There are several decisions I’m glad I’ve made when it comes to the video game portion of my life. In fact there’s a whole list of them and it’s hard to choose the best. But one that would definitely be in the running is deciding to keep my Sega Mega Drive rather than sell it off as the newer generations turned up. Sure I could play some of the classics on the Wii’s Virtual Console or Xbox’s Live Arcade even if I had, but to fully experience my favourite game in its true form I need my Mega Drive. What game is that? Sonic the Hedgehog 3 combined with Sonic & Knuckles.
Originally when SEGA released this adventure it was in two separate cartridges. Sonic 3 and then later Sonic & Knuckles, a game that featured a never before seen “lock-on” technology that allowed you to attach the third and second Sonic in order to access new content. While both were great alone, it became a phenomenal quest when you slotted one game into the other. This is one of those titles that I constantly find myself coming back to year after year and every time it remains as addictive and fun as the last.
The red echidna Knuckles catches you off guard, stealing the Chaos emeralds and it’s now your job as Sonic to retrieve them and also defeat the evil Dr. Robotnik once again. Story wise there is a little more than you may remember with small in-game cutscenes (if you can call them that) used to allow some feeling of changeover from zone to zone. It’s cooler to see Sonic making his way between these random environments rather than just automatically starting a new one after finishing the last. It gives the game a nice flow.
If you don’t know what a Sonic game is about then where have you been!
Here things are fast requiring quick reflexes and if you like a good sense of exploration for those secrets. You’ll be running, spinning and jumping from left to right grabbing rings and dodging deadly spikes and enemies ending each stage with a tough boss battle. Collecting rings is vital to staying alive just so long as you’re always holding one when you’re hit. There are some new additions to the series such as the special force fields that offer unique abilities. One acts as a giant air bubble that lets you breathe underwater, one makes you resistant to fire and the final one attracts rings like a magnet. These add a nice sense of relief to some of the more difficult levels where for example the fire ring may prove extremely useful in a level full of lava. While the same formula was used in the first, improved upon in the second, it’s here with the third and forth where it’s refined to perfection.
Each new zone brings a host of different ideas to the table that keep you on your toes with the overall journey lasting you around four or so hours. Unlike its predecessors you aren’t forced to finish the entire game in one sitting thanks to a handy save system which was at the time much appreciated. The main single player adventure has well over ten unique and diverse zones each with two acts and two bosses taking you from huge mushroom forests and underground water cities to sandy dunes and even in space. You’ll plummet down steep hills in Marble Garden Zone, try to gasp for air in Hydrocity Zone and enter a haunted temple in Sandopolis Zone. Bosses each have their own weaknesses to find and patterns to learn and when you think you’ve seen all the game has to offer, you see something new. You’re faced with so much and taken to so many varied places you aren’t likely to forget this adventure.
What is great about this game is you can tackle zones how you like. While some will prefer memorizing routes and dashing through ignoring nearly everything and getting the best time possible, it also pays to venture and explore grabbing rings and special bubbles. You can also find some of the most addicting bonus stages involving pinball machines and crazy giant orbs, Chaos emeralds and also Super Emeralds if you’re lucky. Furthermore, when you are done with Sonic you can tackle the stages with Tails and then Knuckles who can fly and climb walls respectively. Not only does this add replay value but it also allows you to try new paths that Sonic couldn’t take before.
There’s even a two player race mode to accompany an already awesome single player. Here you can pick between the three heroes and race against one another on five courses. It’s like a racing game but with platforming. Items add an element of surprise to the unfolding events offering bonuses and hindrances. With a great soundtrack this was good fun and perfect for a quick ten minute session with a friend.
Visually I still feel the graphics hold up to a pretty decent standard. Each of the many zones are bright, bold and colourful using Sonic’s unique home world of Mobius as the setting. I prefer it and wish newer Sonic titles would refer back to Mobius rather than feel the need to take the blue hedgehog into real life countries or futuristic, industrialised environments. Like the original you’ll find a palette as colourful as a rainbow itself and environments that add unique twists on tried and tested settings.
A real highlight for me in this game is the music. Hands down one of the greatest soundtracks I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in any game before. Whether it be Marble Garden Zone, Flying Battery, Angel Island… there’s just so many to name. Attention to detail even goes down to slight variations in stage music when moving from the first to second act of a zone. Hydrocity Zone for example will pick up the beat after you defeat the midway boss. Rumour has it that Michael Jackson himself was behind the awesome soundtrack for this game. Check out YouTube and you’ll see the similarities between his hits and the game. No really!?
While it’s great playing a story driven game like The Witcher 2 or a mass online multiplayer like Modern Warfare 3 there are times when a good simple platformer cannot be beaten. Sonic 3 is a great game and Sonic & Knuckles doesn’t disappoint either, but combine and play them as SEGA originally intended (as a single title) and you have one of the best platformers and one of the best games to be released to date.
Last weekend I wasn’t on my Wii, 3DS or Xbox 360. No way! I was starting playthrough number fifty one! And you know what I’m sure after the summer I’ll be back for playthrough fifty two.