Review by Scizor CT
"Sonic 3 & Knuckles - The End-All-Be-All of Sonic games? Most likely."
Back in the day, after the release of the great Sonic 3, which seemed to leave something to be desired, the world's first ever console expansion pack was released in the form of the great Sonic & Knuckles. Together, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles combine to form the complete version and what could very well be the world's greatest platformer, Sonic 3 & Knuckles! On to the review!
Set shortly after the events of Sonic 2, Sonic and Tails are off to Angel (Floating) Island! Sonic has found a mysterious ring washed up on the shore, and upon seeing it, he remembers hearing a legend about a mysterious island, floating high above the world. This island is also said to be the birthplace of the even more legendary Chaos Emeralds! Always seeking adventure, Sonic and Tails fly out to Angel Island, Chaos Emeralds in hand, only to find that the island isn't floating anymore. Upon arrival, the duo's Emeralds are promptly stolen by the island's guardian and only resident, Knuckles the Echidna! Poor gullible Knuckles has been tricked by the nefarious Dr. Robotnik (who did not end up dead) into thinking that our brave heroes only want the Emeralds for their power. What's worse, the Death Egg has not only not been destroyed, but is about to relaunch! Most of this isn't stated in the game, but it makes for a great background story. Throughout the game, more of the plot is revealed through cut-scenes that flow seamlessly into the gameplay.
Although the Genesis isn't known for its graphical splendor, you couldn't tell that by playing this game. The massive amounts of sprites use a wide variety of coloring and shading for maximum effect. The backgrounds themselves are lushly detailed, with well done scrolling and beautiful design. These combine to make a smooth, rich experience.
The Genesis is also not known for wonderful music and sound. This is once again, not the case here. Every single level has its own, unique music that creates the perfect mood and the perfect atmosphere. Every Zone has a main theme. The first Act's music sets the scene, and the second Act's music complements the first Act's by being a variation of the same theme. The composition of the music has no flaws either. Almost every single tune could easily qualify as one of Gaming's Best Songs, especially when both parts of an Act are heard in succession. The sound effects are mostly the same as they were since Sonic 1, which isn't a bad thing in the least. They all fit flawlessly, and none of them seem oddly out of place.
Gameplay: Infinite (10)/10
Regardless of the splendor of the previous categories, this is where the heart of the game rests. Twenty-five gargantuan Acts (levels), spanning fourteen individual Zones, make this Sonic's biggest adventure ever. Nearly every Act has masses of branching paths, each with its own secrets. The level design is fabulous, and every Zone is unique. Some parts are only accessible to certain characters, making every character well worth playing.
There are four different character selections, all of which are different in play control barring the basic jump and spin-dash. You can choose Sonic and Tails, Tails alone, Knuckles, or Sonic alone. Sonic has the ability to use the insta-shield and special powers derived from the game's three unique elemental shields. Tails can fly and swim, as well as be controlled by a second player in a Sonic and Tails game. He can also airlift Sonic around to areas, otherwise unreachable by Sonic on his own. Knuckles has a shorter jump, but his wall climbing and gliding abilities more than make up for it. The game's thirty-two bosses are all unique and well done. Knuckles bypasses some bosses, but makes up for it by fighting harder bosses never seen by Sonic and Tails.
The familiar star posts are back, complete with swirling star rings. However, this time, you attempt to gain rings and other power-ups in one of three different Bonus Stages. The Special Stages are still around, but you must now locate giant rings hidden throughout the stages to access them. The fourteen Special Stages have taken the form of mini-planets, where you must touch every blue sphere to get the Emerald. Hit one red one, and it's over. Oh, and the blue spheres become red when touched.
Every character (barring Tails) now has the ability to become Super at any point in a stage after collecting seven Emeralds. Obtain the other seven to go a step further, and become even more powerful than before!
The two-player mode is composed of five unique race levels that also have their own unique music. The characters all control the same here. You can race solo, or with a friend, trying to beat your top times and each other. Various power-ups and power-downs are littered around the courses, so beware. The top five times are recorded into memory.
Replay Value: Infinite (10)/10
No matter how many times you play, it is impossible to tire of this game. You can pick a different path, use a different character, and tear through the level Emerald-charged, or any other way you want! The save feature allows you to have eight different slots to go back to at any given time, plus a no save slot for just playing through a fresh game. It also allows you to go back to any Zone in the game after beating the game in that slot. If you somehow are bored with all that, mess around with debug mode, the level altering tool that allows you to screw with levels almost any way you want. You can create all sorts of harmless glitches and situations that are not in any way permanent. Go wild! Have fun! You can't go wrong with debug, so just enjoy it.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles has been ported to enough systems that there is no excuse to not pick up a copy. It's worth a king's fortune, and sells for much less, so spend a few bucks and treat yourself to this jewel of a game. Stop reading, find some way to buy this game, and do so, even at the risk of life, limb, and various loved and unloved ones. You'll thank me later.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 10/12/02, Updated 10/12/02
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