Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles
System: Genesis :: Rating: GA :: Players: 1
Genre: Platformer :: Released: 18 October 1994
By Kellen Scrivens
Welcome to the third edition of Kellen Scrivens' Classic Video Game Reviews. Today I am going to be reviewing a game that has gotten lost in the shuffle over the years. A revolutionary game for its time and quite possibly the greatest game ever released for the Sega Genesis. That being the 2-cart masterpiece, Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Now before I want to go any further there is one thing that I want to clear up. I'm sure many of you are wondering "Sonic 3 & Knuckles, WTF?" To explain, both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were released as separate games in 1994 for the Sega Genesis, however owners of the latter game may remember the lock-on technology used in the game. (Essentially, on top of the S&K cart, there was another cartridge port to put other games in.) This worked with really only two games, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3. When you used it with Sonic 2 you played through that game as Knuckles and nothing more. When you plugged Sonic 3 into it, what you got was a hybrid of two games that had their own individual flaws, but when put together created a massive, incredibly fun game with a very well told story.
Individually these games were pretty lackluster when stacked up to the original two. Sonic 3 was the victim of being an incredibly short game (12 levels) while S&K was just kinda missing something — no backstory or explanation on why Knuckles was good now. Just to get it out of the way I'd give Sonic 3 a 3 and Sonic & Knuckles a 3.5. Enough of the standalone games, let's get to the hybrid.
The story in this game picks up from where we left off in Sonic 2, with Sonic holding all the Chaos Emeralds. However, Dr. Robotnik, who's once again hell-bent on world domination, has another plan in store. He convinces Knuckles, the guardian of the floating island, that Sonic and Tails plan on doing evil things with the emeralds — and demands him to stop them. Meanwhile, Robotnik plans on using them to re-power his Death Egg. Sonic and Tails get wind of this and head down to the island where they're given a less than warm welcome by Knuckles who steals all the emeralds from the two — for Robotnik. From there throughout the game the story actually progresses with several cutscenes. It really is head and shoulders above any platform game of its time.
The gameplay is once again mostly the same great stuff you'd expect from a Genesis Sonic title with a few extra bells and whistles thrown on. There are three different shields now — Fire, Water & Lightning — (instead of the same one from the first two games) each with it's own special power. As well as a 2-player race mode, and three very distinct games with the three unique characters.
The levels in this game are numerous, and, depending on how you look at it, there are easily 30 different levels spanning 14 Zones. While there are mild cases of repetitiveness, most cases are incredibly fun due to the environments they are in — even to the point that separate Acts in a Zone have they're own unique qualities. My favorite example of this has to be Hydrocity Zone. Done mostly underwater and uncharacteristically slow, while Act 2 is without question the most fast-paced and fun level I have ever played on a platform game in my life. The first time you hit a turbo you'll go through about 20 loop-de-loops and water slides before you stop, it even gets so fast at times the camera loses Sonic. Anyhow, back on topic. Each level is very well done and with the sheer number of them, you're guaranteed to fall in love with one.
Graphically, the game is incredible — filled with depth and detail. The sprites for all the characters have the pseudo 3-D look that was first brought out in Donkey Kong Country. The environments are very detailed and look very good, the best example being Flying Battery Zone.
The sounds and music once again are incredible. Every level has its own theme and there is not a single bad track in my mind on the game with some personal favorites being Hydrocity 2, Flying Battery 1, Ice Cap 1 and Sky Sanctuary. There are also a lot of new and improved sound effects, most of what you've already heard are improved upon and some of the new stuff like the weird falling and rising Carnival Night Zone Platforms are also very well done.
The special stages in this game are quite fun and frantic. Essentially what happens is that you start on a giant sphere littered with tiny red, blue, yellow and white spheres, and the idea is to clear all the blue spheres off without hitting a red — the yellow and white ones just throw you off your path. The nice touch to this is that the speed picks up a little with every sphere you. This makes it quite frantic at times and adds to the enjoyment. All in all it's very simple yet it can be very challenging which makes it my favorite special stage of all time.
There are also three Bonus Rounds that are found much in the same way the special stages in Sonic 2 were — although you need somewhat less than 50 rings. They are all fun distractions that can help you get extra rings, lives or shields. The three levels are: a cross between the Sonic 1 special stages and the Casino Night Slot Machine, a gumball machine full of power-ups, and what can only be described as a magnetic box (which is also full of rings and power-ups).
The boss battles in this game are much more numerous than in other games due to the fact that there are boss battles at the end of each level, just not each Zone. Despite this, each of the battles has their own unique challenge (getting some bosses to hit themselves) and do not get boring, and also some surprises are thrown in — Hyper Metal Sonic being the final boss for Knuckles. Overall, the sheer number will once again allow you to find something that you would enjoy.
The overall challenge to the single player game is very nice, and, just like the other games, the first few levels are pretty easy — with the difficulty growing as you progress towards the final boss battle (which will have you dropping a few lives before you figure out how to hit the boss).
The 2-player game is very well done and fixed some of the problems from the Sonic 2 version. To start, the challenge-style from Sonic 2 was scrapped in favor for pure races. And instead of using stages from the single player game, they created five small, simple race stages. While this may sound like a bad thing, it works because the levels do make for good 2-player fun and it fixes the massive lags. Essentially, what you do is pick one of the three playable characters and run five laps around the stages, grabbing power-ups or power-downs along the way. Whoever wins three of the five tracks wins the game.
While the original Sonic put Sega on the map and Sonic 2 cemented their position as a gaming company, this game didn't really do much in terms of impact and is overshadow by the original two titles. The lock-on technology was a great idea, though no one ever used it again. At the end of the day, this game is incredible. In fact, I'd consider it the best Sonic game ever — and the best game for the Sega Genesis. 5 out of 5.
If there are any game you would like to see me review or just want to send me from feedback, e-mail me at Kscriv@hotmail.com. I'm currently open for requests.