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Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Developer: Sonic Team Publisher: Sega
18 October 1994
Sonic 3 & Knuckles - cover art
Glitchwave rating
4.08 / 5.0
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837 Ratings / 1 Reviews
#119 All-time
#5 for 1994
After having thought he destroyed Dr. Robotnik's Death Egg, Sonic finds out that it has crashed into Angel Island. Sonic and Tails go over there to investigate, and bump heads with a red echidna who guards the island named Knuckles. Having been tricked by Robotnik into thinking that Sonic and Tails are out to steal the Master Emerald which once kept the island afloat in the sky, Knuckles takes the chaos emeralds from Sonic, and runs away! It is now up to Sonic and Tails to get the chaos emeralds back, and stop Dr. Robotnik once more!
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*Disclaimer: I don’t normally review compilations, but Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles is the definitive version of the third mainline Sonic game. It is a bundle of both Sonic 3 and its companion game/extension Sonic and Knuckles released a few months after the former. All of the games, including the compilation, were released the same year on the same system, both titles are based in the same level design and story, and the main Sonic 3 game doesn’t feel finished without the Sonic & Knuckles addition. I believe Sega originally intended for the two games as a whole, but the game would’ve been too large at Sonic 3’s initial release. Because of all of this, I will sleep soundly tonight knowing that I’ve covered the quintessential way to experience the third mainline Sonic title.

As I’ve stated a countless number of times, the third entry to any series is the one that signals a sign that it's time to wrap things up. Three sequential games in a series seems like a miniscule number, but looking back at the first game after the third game’s release feels like seeing a middle-aged man’s photos from childhood and being astounded at how he’s grown. The second game is the adolescent wedge in between the two other cycles of life that marks the true process of growth, which is why it is usually the exemplary entry in a trilogy of games. The developers have enough leeway to learn about the franchises strengths and weaknesses in its infancy to cultivate it into its full potential upon the first sequel, garnering more critical praise and commercial success as a result. The third entry is made to reap the remaining crumbs of the previous title before its popularity peaks and ties the trilogy of games in a nice little bow. Any fourth entry would have to innovate immensely on all fronts, or else the series would become unnecessarily stagnant. Sega’s mascot franchise Sonic the Hedgehog wasn’t ready for an experimental phase, for the series hadn’t produced anything good with its basic formula to warrant a future title that takes too many risks with Sonic’s foundation. Relax, Sonic fans: I’m only half kidding. Sonic 2 was certainly a vast improvement over the first game, but I’m holding Sonic to high standards after all the shit talking they spewed about Nintendo to bolster their presence in the gaming world. To quote Omar Little from The Wire: if you come at the king, you better not miss, and Sonic 2 was still missing the polish and accessibility that made Mario the undisputed champion of the gaming medium. One silver lining about the second Sonic title slightly faltering was that the third game had the potential of breaking the trilogy cycle and triumph as the pinnacle of classic Sonic. To quote a more well known idiom: the third time’s a charm, and perhaps this was the case for Sonic the Hedgehog.

Before I cover anything pertaining to Sonic 3’s gameplay, I have to immediately address something that almost solidified my case for Sonic 3 being the ultimate classic Sonic title. After introducing the game with the title screen of a more polygonal Sonic wagging his finger at the player, something extraordinary impedes the player from launching right into the action. Do my eyes deceive me, or has Sega promptly implemented a tangible save feature in a Sonic game? Hallelujah! My prayers have been answered! Sonic CD technically saved the player’s progress with the continue option in the menu, but Sonic 3 displays all of the blank data files for the player to prove that they are committed to accommodate the player. Sonic 3’s continue system is similar to Sonic CD’s in that losing every life will result in having to continue the game from the first act of the zone the player was extinguished on, with Sonic 3 overtly depicting the zone in question in the save file. Not having this feature was the biggest detriment to Sonic as forcing the player to restart from the beginning in a game with so many unfair blind spots they’d have to memorize to avoid was cruel. Since Sonic 3 is the classic Sonic title that absolves the player of their failures with more leniency, it automatically stands taller than all the others, right? In theory, yes, but there is a certain inconspicuous caveat. The save feature is the first notable mark of Sonic 3’s wild ambition to expand upon every facet of Sonic’s formula, and the overall execution of their ideas varies.

I suppose Sonic 3 has a more involved story than the previous two games, even if it still involves Sonic stopping Robotnik from mechanizing Mobius along with its entire ecosystem of animals. The story bears the traditional heroic Sonic arc, but the differences lie in how it is presented. Sonic 3 opens with a cutscene of Sonic casually hovering around as his glowing demigod Super Sonic form, skimming the surface water of an unspecified ocean with Tails trailing behind in his red bi-plane. Somehow, with all of the immense invulnerability granted to Super Sonic, his confident stroll is halted abruptly when something strikes him from below, and the seven Chaos Emeralds spill out of Sonic as he reverts back to his normal form. The violent obstruction is Knuckles the Echidna: Sonic’s respected rival/ally in his most primitive form as a secondary villain. He claimed in a future Sonic title that unlike Sonic, he doesn’t chuckle; he’d rather flex his muscles. We see here that this lyric is a bold faced lie, as he sinisterly sniggers constantly to convey his villainous role. Robotnik is still the focal point that Sonic must conquer, so Knuckles acts more as a cheeky narrative wildcard causing Sonic grief at every point possible. Knuckles will often come around a corner to laugh smugly and halt Sonic’s progress by hitting a switch that causes Sonic and Tails to plummet into the level’s depths and other means of inconveniencing our heroic duo. As much as Knuckles seems like a pointless nuisance, it turns out the crux of Sonic 3’s narrative arc revolves around integrating him into the typical Sonic story. This reveal might not be shocking nowadays with Knuckles being a beloved character with several credits across the franchise, but the reveal that Knuckles is an upstanding fellow who was tricked by Robotnik to get at his coveted Master Emerald is a fairly admirable effort to expand upon the Sonic vs. Robotnik arc we’ve become used to seeing.

Sonic 2 flirted with the idea of offering the player more characters to control rather than just Sonic. In the previous game, Tails was simply a slower Sonic with a brighter color. He filled a special cooperative second player role, but I’d use the word “player” tentatively due to the second player constantly struggling to keep up with Sonic zooming around each zone like a fly buzzing around a room. The second player’s control of Tails’ biplane in Sky Zone didn’t even need any sort of piloting skill to keep Sonic from tumbling out of the stratosphere to his death. Sonic 3 sees the same dynamic between Sonic and his golden boy wonder, guaranteeing that the little brother will still be put to work whenever Robotnik exhibits one of his new dangerous toys at the end of every zone. In a single player setting, however, giving Tails the ability to fly totally separates him from the speedy blue hedgehog he follows around like a retriever. By holding down the jump button, Tails will soar off the ground and continue to fly upward until he hits a wall or comes into contact with a hazardous obstacle. Because Tails’ new unique ability does not tether him to the same earthly confines as Sonic, playing as him is a makeshift easy mode. Conversely, playing as Knuckles is more difficult than either Sonic or Tails because he lacks Sonic’s speed and his gliding move does not allow him to ascend over normal boundaries as easily as Tails. Knuckles can climb up walls and break through specific rocky barriers, and these special attributes are enough to traverse through any of the levels. Some may argue that playing as other characters whose abilities aren’t focused on speed distracts from the core of the gameplay. I’d argue that the speed initiative for Sonic is questionable and that the real appeal of Sonic is the layered level design with parallel paths all leading to the same goal. With multiple characters that have to approach the layout differently, a veneer of depth is added to how the player can execute their desired trajectory through the game’s level.

There are still plenty of new surprises for the blue blur despite Sonic 3’s implications that adding new characters means that Sega worries that we have grown tired of him. Other than his slightly revamped posture and a more personable smirk on his face when he’s in an idle position, Sonic 3’s contributions to furthering the evolution of Sonic’s gameplay is the addition of elemental shields. These spherical globs that encapsulate Sonic like a hamster ball and grant him one extra hit without his rings spilling out have always been situated alongside ring canisters. Now, three different types of shields literally protect Sonic from the elements with other special properties as well. The fire shield propels Sonic further in a fiery blast, functioning as a long jump or attack. The electric shield magnetizes the rings in Sonic’s vicinity to come towards him and allows him to execute an extra upward leap. Lastly, the bubble shield bounces Sonic downward as a pile driving move, and the inside also acts as a mobile oxygen tank that lets Sonic traverse underwater without needing to stop and breathe the air bubbles that rise from the sea floor. Boy, would this have been handy in Labyrinth Zone. Then again, that’s why evolution across a franchise of games is imperative to its longevity. Overall, the elemental shields do not innovate to the extent of the inclusion of the spin dash in Sonic 2, but perhaps that’s not a fair comparison considering the advent of the spin dash was like the equivalent of finding the cure for polio. They are an adequate addition that do not overflow Sonic’s gameplay to the point of blowing it out of proportions.

Speaking of proportions, Sonic 3 needed to consult a design dietician to work out the portion control for each level. The unfortunate reason why the developers implemented a save system is due to the inflated length of each level. A timer that counts up like a stopwatch is present in the previous two Sonic titles, but I bet some of you didn’t know that the maximum time given to the player is a solid ten minutes. If the player fails to complete the level in time, Sonic will die as if he’s been hit and the player will be forced to restart the level. The player didn’t have to worry in the previous two games because they would have naturally completed the level by then in ample time. So many levels in Sonic 3 will force the player to run past the five minute mark, even for experienced players that have memorized the layout. Besides most of the levels bloating the typical Sonic level design to mammoth-sized dimensions, Sonic 3 is guilty of implementing so many obstacles that feel like puzzle sections. We all know that solving a puzzle in a video game, or in general, takes time and brain power to solve efficiently, something that is counterintuitive to Sonic’s swift gameplay. After doing some sick snowboarding tricks down a frigid mountain, Ice Cap will have Sonic falling even deeper down a continuously nauseating loop until the player finds a crag to surf on which will destroy the obstructed path. The second act of Sandopolis has something similar with a series of gutters that gush sand, but the resolution to cease continually sliding downward like a Sisyphean curse is so indirect that its borderline illusory. Carnival Night, a level that resembles Casino Night if the player took acid and put on an Insane Clown Posse album, implements these spinning barrels whose growing momentum requires the player to treat the controls like a swing. How the player is supposed to figure this out is beyond me, as many have commented that this section was the reason they quit the game permanently during classic Sonic’s heyday.

Even when the player isn’t forced to rack their brains while the clock is ticking, every single level is filled with multiple pace breakers. Sonic 3 cements Sonic CD even further as a canon classic Sonic title because Sega decided that level gimmicks were the optimal evolutionary trait for Sonic’s levels. The aforementioned Casino Night dings the player with constant pinball orbs, Mushroom Hill has pulleys in which Sonic must pull upward and downward continuously to ascend the stage, and the light beams in Death Egg take far too long to connect Sonic to the right path to be amused by their flashiness. Fatal blindspots that crush Sonic are also too numerous to assign to a specific level. Hydrocity Zone tells me that Sega did not learn from their mistake of Labyrinth Zone, for Sonic spends the majority of this level slogging through water as much as he did in the previous level. Levels feel more constrained as multiple paths seem less abundant, forcing the player to endure the tedium of constantly making Sonic stumble. The only reason why none of this is as jarring as it was in the first game is due to all of the other evolved aspects of Sonic’s gameplay like the spin dash and the continue system.

Another way Sonic 3 necessary augments each level’s run time is by incorporating a boss for every single act. Robotnik would be the sole foe at the end of each zone with a new invention to stamp out Sonic in the previous games, and this is still the case. However, a myriad of Robotnik’s robotic creations challenge Sonic to a bout in each first act before Robotnik’s encounter in the zone’s following act. All of these bosses are as easy as they were in the previous two games, and some of them like the Bowling Spin and the Gapsule are creatively designed. Tails even proves to be useful in the fight against Eggman at the end of Marble Garden Zone by carrying and retrieving Sonic as he jumps on Robotnik mid-flight. The problem with so many boss encounters is that their inclusion at the end of all of these lengthy levels grates on every player’s patience and makes them sweat looking at the time. Bosses like the Stone Guardian and Robotnik at the end of Carnival Night are tedious waiting games, and the latter of the two mentioned caused the first instance of when I ran past ten minutes and was penalized.

Fortunately, Sonic 3 extends their suspicious newfound tendency to aid the player with the breeziest method of collecting the Chaos Emeralds and unleashing Super Sonic. Unlike the previous game, special stages have to be found by exploring a level and uncovering their locations. The special stages in question for this entry involve Sonic moving on what looks like a chess board with restrictive controls. Sonic must collect every blue ball on the board, and collecting any red ones will expel him from the level. This minigame is comparatively so manageable and not based on sheer luck that I, for the first time ever, collected a Chaos Emerald in Sonic. Hey, I can be proud of my own individual achievement, as meager as it might be. For more experienced players, Sonic 3’s special stages allow them to eventually blow through the game as Sonic’s super saiyan form at any given opportunity. Sure, they’ll have to wait for Hydrocity to do this unlike the first level in Sonic 2, but the ease of the special stages is comparatively relieving. Unfortunately, they’ll still have to beat Robotnik fair and square with no rings with the final boss in his parody-sanctioned Death Egg fortress.

Surprisingly, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (and Knuckles) makes me appreciate Sonic 2 more and has me reconsidering the trilogy dynamic that I thought the classic Sonic games diverted from. Sonic 2’s imperfections such as not supplying a save feature and implementing Tails as a clunkier clone of Sonic have been remedied, but at the cost of the fine tuned gameplay and level design in Sonic 2 that almost made me cherish Sonic. It turns out that Sonic 3 (and Knuckles) falls into the trappings of a third entry so hard that it’s an obvious example of one. Everything in Sonic 3 swells every aspect of Sonic with the constant impediments, endurance test levels, and I should’ve expected it from the get go. Reverting back to the beginning of the game upon failing in Sonic 2 was excruciating, but I’d take it over how Sonic 3 decided to approach their new additions. Isn’t that ironic.
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Erockthestrange 2017-07-21T20:32:21Z
2017-07-21T20:32:21Z
7.0
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Still Insanely Good
Sonic & Knuckles is quite simply just more of Sonic The Hedgehog 3. Which I'm 100% fine with.

Sonic The Hedgehog 3 was supposed to be a lot longer than it was. But because of hardware limitations, It was split into two games. Sonic & Knuckles is basically Sonic The Hedgehog 3 PART 2. That's why the game is just more of Sonic The Hedgehog 3 because that's exactly what it is.

I find myself enjoying this more than the first half. The game isn't much different other than that it continues where Sonic The Hedgehog 3 left off. But the Zones are so much more fun in this one in my opinion and I love how the Chaos Emeralds are handled. In Sonic & Knuckles you can collect the Super Emeralds which are just enhanced Chaos Emeralds which allow you to turn into Hyper Sonic, Knuckles, or Tails.

The story is also super satisfying and brings a great conclusion to the Genesis Sonic series. This is far better than any other 2D Sonic game released during this era.
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OvalsOk 2021-06-24T17:52:45Z
2021-06-24T17:52:45Z
4.0
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Catalog

DarkestCrowned Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-02-02T03:55:29Z
Mega Drive/Genesis
2023-02-02T03:55:29Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
pink_9320 Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-02-01T11:46:19Z
2023-02-01T11:46:19Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
sexy_ Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-31T02:42:26Z
2023-01-31T02:42:26Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
andreh7676 Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-30T21:13:32Z
2023-01-30T21:13:32Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
sk3rk Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-29T10:02:57Z
2023-01-29T10:02:57Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
springpsalms Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-28T16:35:50Z
2023-01-28T16:35:50Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Afriiya Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-28T14:04:26Z
2023-01-28T14:04:26Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
dolu Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-27T04:24:20Z
2023-01-27T04:24:20Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
stonecoldmiracle Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-25T05:27:16Z
2023-01-25T05:27:16Z
5.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
mrmute05 Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-21T07:26:55Z
2023-01-21T07:26:55Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
ariyorke Sonic 3 & Knuckles 2023-01-19T12:09:33Z
2023-01-19T12:09:33Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
zakbox30x Sonic 3 and Knuckles 2023-01-18T09:00:50Z
Windows
2023-01-18T09:00:50Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  

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  • Previous comments (20) Loading...
  • ... 2022-04-14 01:22:43.517081+00
    legendary
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  • Flossy 2022-05-06 01:56:15.517151+00
    Sonic 3 AIR is my lord and savior [2]
    reply
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  • ... 2022-05-07 04:48:01.529225+00
    Sonic 3 AIR is my lord and savior [3]
    reply
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  • ... 2022-05-20 00:58:08.59415+00
    this game is so addicting i swear to god every time i pick it up its so hard to put down
    reply
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  • ... 2022-07-06 00:22:04.720969+00
    fuck it this is a 5. easily one of the greatest 16-bit era games and the best platformer of all time right next to rayman legends. has been my favorite sonic game for half a decade now and im very sure it'll continue to be for as long as i live.
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  • 508LoopDetected 2022-11-03 05:23:29.712661+00
    Sonic 3 AIR is my lord and savior [4]
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  • yomama320 2022-12-28 19:12:17.438111+00
    Peak
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