addition of a secondary jump ability, which by default extends your damage range by a hair and lets you bounce higher off of enemies and item boxes. To compliment this ability, three new shields have been added to the game. The bubble shield allows Sonic to breath underwater and bounce downward with a second button press. The fire shield makes Sonic immune to fire damage and launches you forward in a blazing fire ball when you press jump a second time. Finally, the lightening shield will pull rings towards you, and allows for a double jump. Personally, my goal was to try to always have the lightening shield, as the double jump proved invaluable.
When you start a new game in Sonic 3, you’re given the choice of playing as Sonic, Tails or both Sonic and Tails. When both characters are active, a second play can take over Tails directly, which allows him to carry Sonic a short distance with his helicopter tails. The game is seven zones long, and it will autosave between every zone! What’s more is that you can go back and replay any zones you’ve cleared, which makes for a good way of collecting all those Chaos Emeralds.
When you dock Sonic 3 into Sonic & Knuckles, seven additional zones are added to the game, which simply treats these as zones 8-14, and allows you to save across them just as in the initial seven! Additionally, you’ll be able to play as Knuckles in the Sonic 3 campaign.
While the core gameplay mechanics are familiar, what Sonic 3 manages to actually do with them is spectacular. Controls are tight and responsive and everything just feels really good. The levels are designed in such a way that getting lost is impossible, even when you think you’re going entirely the wrong way. While Sonic CD could send you backtracking or looping quite frequently, Sonic 3 somehow always manages to keep you moving forward. Equally impressive is how well the game conveys a sense of speed. Most of the levels have segments that’ll have you blazing down ramps, across water, through loops, etc., and it always looks great!
The sole exception is one instance in the snow level where I simply could NOT make a jump. To get past it I simply had to plug in a second controller to have Tails lift me over the gap, but if I were playing as Sonic alone I’m not sure how I would have handled it.
Bosses in the game are varied and plentiful, with upwards of three per zone. Actually, they’re easily one of the game’s highlights, as facing them is always a lot of fun. The final showdown with Robotnik was both challenging and satisfying.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
Graphically, Sonic 3 is great, specifically when it comes to all the new animations he has for all the new things he’s doing in this game. What’s particularly impressive, however, is that even over the course of fourteen stages every zone manages to feel unique. Add to that the fact that some zones change visually at the halfway mark and the environmental variety you get here is pretty astonishing. The UI is the same as it’s ever been, which is to say simple and effective, and everything you need to interact with in the game is clear and easy to understand. It may not be the best looking game on the system, which is simply to say there are better looking games, but it easily ranks among the top in visual quality.
The music is equally as good, falling right in line with the styles established in the first game while still feeling unique. I could argue the music in Sonic 3 is better than the original’s, but only just. Sound effects are exactly what you’d expect from a Sonic game on the Genesis.
I remember all the hype surrounding Sonic 3 as a kid, and I remember liking it alright, but never beating it. I also remember when I finally got my hands on Sonic & Knuckles. Again, it was just okay. Twenty years later (oh gods!) and for whatever reason I’m now finding this to be my favorite game on the console! I have fond memories of Sonic 2 as well, and I’m deeply curious as to if and how it will be able to top this grand adventure!