Review by Richo Rosai
"Close, but no Cough Drop"
Fans of the Sonic series have long sat back and listened to Nintendo fanboys balk about how much better Mario is than Sonic, even though most of these people never gave Sonic a chance. Sonic the Hedgehog and its 16 bit sequels are good. Deceptively simple and ultimately quite cerebral, they won me over the day I finally got a Genesis. Not long after that day, with these great games fresh in my mind, I decided to try the last Sonic game left on the system, namely Sonic 3D Blast. After 30 minutes with the game, the momentum of my excitement with Sonic had started to skid. Sega’s decision to farm their lead first-party icon to a third-party developer, although not quite as terrible an idea as, say, Mario on the CD-I, is definitely nowhere near what the previous Sonic games were, and was a mistake on Sega’s part.
Too Much of a Good Thing, Followed by Way Too Much of a Bad Thing
The first act in Sonic 3D Blast was really fun to me. “Hey,” I thought. “This is Sonic! What were those negative reviewers thinking?” It wasn’t quite as fast as the 2D Sonics, but the gameplay was intact. Bouncing on springboards, collecting rings, spinning into robots to free little animal pals - check, check, and check. There were even a few innovations, such as new types of enemies/traps and colored shields. Then I got to the second act. No sign of the fun slowing down yet. I turned a fan onto my Genesis to prepare for some longer-than-recommended playtime. Then I got to the second zone. I noticed some of the control problems that weren’t apparent in the simpler levels of the first zone. Then I made it to the third zone, and realized that this game is astoundingly repetitive. Oops. By the fourth zone I had run out of cusswords, dumbly frothing as I watched myself run into one obstacle after another.
Yes, after all the initial coolness wears off, there is much fundamentally wrong with Sonic 3D Blast.
First of all, the goal of each non-boss act in Sonic 3D Blast is slightly different from that of the classic Sonics. In order to proceed to the next section of an act, you have to collect the little birds (“flickies”) that hop out of the robot enemies when you defeat them. They string along behind you, and scatter along with your coins when you get hit. You have to successfully escort these fellows to a teleportation ring, at which point you can move on to the next area. It’s a good idea, and it’s really fun at first. Then, toward the middle of the game, it starts to get increasingly difficult to keep up with your flickies. Even if you skillfully dash past an obstacle, they are still likely to get hit by it, as you have no direct control over them. This results in you having to go back to pick them up again. Add in the fact that they aimlessly, randomly bounce around and you have about a ninety percent chance of getting hit by the obstacle you went through all the trouble of avoiding in the first place. Then you loose your rings. Then you can’t get to the bonus stage. Bah!
Next, the camera is far too zoomed-in on the action. Once you get to some of the more frantic areas of the game, you’ll find yourself running into spikes before you have a chance to stop, making blind leaps of faith to areas below that could easily and very often do harbor damaging enemies or obstacles, and loosing your way due to the lack of orientation provided by the not-so-grand area visible at one time. A zoom in/out option could have added an entire point to this game’s score.
And what’s this? No save feature? Even though there was one in Sonic 3? Not even a password? After spending hours and hours of monotonous 1-up hoarding (in order to die on purpose after ice-skating into an obstacle to re-collect the rings necessary to get into the bonus rounds, and yes I’m serious), my Genesis was just too heated for me to allow it to go on, especially since I had no idea how many more areas there would be. Here is yet another potato tossed into the frustration pot. Just a friggin’ password - how hard could it be?!
A few other problems stick out. Sonic “slides” around all the time like there’s ice under him (and when there really is ice under him… oh, boy). This momentum, while workable at first, simply doesn’t fit in with the middle and later levels that require you to stop on a dime to avoid taking damage. The isometric view also often causes you to miss jumps on enemies, and in worse cases floating platforms. The former can be overcome by paying attention to Sonic’s shadow, and the latter is just frustrating beyond words. The enemies are ridiculously simple in design and stupidly easy in action, while the environments themselves are often hardly navigable. You usually don’t really have a chance to keep yourself from falling or getting hit until it has already happened. Sonic’s hallmark speed has been bastardized as well. No doubt feeling obligated to maintain the series’ original selling point, the designers left the loop-de-loop sequences in. But you loose all control of Sonic from the time they start to the time they stop, essentially making them nothing but cinemas. Oh, and the chaos crystals look just like cough drops.
On the plus side, the bosses are very creatively designed, and the bonus levels are really fun. There are also some interesting breaks of innovation in the otherwise unbearable repetitiveness. For example, now sonic has colored shields that will protect him from certain harmful elements (i.e. red grants invulnerability to fire). You also sometimes can break bricks or use power-ups to smash your way into secret areas. Sometimes you even have to use the trail of birds following you to reach items that you alone can’t reach, although this trick itself is reused about four times per level.
But for the most part, you will probably just find yourself cursing the frustrating levels, praying for the next boss or bonus level, and trying your best to hold out because hey, it’s a Sonic game, and you’ve at least got to finish it.
An insult to the Saturn, or a credit to the Genesis?
First of all, Sonic 3D Blast’s graphics are some of the best available on the system. The first jaw-dropper is at the title screen. Someone actually went ahead and compressed what is essentially a really low-res mpeg and stuck it into this cart. It is the only pre-rendered cinema I’ve ever seen on a 16-bit cart, and I can only imagine how much space it takes up.
Once you get into the game, you are greeted by a 3/4ths overhead isometric point of view, just like in Snake, Rattle, ‘n’ Roll for the NES. (Some 3D, huh?) The floors are formed by vector lines and shading to represent distance and height/depth. The special stages are an especial treat, scrolling under your character Mode-7 style. The sprites and backgrounds themselves all sport a similarly pseudo-3D, rendered look. Some rotating objects even have so many frames in their animations that they really look like they’re being drawn in 3D. It’s for the most part very technically impressive, delightfully colorful, and well detailed. Oddly, the Saturn version’s not much better looking...
One New Button, and One New Dimension
The controls lure you in from the game’s outset. They feel like a cinch. They are actually pretty nice. That is to say they would be, perhaps in a different game. But thanks to the camera problems mentioned above, the placement of the various dangers, and the difficulty of telling just where in the hell you are at any given time, they quickly melt into a frustrating barrier between you and the game.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Sonic 3D Blast features a new button - the dash button. This is due to the natural impossibility of pressing down on the d-pad to spin (since down will now make you walk down), and it takes about thirty seconds to get used to, even for Sonic veterans.
The movement itself is very intuitive. You press down to move down, up to move up, down-left to move down-left and so on. The camera is fixed, so you never have to worry about anything of this changing. Where it gets a bit muddy is when you want to change directions. Sonic “slides” around as if he were in some ice level all the time. It’s easy to get used to, but deadly in the later levels that require precision.
If You Close Your Eyes, You Can Pretend You’re Playing a Real Sonic Game
The sounds are right on. That’s because they’re the same sounds from all the previous Sonic games. Sonic spins and whirs, rings ‘pling’, and badniks go ‘bonk’. It’s all very soothing, and very fitting.
The music, on the other hand, is not bad but not really memorable like the earlier games. I mean that literally; I just spent four solid hours playing the game and I can’t recall a single tune from it.
A Slap in the Face
In the end, Sonic 3D Blast is not a bad game. But it is a bad Sonic game. If you slapped some new characters into it I might call it a 7 game, but just the fact that this game had so much to live up to, and that Sega let something like this happen to their most treasured mascot forces me to judge it more harshly. If you come to this game with no knowledge of Sonic, you might be entertained, but as the fourth in a series of stellar games, Sonic 3D Blast is a crying shame.
GRAPHICS - 9
GAMEPLAY - 5
CONTROLS - 6
SOUND - 8
REPLAY VALUE - 2
[ + ]
Set up nicely, with several fun spots
[ - ]
Any attempt to find all the chaos emeralds will prove much too frustrating
If you like this, try:
Snake, Rattle ‘n’ Roll!
The other Sonic games (or maybe even more if you don’t like this…)
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 09/02/02, Updated 02/10/03
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