Onward now with my Sonic the Hedgehog marathon! Continuing on shortly after the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic has saved the world from Dr. Ivo Robotnik but the evil scientist is quick to retry his plans for world-domination, this time visiting the mystical land upon Angel Island. This is where SEGA and Sonic Team began to branch out the franchise even further with the addition of Knuckles the Echidna, his race the Echidna’s, and The Master Emerald.
I kind of have to laugh at the opening scene, simply because I’ve NEVER actually completed Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (so Sonic wouldn’t be whooshing around like a triumphant badass because he’d be dead, and the world would be under Dr. Robotnik’s control) and I’ve NEVER been able to collect all the Chaos Emeralds in any Sonic game (so, again, he wouldn’t be flying around as a freaking Super Saiyan). You’ve got to hand it to Dragonball Z for inspiring so MUCH within the context of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, particularly when it comes to Super Sonic (cough, cough, Super Saiyan) and Silver the Hedgehog (double cough, Trunks).
Despite these few hilarious nit-picks I have to hand it to Sonic Team for opening up with such a cinematic beginning. Sure, it only lasts for a few mere seconds, but it tells enough story to give this new stretch within the awesome Death Egg arc a neat little charge. Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower travel over to Angel Island to investigate, with Sonic quickly turning into Super Sonic (the transformed state our hero can perform once he’s collected all the SEVEN Chaos Emeralds) but soon encounters Knuckles who takes Sonic by surprise, ultimately gloating over his victory before snatching away the Chaos Emeralds.
I guess I can see why my partner dislikes Knuckles’ character simply because he’s a gullible jackass when it comes to believing the bullshit that comes out of Dr. Robotnik’s mouth (and his general personality [particularly within the old Archie comics). He’s made to believe that Sonic and Tails are his enemy and so is persuaded to steal the Chaos Emeralds, whilst continuing to be an annoying obstacle across the Floating Island. This in turn allows Dr. Robotnik to use the mystical emeralds to fuel his Death Egg in order to once again try and launch it into space and prepare for his takeover. I mean, how retarded can you get?
Plus, if Knuckles steals the Chaos Emeralds then how can Sonic reclaim them via “The Special Zones”? This is either a massive plot-hole, or isn’t very well explained, thus crudely explained somewhere (probably the manual [and who reads those fucking things?]) and I’ve just never picked-up on it.
However, I can’t knock “The Special Zones” within Sonic the Hedgehog 3 because it continues the trend of making these bonus stages more ambitious and fun. Once again Sonic is placed within a 3D plain (similar to Sonic the Hedgehog 2) but instead of the restriction of a straight-forward ramped path you have the freedom to move around in every direction.
The goal is to collect all the blue spheres and avoid the red ones, but this is obviously easier said than done. Once you start moving you CANNOT stop, and thus must have fast-reflexes that match the high speeds of Sonic, and as you collect more blue spheres Sonic’s speed increases, meaning your reflexes have to be SHARP. Then there is the implication of planning your movements carefully (which is rather difficult when you’re constantly moving) in order to chose the right path and avoid any potential obstacles that will bounce you, or divert you into a red sphere.
As for the levels themselves, they’re alright I suppose. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is certainly my least FAVOURITE 2D Sonic game to play because it’s kind of bland, and certainly left less of an impact on me.
Sure, it’s level structure is slightly more exciting than Sonic the Hedgehog, and at the very least it doesn’t frustrate the Hell out of me like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but still, it just doesn’t have as much life and soul. Plus, it is the first half to a LARGER narrative, which concludes within Sonic & Knuckles, and if I’m HONEST, that holds the better half of the journey.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 has some good moments but they don’t last and you’re forced to play through levels that feel like half-arsed rehashes of previous levels, or they just aren’t very interesting, or apply extremely annoying gameplay mechanics. I always like playing through “Angel Island Zone” as it acts as the perfect introduction to this epic quest, introducing you to a brand-new side to Sonic’s mythology, as well as introducing you to all the new elements that make this two-part narrative all the more eventful (and special).
The Sonic franchise began to feel more impressive with its direction, incorporating more cinematic scope and scale to elevate itself above other games within the 2D Platforming genre. This is why Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (despite its flaws towards the conclusion) always excites me because you really feel like you’ve undergone a massive journey as you travel through the different, and varied, areas, with each encounter with Dr. Robotnik adding in more conflict and danger, until you reach a point where the journey comes to a gigantic stand-off, representing a true battle between Good and Evil.
Things only become more impactful here as you travel through a mystical jungle before encountering one of Dr. Robotnik’s Machines, which ultimately lays waste to the jungle and turns it into an inferno, allowing for a dramatic change in both tone and colourisation, and the two-part narrative does well at continuously escalating the drama of the journey through the level design.
Then of course there’s the addition of TWO boss battles per level, with Act 1 consisting of one of Dr. Robotnik’s unmanned Machines attempting to take you out prior to Dr. Robotnik trying the same in Act 2. But sadly things don’t remain grand and exciting for long as you’re sent to “Hydrocity Zone” which feels like a carbon copy of “Labyrinth Zone” (although, to give this level a little bit more credit, it doesn’t force too many underwater sequences upon you [instead throwing in a lot of fun high speed sections for you to just whiz through the level]).
I think one of the elements I hate the most about this second level is the MUSIC. It’s really bland and hasn’t got much impact, feeling more like a nuisance to the ears rather than something that motivates you to push Sonic along on his journey whilst you click your fingers to the beat.
That’s something that quickly becomes a problem with Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the music (which is made more hilarious because Michael Jackson was apparently involved within the composing). It starts off quite impressive, demonstrating a new dynamic direction in Sonic Team’s new approach (almost establishing this new adventure as the NEXT era within Sonic’s tenure) but for the rest of the game it’s rather hit-and-miss all round, with some of the later stages rekindling some of the earlier spark, but not by much.
They might have a certain beat, or section, within the track that stands out as kind-of catchy, but then the rest of the music will be rather generic and forgettable. Sometimes, especially with “Carnival Night Zone”, it’s just fucking annoying! And the levels themselves aren’t anything exciting, which often leads to you wanting to complete them as fast as possible (and not because you want to be get a time-bonus but because they’re fucking boring and you want to push past them with haste). It’s made even more laughable when quite a few of the levels are designed with fast-paced sections that it’s almost like the level is trying to get you through it as fast as possible.
“Carnival Night Zone” certainly acts as the WORST level within the game, specifically because it just isn’t fun, feels gimmicky in its design, has far too many bouncy obstacles, or hurdles that can kill your momentum dead, and the fact that the ridiculous spinning cylinder things caused players (including myself) to stop and question the very DESIGN of the game! I’m serious! Nobody had a fucking clue how to operate them, thus standing around like a complete jackass for 10 minutes trying our damdest to figure out the sodding riddle right in front of us, before inevitably dying because the timer ran out.
“Marble Garden Zone” is a sort of cross between “Marble Zone” and “Ancient Ruin Zone” (only minus any lava or water) but still remains kind of fun despite feeling a bit like a maze. A did like the fact that the environment changed because of the actions of both yourself and Dr. Robotnik, which give the level a dash of personality, but it still didn’t make it a great stage to complete. Although it was interesting to see a Dr. Robotnik boss battle taking place completely in the sky, to which you were completely dependent on Tails to defeat him via his flying ability and team-up skills.
This is something that was truly perfected within Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (continuing on from what was established within Sonic the Hedgehog 2) in which you could have a second player control Tails and use him to aid Sonic in his journey. This comes in handy quite a lot (believe it or not), ultimately allowing you to cheat through the levels by picking Sonic up and gliding him to a higher point (thus rinsing and repeating until you reach the end). You could even sit back during a boss battle and take advantage of Tails’ invincibility by repeatedly attacking with him until the boss was defeated.
But, obviously, Sonic Team took away this advantage right at the end by taking Tails out of the equation just to make things a little bit more difficult (similar to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, spoil-sports!) I usually exploit Tails within “IceCap Zone” because it can become rather tedious at times, particularly with the swinging platforms that can get you randomly hit by shards of ice sticking out the walls you’re approaching, to which if you don’t avoid them in time will cause you to fall back to the bottom of the level, forcing you to have to climb all the way back up again!
Which is a massive SHAME because the level looks gorgeous (and the music isn’t too bad either), acting as one of the BEST looking snow levels in gaming history. And it even opens up with Sonic snowboarding down a mountain (how AWESOME is that?) “Launch Base Zone” turns things around and truly acts like a FINALE scaled level as you get this overwhelming feeling that you’re on a timer to stop Dr. Robotnik. You’ve reached his base of operations and you’re aware he’s about to launch the Death Egg into space and that you NEED to get to him as fast as possible in order to stop him before he gets a chance to succeed.
You’re constantly being blocked by obstacles, Badniks, and all kinds of dangers, but it remains relatively fun. I definitely love this level when it comes to its conclusion, granting us some of Dr. Robotnik’s BEST boss battles. You have to fight him THREE times and although he starts off relatively easy, he will gradually get tougher, but never to the point where he’s EXTREMELY difficult.
In fact, as long as you keep hold of a SINGLE ring, these boss battles are a piece of piss to get through. Sure, they’re definitely harder than the “Final Zone” but they certainly hold a similar anti-climatic response. But considering this isn’t the end of Sonic’s journey I find it makes these boss battles a neat little MID-SEASON finale in order to give a pleasing conclusion whilst you wait for the story to continue within Sonic & Knuckles.
These encounter hold a lot of weight and the stakes feel REALLY high, especially with how desperate Dr. Robotnik feels in trying to get rid of Sonic, thus preventing him from foiling his plans once more. I mean you end being elevated into the sky, reaching the point of space, on a hanging platform below the Death Egg where Dr. Robotnik brings out The Big Arm in order to try and capture you and drop-slam you fiercely onto the ground (basically he’s not FUCKING AROUND anymore kiddy-winks [despite most of his other contraptions being life-threatening – but you get the POINT!] and is intentionally trying to kill your arse!)
Yeah, it’s not the Death Egg Robot from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (thank fuck!) but it still retains a sense of tension and grandness about it which justifies its being at the very end of the game (mostly because of the Final Boss Theme [it’s fucking amazing, to the point where I regularly listen to it on my MP3! – Don’t JUDGE ME!!])
Despite sending the Death Egg crashing back down to Angel Island the battle isn’t won as the crafty scientist still has ONE MORE trick up his sleeve, i.e. The Master Emerald, and he will stop at nothing to obtain it and use it to finally activate his battle-station and control the world. Sure, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is the weaker side of this EPIC quest because of its inconsistency and often bland, uninspiring, or downright annoying level structures, but it still has it’s good qualities, mostly in setting up Sonic & Knuckles to become my FAVOURITE 2D instalment (SPOILERS…!)