When you are coming up to your 35th birthday, like I am, it’s kind of difficult to wholeheartedly and vividly remember the times surrounding yourself when you were a 6 year-old kid. Hell, sometimes I struggle to remember anything from last week if I’m totally honest.
However, I do remember the first time I played this game, slotting it into our brand new Mega Drive and flicking the power switch. The words Sonic Team Presents subtlety filled the black screen. Then POW! A vividly bright Start Screen appeared before me.
Green hill zone
An image of rolling hills, waterfalls, blue skies…and a big circular logo was centrally placed over the backdrop and, in the middle of the logo, is where he stood. This was the first time I’d ever seen this strange looking character on screen – an anthropomorphic blue-coloured hedgehog that was smiling and waving his finger at me. The words on the logo told you exactly who he was…Sonic the Hedgehog.
Now I know I don’t have to go into details with the game itself. Chances are, seeing as you are reading an article on a video gaming site, you’re going to know whom Sonic the Hedgehog is.
There have been many characters added to the franchise over the years, mostly during the more recent 3D eras, but I like to consider the foursome of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Robotnik as the four pillars of the franchise (sorry Amy, Metal Sonic et al, you don’t make the cut I’m afraid).
I’m not here to lecture you on the history of the games, nor the characters, nor tell you about any “Did You Know?” Easter eggs. This article is basically expression on my part in how much the franchise has meant to me in the, near, 30 years since I first played. More specifically this is about one defining game in the series.
Now, whereas Sonic the Hedgehog was the first game and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is seen by many as the best game in the series, my favourite entry was Sonic 3. More specifically my favourite was Sonic 3 & Knuckles with the Lock-on technology cartridge. If you don’t already know, this peripheral was an ingenious idea by SEGA to make the fourth game in the series – Sonic & Knuckles – have a cartridge with its own cartridge slot on top. The cartridge itself acted like a coupler, so you could snap another Mega Drive game onto it, combining two games into one.
Magic happened when you placed Sonic the Hedgehog 2 into this slot allowing you to play through that game as Knuckles (a character we first saw in Sonic 3). Was this one of the first instances of rudimentary DLC? Possibly, and a clever means of deploying additional content in a generation that didn’t allow for this capability.
I digress. The reason I adored Sonic 3 & Knuckles so much is that it had more of a narrative than the first two games. For all the love those games get, there doesn’t seem to be much of a story. The bad guy kidnaps animals, turns them into robots, and then makes an attempt at world domination with…bunnies? That’s basically it. Whereas the storyline in Sonic 3 & Knuckles has elements of manipulation, redemption and reconciliation.
Not wanting to give spoilers to anyone who hasn’t played (does this demographic still exist?), it has more depth than any game without dialogue should realistically have. As you grind through each level, you see story driving scenarios play out, leading to the final confrontation with Sonic’s arch nemesis Dr. Robotnik (no, I shall not be calling him Eggman).
There is also variety in the choice of character you play as. Choosing to play as Knuckles diverts you down a different path with a different perspective than if you play as Sonic or Tails. It’s these varying elements that, to me, make Sonic 3 & Knuckles the best game in the series, although the recent Sonic Mania comes very close!
Now honestly I could have gone more in depth, talking about the origins of the character, his rise and subsequent decline in pop culture, and I could have spoken in length about the recent movie starring Jim Carrey, but as I previously stated – I’m not here to lecture you on things you already know.
This was just me ‘fanboying’ out, telling you about a game that defined me growing up. A game I could easily go and play now…