Review by Emptyeye

"Yo, Sega! How about actually FINISHING the games you release?"

Sonic the Hedgehog 3, as you might expect, is the third installment in Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog series. After the overwhelming hype--and subsequent success--that Sega gave Sonic 2, they hyped up Sonic 3 in a similar fashion, going so far as to declare February 2, 1994--the date of the game's release--Hedgehog Day. Unfortunately for Sega, with such hype came expectations that were almost impossible to meet, especially given that Sonic 2 was generally regarded as the best action on the Genesis. Yet the biggest problem may have been Sega's own hype machine....

After Sonic 2, Sonic the hedgehog and his buddy, Tails the 2-tailed fox, flew away from the evil Dr. Ivo Robotnik's lair with the seven Chaos Emeralds, the emeralds that keep Sonic's world safe. However, Tails is apparently not a crack pilot, as he crashes into a rock, making Sonic drop all the Chaos Emeralds. An echidna named Knuckles is waiting for Sonic, and he steals all the Emeralds and runs off. What could account for such strange behavior? Well, it seems Robotnik got to Knuckles first, and has recruited him to help grab the Chaos Emeralds! Specifically, Robotnik managed to convince Knuckles that Sonic and Tails are the bad guys, and that he needs the Emeralds to stop them. Naturally, this is a crisis, and so Sonic and Tails (Or either of them alone, if you choose) must get the Emeralds back, and defeat Robotnik besides.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Sonic, or at least with his Genesis efforts, the game is essentially Sega's answer to Mario. This means the gameplay is 2-D, side-scrolling, hop-n-bop action. The difference between Sonic and Mario? SPEED. You see, Sonic is an enigma in the hedgehog world (Your average hedgehog runs at a speed of about 3 miles per hour), as he's able to attain incredible speeds. So rather than simply walking your way through the level, you can do a cool move called the Spin-Dash where you crouch to build speed, then suddenly take off through the zone. In addition, you'll go zooming around loop-the-loops and through pipes, and trampolines can take the hedgehog and fox far higher than that silly plumber. Sounds fun, right?

And yet, the gameplay is the first sign that Sonic Team, who developed the game, were heavily rushed. Granted, first-timers to the series will probably not even notice, but the fact remains that the game is shorter than either of the two Genesis Sonics that came before it. In particular, while Sonic 2 had over 10 Zones, making up about 25 levels, Sonic 3 offers a mere 6 Zones with 2 Acts each, for a total of 12 levels. This is one of the flaws with the game; it's simply not long enough, despite Sega's best efforts.

And what were those efforts? Well, apparently realizing the game in this form wouldn't be very long, the developers elected to take a ''Quality over quantity'' approach. As a result, Sonic 3's levels are huge, with many taking over 5 minutes to complete (As a comparison, your average Sonic level prior to this game took, at most, three minutes or so), even if you try to hurry through them. But this is not entirely a good thing. For one, the zones can become tedious, as you find yourself whizzing through what seems like the same place for the third time in one level. Also, the 10-minute time limit you get actually becomes a concern in one or two levels, which can lead to great frustration.

Not only that, but of the 6 zones, at least half of them fit the Sonic stereotypes that were built up with the first two games. You have your green zone (Angel Island act 1), your watery zone (Hydrocity Zone), and your bounce-around-to-the-point-of-frustration zone (Carnival Night Zone). Again, you probably won't care if you're not familiar with Sonic, but to those who've played the earlier games, it can start to feel like you've played this game before.
To counteract the fact that the Zones aren't really creative marvels, Sega attempted to add in some new elements to the gameplay. The main addition is that Tails can now fly, enabling him to easily pass some of the more difficult obstacles and take routes Sonic can't get to. Another new addition are the three shields--Lightning, Water, and Fire. Each of these shields has a unique property--for instance, the Water shield enables you to stay underwater without air indefinitely--as well as a power that only Sonic can take advantage of, presumably to counter-act Tails' flying (The Water Shield can help Sonic bounce high, for example).

The main consequence of these shields is that the game becomes far easier than it would be otherwise, to the point that the time limit will probably kill you on some zones more than any of the enemies will. Indeed, Sonic 3 is not a very long game. It's also not a very difficult game, with the exception of one area--no, one single SPOT--that will drive you to fits and probably make you never want to pick up the game again. Trust me, you'll know it when you get to it.

If you can manage to get past this obstacle with your sanity intact, you'll want to keep playing it to the end, and probably beat it a few more times besides. This is because the three possible character configurations (Sonic and Tails in tandem, or either character solo) give you more or less unique experiences as you play through the game. In addition, getting the seven Chaos Emeralds, which you must do in order to obtain the ''good ending'', can be a challenge. This challenge is met by finding huge gold rings hidden throughout the levels, and then entering a bonus stage where your goal is to GET BLUE SPHERES. Get them all without touching a red sphere (Which ends the stage) and you get an Emerald. This is simple and effective, and it breaks up the gameplay by managing to provide a completely different environment from the main game.

Sonic 3 also includes a Save Game feature, enabling you to begin play from whatever zone you left off on. While it's a welcome feature, this was the Sonic game that really needed it least, having less zones than any other Sonic game. This may or may not help the replay value, as it means you won't spend time going through zones already completed, thus enabling you to beat the game that much more quickly.

Sonic 3 is a treat graphically. Parallax scrolling dominates, and is used to great effect in some levels--look at the background inside the caves of the Icecap Zone, and you can see ''windows'' giving you a peek at the outside world. Sonic's environments are also varied, ranging from the lush, green islands of Angel Island to the futuristic launching pad of the Launch Base Zone, to the majestic, ruinish buildings of the Marble Garden Zone. Sonic and company are also animated well, with funny expressions for teetering on the edge of a cliff, or just standing around bored. However, the graphics are another indication of a rushed release on Sega's part--looking in the backgrounds of some zones, you can see traces of other zones that were deleted from this final release.

The music, while less impressive than the graphics, does the job pretty well. The problem isn't with any bad songs, as much as the fact that some of the tunes simply don't fit. The Icecap Zone's theme in particular is guilty of this. In addition, the well-known Sonic theme of the first two games is gone, replaced by a completely different theme. Sound effects are generally sparse, but again, they fit, with a ''ching!'' effect when you collect rings, or when they all go spilling out due to your being hit by an enemy.

Overall, by itself, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is not a bad game--it includes all of the elements that makes the Sonic series fun to play, and first-timers to the Genesis games will probably be pleased with a purchase of the game. However, there are several glaring flaws that the more experienced Sonic gamer will be unable to overlook, such as the tedium of some of the zones. The main flaw, though, is all the evidence that suggests that Sonic 3 and the later release Sonic & Knuckles were supposed to be one game--for instance, the Stage Select for this game lists several zones that were taken out and put into Sonic and Knuckles, and there are paths in some zones that can't be accessed unless you have Sonic & Knuckles. My guess is that Sega had built up such hype for themselves that to not release the time on time would have made them look stupid, so they took out some zones at the last second. If you're capable of overlooking the fact that the game that was put out was probably not even a final release (Which is admittedly a rather big flaw to overlook), what you're left with is a generally enjoyable platformer that occasionally gets bogged down in tediousness. Grab it if you like platformers, even though it isn't a masterpiece like Sonic 2.

Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/20/02, Updated 01/20/02

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