Today in History – A Sonic 3 retrospective

17 years ago Sega were flying high, their Mega Drive console was still proving a hit and the company mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, was ready for his third big appearance on the console.

February 24, 1994 saw Sega’s blue hedgehog appear in what many say was one of his, if not his last, great adventures. Come take a supersonic speed dash down memory lane as Past the Pixels looks at Sonic the Hedgehog 3.

The original Sonic broke new ground in the platform genre,  game programmer Yuji Naka, dubbed the “father of Sonic” had created  a game that conveyed a thrilling sense of speed never before seen in a platforming title. Add in a wonderful soundtrack, fun level design and a starring character that was nothing less than iconic and an all-time classic was born.

Sonic 2 built further upon the foundations of the original, and introduced sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower. The addition of the ‘spin-dash’, re-worked special stages and another fantastic soundtrack blended into what is considered by many (though not all) to be the best Sonic game of all time. The Sonic franchise had now well and truly been established as Sega’s sequel went on to sell 6 million copies worldwide.

After leaving for a period, Yuji Naka was welcomed back to Sega and took his place as head of development for the third instalment of the series. Naka, working at Sonic Team’s US headquarters, insisted on working with an all-Japanese team, while an American team worked on offshoot game Sonic Spinball.

Character designer Takashi Yuda, coming off of designing characters for Sega’s gorgeous looking World of Illusion starring Mickey and Donald Duck, was tasked with designing a new nemesis to hinder Sonic. Yuda came up with the pink echidna Knuckles.

Upon first appearing, Knuckles steals Sonic’s chaos emeralds

Although playable in Sonic 3’s two player battle mode, Knuckles didn’t have a starring playable role until Sonic & Knuckles was released. Allowing crossover with Sonic 3 due to its ‘mushroom’ cartridge, it appeared that Sega’s development cycle planned for both games. Yuji Naka revealed that this wasn’t actually the case.

Speaking to Gamespy in September 2005 Naka said:

 

 

Sonic 3 is literally half a game. Sega management back then wanted the game out at a certain time and we only had half the stages done, so we had to put the leftovers into Sonic and Knuckles. So when you bought S&K and at

tached it to Sonic 3, you got the whole of what Sonic 3 was planned to have been.”

 

 

Elements from Sonic & Knuckles, such as the game’s music tracks, are still contained on the Sonic 3 cartridge and can be seen in the sound test mode.

Although only “half a game”, Sonic 3 was still a leap from its predecessors in terms of level design, levels were now around three times larger than before and contained multiple paths, traps and methods of transport.

To help players navigate these stages there were now a range of new shield power-ups. Each one of these shields possessed different powers. The flame shield protected against fire (funnily enough), the water shield allowed underwater breathing, and the lightning shield was magnetised to attract rings to Sonic.

These shields also had powers that could be activated by pressing the jump button after a jump. The flame shield propelled Sonic across the screen in a fireball, the water shield bounced back to the ground like a basketball, and the lightning shield would fire sparks that effectively gave the player a double jump.

Carnival Zone: All the fun of the fair

 

Throughout the 16-bit Sonic titles there has always been exceptional use of sound. In looking to top the music of Sonic 2, Sega apparently approached Michael Jackson to write the score for their sequel.

Multiple stories swirl around the internet pool of conjecture as to why Jackson is not credited for any of the music in the game. Some claim Sega were panicked by accusations of Jackson’s conduct with children while others claim it was due to his frustration at the audio limitations of the Megadrive/Genesis console.

Brad Buxer, who is credited for the Sonic 3 score and played keyboard on Jackson’s “History” world tour, was interviewed in November 2009 by French Michael Jackson magazine “Black & White”. When asked about the game’s music Buxer said:

“I’ve never played the game so I do not know what tracks on which Michael and I have worked the developers have kept, but we did compose music for the game. Michael called me at the time for help on this project, and that’s what I did. And if he is not credited for composing the music, it’s because he was not happy with the sound coming out of the console. At the time, game consoles did not allow an optimal sound reproduction, and Michael found it frustrating. He did not want to be associated with a product that devalued his music.”

Buxer also confessed to the ending credits of the game being used “as a base” for the single “Stranger in Moscow”. Need more convincing? Check out this video for a comparison.

Since its initial Mega Drive launch, Sonic 3 has been cited by many as the last truly great Sonic the Hedgehog game before the series became diluted by extra characters, gimmicks and that one affliction that hurts almost every successful gaming series: the temptation by publishers to cash-in.

Now featured on compilations such as the Mega Drive Collection on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and available for download from the Xbox Live Marketplace, there’s really no excuse not to spend some time with Sonic 3. So sometime soon, fire it up and go back in time to 17 years ago when the speedy blue hedgehog was on top of the world.

 

 

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