Following a highly anticipated release, bolstered by an extravagant marketing and release schedule, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) not only improved on every aspect of its influential predecessor but also went on to become the second best-selling SEGA Mega Drive game of all time. Expectations were high for the equally-anticipated third entry, a game that ended up being so big that SEGA made the decision to split it into two, birthing perhaps the greatest 2D Sonic adventure in the process.
Released: 10 June 2009/9 September 2009
Originally Released: 2 February 1994/18 October 1994
Developer: Sonic Team
Original Developer: SEGA Technical Institute
Also Available For: Gamecube, Mega Drive, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable, SEGA Saturn, Xbox, Xbox 360
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was a blockbuster hit for SEGA; thanks to the title selling over 400,000 units in its first week alone (and over six million during the Mega Drive’s lifespan), SEGA was able to catch up to Nintendo in the “Console Wars” of the mid-nineties, raising their stake in the home console market by 40%. Anticipation was high for the release of the third Sonic game, which saw development split between two teams: a Japanese team and an American team, with Yuji Naka, Hirokazu Yasuhara, and Roger Hector at the heart of the game’s development.
Sonic 3 introduced a new antagonist character for our heroes; numerous designs were submitted before the team settled on Takashi Yuda’s concept of a super strong red echidna eventually dubbed “Knuckles”. However, thanks to a combination of a strict deadline to release in time for a major McDonald’s marketing campaign, and Naka’s wish for the game to vastly expand upon the gameplay, mechanics, and lore of the previous two games, Sonic 3 proved to be too big for a single 34-megabite cartridge so the decision was made to split the game in two to hit their projected release date.
While this proved to be an expensive decision for us gamers, both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles became two of the Mega Drive’s best-selling titles, with both games selling over one million copies in the United States. Both games received critical acclaim praising both the graphics and Sonic & Knuckles’ innovative “Lock-On” technology. Sadly though, the game (particularly Sonic 3) has run into some legal troubles over the years, mainly regarding Sonic 3’s soundtrack, which meant not only was a combination cartridge of the two games cancelled but a remaster for mobile devices was shot down and Sonic 3 (and, consequently, Sonic 3 & Knuckles) is frequently missing from modern-day compilations.
Doctor Eggman’s Death Egg space station has crash-landed on the mythical floating Angel Island, home to the Master Emerald and Knuckles, the sole surviving member of the legendary echidna race. Eggman has tricked the gullible and hot-tempered Knuckles into thinking Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower wish to steal the Master Emerald, making recovering the seven Chaos Emeralds and putting a stop to Eggman’s diabolical schemes twice as hard for our dynamic duo!
As you might expect, both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are 2D, sidescrolling action/platformers in which you travel across a total of twelve stages (known as “Zones”): six in Sonic 3 and six more in Sonic & Knuckles. Just like in Sonic 2, the majority of the game’s Zones are split into two “Acts” but, in a twist, you’ll now have to battle a boss at the end of each Act (with the second Act typically featuring a showdown against Eggman in one of his deadly contraptions).
Just as Sonic 2 took everything about its predecessor and improved upon it considerably, so too does Sonic 3 & Knuckles expand upon the options available to you; Zones are now bigger than ever, featuring numerous different paths and mechanics all geared towards having you blast through faster than ever before. Even better, the games are designed with each character’s specific abilities in mind; each character can run, jump, roll into a ball, and blast away in a Spin Dash but they all have different unique abilities as well, meaning that some paths are only available to Knuckles, for example, or some areas can only be reached using Tails’ unique (if limited) flying and swimming mechanics.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles still keeps its controls simple, though, and each of these different abilities is easily activated simply by pressing a button twice; press A twice as Sonic and you’ll be surrounded by his “Insta-Shield” (a brief flash of lightning that can protect Sonic from projectiles and extend the reach of his spin attack to cause damage). Press A twice as Tails and you’ll be able to fly or swim by then rapidly tapping the same button; Tails can even carry Sonic up to new areas but he does get tired rather quickly so, while this is useful for skipping large portions of the game’s Zones, it does have its drawbacks. Knuckles, meanwhile, is probably the most versatile character; he can glide, climb up walls, and bash through certain walls to reach entirely new areas (and bosses) that are unique to him. He is, however, the game’s “hard mode” as he is noticably slower than his two counterparts and his jump is much shorter.
As in Sonic 2, the game gives you the option of selecting how to play, this time from its innovative and unique save state menu; while you’re limited to choosing between either Sonic or Knuckles in Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic 3 (and Sonic 3 & Knuckles) allows you to pick between Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Sonic and Tails (who, thankfully, is far more useful this time around thanks to his expanded moveset and the game’s new Special Stages). As always, though, you can collect Golden Rings to protect you from harm, earning extra lives for every one hundred and activating Starposts to create a checkpoint and enter the new Bonus Stages if you’re holding a certain number of Rings.
Speed is a far greater aspect of Sonic 3 & Knuckles; while the first game heavily promoted how fast and powerful it was, it really wasn’t until Sonic 3 & Knuckles that Sonic Team actually delivered on that promise. Zones are massive, filled with slopes, loops, springs, and all kinds of nifty, unique new mechanics to rocket you forwards. You’ll jump from crumbling (or disappearing) platforms, swing from vines, rush down waterways, bash through walls, teleport across the Zone, and be transported through the air through a number of fast-paced and exciting new mechanics.
Each Zone has a unique gimmick to it that is implemented in a far more impressive and engaging manner: Angel Island Zone catches fire halfway through, Marble Garden Zone sees you using pulleys and spinning tops to navigate vertically and desperately trying to outrun the collapsing environment, Sandopolis Zone features a variety of new sand-based mechanics before having you frantically search out for light switches to scare off ghosts, and Sky Sanctuary Zone has you teleporting around, jumping from crumbling platforms, and bouncing from fluffy clouds. Every Zone is densely packed with features and innovative gimmicks, far more than any previous Sonic title, and perhaps none so infamous as Carnival Night Zone’s notorious barrel. I won’t be arrogant enough to say that this barrel wasn’t an obstacle for me back in the day but I don’t have nearly as many bad memories of it as some do; through trial and error, I think I slipped past it easily enough but the solution is simplicity in itself: simply stand still and press up and down alternatively until it lowers enough for you to continue on.
Although the games do have a far greater emphasis on speed, there are still a few slower sections and small puzzles for you figure out; generally, these are as simple as pressing a switch to lower water, reverse gravity, or open doors but, other times, you’ll be blocked off by unbreakable walls or tossed to new areas by Knuckles. There’s always another way around in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, though, no matter who you’re playing as or what you’re up against; balloons allow you to bounce yourself to higher areas in Carnival Night Zone, for example, and you can cause sand to fill the pyramid tomb of Sandopolis Zone Act 2 to progress further (though be careful as you’re just as likely to get crushed if you dawdle). Additionally, you have some returning concerns to be aware of, such as spikes, bottomless pits, and drowning if you linger underwater too long without a shield or grabbing an air bubble.
Gameplay is fast and full of variety thanks to the dense nature of the Zones and their many gimmicks but there are a few aspects from Sonic 2 that don’t make the cut, unfortunately; Sonic’s biplane, the Tornado, only shows up in cutscenes, for example. However, things do get mixed up considerably when you reach Lava Reef Zone; not only is this Zone a mixture of lava-based hazards and a crystal-infested cave, it also wildly differs depending on which character you play as. Sonic and Tails will have to play through two Acts, culminating in the reactivation of the Death Egg and a tense battle against Eggman, before proceeding on to the long-awaited Hidden Palace Zone to go head-to-dread against Knuckles. Play as Knuckles, though, and you’ll face no boss in Lava Reef and Hidden Palace is little more of a transitional Zone to take you to Sky Sanctuary Zone, where Knuckles’ game culminates in a final showdown with Mecha Sonic.
Indeed, the narrative of Sonic 3 & Knuckles differs depending on which game you play; if you play the combined game, the story is far more cohesive, tracking Sonic and Tails across Angel Island, battling Eggman, dealing with (and eventually allying with) Knuckles, and finally returning Angel Island to the sky. Knuckles’ story, though, takes place after the end of the game no matter which version you play; this means his Zones are presented slightly differently, with the background changing to show the island is in the sky, and he faces a vengeful Eggrobo and the aforementioned Mecha Sonic rather than Dr. Eggman. This, in addition to the myriad of different paths Knuckles’ abilities afford him, means that playing as Knuckles offers a slightly different experience in a variety of ways since you won’t face the same obstacles as Sonic and Tails (or you will, but in different ways).
Obviously, no game is perfect and Sonic 3 & Knuckles is no exception; occasionally, you’ll go so fast that you’ll out-run the camera, potentially falling victim to one of Eggman’s “secret traps” (or, more accurately, running into a kill zone or causing the game to soft-lock). You can also use glitches and manipulate the game to have characters enter areas they normally can’t but, personally, I never really ran into anything like this in a normal playthrough. Thanks to Sonic 3 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles’ unique save feature, you were able to have multiple save states back in the day, which made completing the game and collecting the Chaos Emeralds easier than ever as you could just jump into any Zone whenever you liked. This feature was, unfortunately, missing in Sonic & Knuckles, which did make that game a bit more difficult back in the day as you would have to complete it in one sitting, but, while the Xbox Live version of the game doesn’t recreate the expansive save state features of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, you do get three save slots for each game to, at least, reduce Sonic & Knuckles’ difficulty a bit.
Graphics and Sound:
For my money, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is not only the best 2D Sonic game of its time but also the best looking and sounding; Zones are absolutely huge and full of life and little elements to really make them stand out. No two Acts of any Zone are the same as the environment will change (sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly) between Acts: Angel Island Zone bursts into flame, Mushroom Hill Zone changes seasons, Ice Cap Zone switches from a mountain top to a frozen sea, the Death Egg looms in the background of Launch Base Zone Act 1, takes off in Act 2, and sits ominously in Lava Reef Zone Act 2 (notably it is missing when playing as Knuckles since his story takes place after Sonic and Tails’s), and Death Egg Zone has been ungraded from a mere elaborate corridor to a twisting, mechanical nightmare of futuristic paths and technology and gravity-shifting mechanics.
No doubt about it, Sonic 3 & Knuckles features some of my favourite Zones ever; from the aforementioned Marble Garden Zone to Ice Cap Zone, with its unique and breathtaking snowboarding sequence, to the bouncy goodness of Mushroom Hill and the exciting dread of Lava Reef Zone. Even Zones that are more annoying, like Hydrocity Zone, are fun to play through since they look great, are fast-paced, and are filled with interesting gimmicks to keep you moving forward. The game expands and improves upon numerous mechanics from its predecessors, too; while Wing Fortress Zone was decent enough in Sonic 2, Flying Battery Zone takes everything that worked in that Zone and expands upon it, making it feel much more alive and engaging. While Carnival Night Zone isn’t quite as iconic as Casino Night Zone, I actually prefer it for its music, presentation, changing landscape, and better implementation of gimmicks.
It’s not like the “casino” theme was completely abandoned either as it shows up, merged expertly with the rotating Special Stage mechanic of the first game, in one of the game’s two all-new Bonus Stages. Additionally, Sonic 3 & Knuckles has, hands down, my favourite Special Stage design ever. Gone are the annoying, rotating mazes and cumbersome half-pipes of its predecessors, replaced with an eye-catching spherical design that has you collecting Blue Spheres, avoiding Red Spheres, and, despite some noticeable slowdown and the Stages increasing in speed and difficulty the more you play, these Stages are, by far, the easiest of the classic 2D Sonic titles, which only increases their appeal to me.
Probably the best thing about Sonic 3 & Knuckles is its heavy inclusion of cutscenes, all of which perfectly convey the game’s simple (but far more detailed) story through the simple use of pantomime and music. The game opens immediately after the ending of Sonic 2, with Super Sonic flying alongside the Tornado and crashing head-first into Knuckles, who swipes the Chaos Emeralds and runs off with a chuckle. Knuckles reappears at numerous points throughout Sonic and Tails’ story to cause them havoc, activating switches and traps to cause them to fall or be blasted into the next Zone. Even when he’s not present, there is usually a means for the characters to progress to the next Zone, which really makes it feel as though the games (and the island) are linked together in a cohesive way. Not only that but, when you clear Act 1, the next Act immediately loads from that spot without cutting away, giving a sense of the scale of the game’s Zones.
Characters and sprites are more detailed than ever; Sonic is easily the most noticeably different, now far pudgier and sporting adorably oversized hands and feet, but each has their own idle animation to encourage you to get back to the game and the game’s Badniks and bosses are some of the most impressive and detailed yet, with each taking full advantage of their unique environment. And then there’s the soundtrack; originally composed by famed pop star Michael Jackson, the soundtrack was hastily reworked after SEGA cut their ties to Jackson but similarities between the games tracks and Jackson songs can still be identified. Regardless, both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles have fantastic soundtracks, full of energy and unique themes not only for the Zones and bosses but also for Knuckles. Sadly, Sonic 3 & Knuckles utilises Sonic & Knuckles’ soundtrack rather than Sonic 3’s (which is superior, in my opinion), and the game’s music is often altered when it is ported for other systems, but that doesn’t stop it from being easily the best and most memorable of all the classic 2D Sonic games.
Enemies and Bosses:
As always, you’ll have to contend with Eggman’s Badniks; although still quite cute to look at, these Badniks look more dangerous than ever but are, in actual fact, no more aggressive or dangerous than in previous games. Their placement is much improved over Sonic 2 and their level of difficulty both escalates and drops as you progress due to the nature of Sonic 3 & Knuckles being two games spliced together.
This means that you’ll be merrily bouncing off of Rhinobots in Angel Island Zone, dodging Turbo Spiker’s rocket-powered spike in Hydrocity Zone, and timing your attacks to bust open Pointdexter when playing through Sonic 3 and then back to smashing open relatively harmless enemies like Butterdroid and Madmole once you land in Mushroom Hill Zone before you frantically try to smash apart Toxomister before its Ring-draining cloud chokes you to death. As if that isn’t enough, many Badniks and hazards use your enivonment against you; Cluckoid blows a wind to keep you back (often trapping you in a nearby sticky vine in the process), hazards can freeze you into a block of ice, Rock’n can only be damage with a Spin Dash attack, and Chainspikes will try to impale you on their razor sharp chains. Additionally, you’ll also encounter ghosts in Sandopolis Zone that grow increasingly aggressive as the lights dim darker and can only be dissipated by turning the lights up full. Helpfully, though, the game’s many shields (and Sonic’s Insta-Shield) can not only repel enemy projectiles but you’ll also be able to use Spiker’s spikes as a spring to bounce away from danger.
In a change of pace from the previous two games, you’ll also have to battle a mini boss at the end of every first Act before you can reach the goal post and clear the Act. These range from a hovering, flame-spewing tank to a tree-chopping robot and a sentient animal capsule. Perhaps having learned something from the unique bosses of Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993), these mini bosses (and the game’s main bosses) require a little more thought that just ramming head-first into them; Hydrocity Zone’s mini boss, for example, rockets around the arena and sucks you up in a whirlpool and can only be damaged when its rockets stop spinning, and Launch Base Zone has you take on two mini bosses at once, each one attacking you (and protecting itself) with a mace-like chain that only speeds up with its partner is destroyed.
Similarly, if you try to blindly attack Sandopolis Zone’s golem, you’ll just get hurt, so you need to attack its head and force it into quicksand to dispose of it, and you’ll find the only way to destroy Flying Battery Zone’s mini boss is to trick it into attacking itself. Probably the game’s most troublesome mini boss (at least, for me) is the mechanical Cyclops you battle in Death Egg Zone; essentially an upgraded version of the Wing Fortress Zone boss, this mini boss has you ramming a giant eye, watching out for explosive spikes, and avoiding spinning spiked platforms while it tries to fry you with is deadly laser.
When playing as Sonic and Tails, you’ll also have to contend with Knuckles; however, Knuckles only appears in cutscenes to cause you grief and you won’t actually get to go blow-for-blow against him until you reach Hidden Palace Zone. Here, Knuckles with glide, Spin Dash, and jump at you much like the battle against Mecha Sonic from Sonic 2. Simply jump on Knuckles’ head or smack him out of the air a few times and he’ll soon be beaten; afterwards, he is enraged to find Eggman has stolen his coveted Master Emerald and, though, wounded, assists you in reaching Sky Sanctuary Zone.
Finally, you have the prerequisite showdowns with Dr. Eggman himself; again, though, Knuckles never actually battles Dr. Eggman; barring glitches, Knuckles will, instead, battle against an Eggrobo but, with a couple of exceptions, battles the same bosses as Sonic and Tails. Eggman isn’t messing around this time; rather than try to smack you with a wrecking ball or run you over in the first battle, Eggman will hide behind a waterfall in Angel Island Zone, blasting at you with flame cannons and generally hovering over a bottomless pit.
After that, you’ll have to mix up your attack strategies a bit, using whirlpools and explosions in the water to ram into Eggman’s craft in Hydrocity, flying around the screen (or dodging spiked chains) to ram into Eggman’s drill machine in Marble Garden Zone, trying not to get sucked into an electrical field in Carnival Night Zone, watching out for blasts of chilled air in Ice Cap Zone, and dodging massive weighted balls in Launch Base Zone.
Eggman’s flame machine returns in Mushroom Hill Zone, this time in a chase boss battle that sees you avoiding spiked hazards and jet blasts in what was, probably, the inspiration for the boss battles of Sonic Advance 2 (Dimps/Sonic Team, 2002). Dr. Eggman’s contraptions are even more formidable as you play through Sonic & Knuckles: he swings around at you in Flying Battery Zone, trying to fry and skewer you at the same time; hides behind a massive laser-spouting golem in Sandopolis Zone; and is completely protected from your standard attacks in my favourite regular boss battle of the base game, the Lava Reef Zone boss. Here, you have to jump from platform to platform, avoiding spiked bombs and trying not to fall into lava as Eggman tries to tip you towards him. The Flame Shield really helps in this battle as it allows you to stand on the lava and just hop over the bombs until they send Eggman packing.
When playing Sonic 3, you’ll face something of a gauntlet in Act 2 as you’ll have to battle Eggman in Launch Base Zone, knock the smirk of Knuckles’ face in a cutscene, before facing Eggman in two separate contraptions on the outskirts of the Death Egg. The first machine is pretty simple (dodge his lasers and ram him when the little electric ball isn’t blocking your attack) but the second is one of my favourite boss battles of 2D Sonic (with a kick-ass, ominous track to boot). This sees Eggman jump into his “Big Arm” Egg-O-Matic and fly across the screen trying to land on you, grab you, and pound the Rings (or life) out of you. He also flies along the bottom of the screen trying to skewer you with his spikes and the only way to damage him is with a well-timed jump to his cockpit but, once you do, the Death Egg will crash again (this time in the Lava Reef Zone’s volcano) and you can move on to the Sonic & Knuckles portion of the game. Note that when Knuckles faces this boss, it’s in the actual Launch Base Zone as, in his story, the Death Egg is completely absent from the Zone since it’s already been destroyed.
When playing as Sonic and Tails, you’ll travel to the Death Egg Zone and battle Eggman in a far bigger, more intimidating and dangerous version of his Death Egg Robot mech. This is, essentially, a three-stage boss battle; first, you have to avoid being squashed by its fingers, destroying them one (or two, if you time your jumps right) at a time. Once its fingers are destroyed, it chases you from the left side of the screen, destroying the platform you’re on and trying to fry you with flames from its nostrils. You’ll have to jump over these flames and smack it in the nose to expose its Master Emerald power core (and weak spot); however, Eggman also charges a screen-filling laser blast from the Master Emerald that you’ll have to watch out for and you’re constantly at risk of falling or slipping to your death. Once you’ve landed the final hit, be sure to angle your jump back to the platform; now, you have to chase after Eggman as he flees with the Master Emerald, ramming him as you go until he is defeated while desperately trying to not bounce or fall as the platform crumbles behind you.
If you’re playing as Knuckles, though, you won’t get to experience this battle or the game’s final Zone; instead, you face Mecha Sonic in Sky Sanctuary Zone. Mecha Sonic acts as Sonic and Tails’s mini boss in Sky Sanctuary Zone, appearing three times; in the first, he’s in Eggman’s wrecking ball machine from the first game, then he jumps into the Metropolis Zone bubble machine from Sonic 2, before essentially recreating the battle against his namesake from Sonic 2. Knuckles, though, has to face a powered-up Mecha Sonic, who absorbs power from the Master Emerald to turn into Super Metal Sonic; faster, invulnerable, and blasting both large energy bolts and weird ring-things at you, Super Mecha Sonic can only be damaged when he reverts to his base form, which gives you a small (very small) window to ram him once (maybe twice) before he powers back up.
Collect all seven Chaos Emeralds in Sonic & Knuckles (or all seven plus the seven Super Emeralds in Sonic 3 & Knuckles), and you’ll get access to the game’s true final Zone, the Doomsday Zone. Here, Super/Hyper Sonic must fly through the asteroid-littered atmosphere in pursuit of Eggman, who fires missiles and bullets at you, all while racing against the clock as your Rings are continuously drained in these forms. Luckily, Rings are scattered throughout the atmosphere and you can dash ahead by pressing A but it can be very tricky to manoeuvre as not only are asteroids blocking your path, Eggman’s bullets and missiles can send you flying back a ways and Eggman can only initially be damaged by causing his homing missiles to crash into his cockpit. Once you’ve done this enough times, he’ll escape in his Death Egg Robo mech and be finally vulnerable to your head-on attacks but, again, you have to be careful to not let asteroids and projectiles slow you down and be sure to grab any Rings you see or else you’ll fall to your death in seconds.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As is the tradition in Sonic titles, numerous computer monitors are scattered throughout the game’s Zones. Smashing these monitors will award you with such rewards as ten extra Rings, an extra life, a speed up, or an invincibility but don’t go blindly rushing in to break every monitor you see as there are special new Eggman monitors which, when broken, will damage you.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles mixes things up with the inclusion of three elemental shields; the Water Shield (which keep you from drowning), the Flame Shield (which protects you from flames and lava), and the Lightning Shield (which attracts Rings to you and protects you from electrical hazards). In an interesting piece of realism, the latter two shields will be lost if you jump into water and, while all three characters can acquire these shields, only Sonic can get the most out of them. Grabbing each one as Sonic replaces his Insta-Shield with a new ability (the bounce, flame burst, and double-jump, respectively) which more than makes up for his inability to fly, climb, or swim.
While both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles come with a handful of Achievements to earn, you sadly don’t get to earn any additional Achievements for playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Still, these Achievements are pretty standard fare for the Xbox Sonic ports, featuring such requirements as finishing the game, reaching certain Zones, collecting one (and all) of the Chaos Emeralds, or collecting a certain number of Rings. Thankfully, there are no timed Achievements this time so you don’t have to worry about finishing the game in under an hour or beating certain Zones in a certain time, but this does make getting all of each game’s Achievements incredibly easy
As is the tradition, each character can access the game’s Special Stages to try and earn one of the Chaos Emeralds. You may be tempted to leap into the sparkling halo found when you pass a Starpost with certain Rings but this simply brings you to one of three Bonus stages (where you can earn extra Rings, lives, shields, continues, and bump up your score); instead, hidden throughout the game’s Zones are a number of Giant Rings. Once you find one of these Rings and jump into it, you’ll have to collect every single Blue Sphere to earn a Chaos Emerald. These Blue Sphere Special Stages speed up the longer you’re inside them to make things more difficult and increase in difficulty as you progress, throwing more maze-like constructions in your way and peppering your path with instant-fail Red Spheres. Still, there’s no time limit to worry about and Tails doesn’t cause you any trouble like he did in Sonic 2; plus, there’s only a few Special Stages where a wrong move can cause you hassle and, thanks to the game’s save state feature (in all versions of the games), you can easily return to one of the earlier Zones and retry for a Chaos Emerald as often as you need. Because of this, Special Stages are only really difficult when playing the base Sonic & Knuckles as Sonic since there was no save feature in the original version and, even now, it’s harder to find the elusive Giant Rings with Sonic’s more grounded moveset.
Once you collect all seven Chaos Emeralds, both Sonic and Knuckles can transform into Super Sonic or Super Knuckles after collecting fifty Rings and jumping. This will make them invincible and super fast but will drain their Rings over time (and, of course, they can still drown, be crushed, or fall to their deaths). Once you clear Launch Base Zone, you’ll be stripped of your Chaos Emeralds and will have to power them up into Super Emeralds by clearing seven more Special Stages. This allows Sonic and Knuckles to become Hyper Sonic and Hyper Knuckles and allows Tails to become Super Tails. In these forms, characters are even faster and have additional abilities (Hyper Sonic also glows like a rainbow and can dash ahead, Hyper Knuckles can shake the screen to destroy Badniks by gliding into walls, and Super Tails is surrounded by similarly-powered-up Flickies that home in on enemies and bosses to deal additional damage).
Sonic 3 also comes with a multiplayer component that allows a second player to play as Tails alongside Sonic, as in Sonic 2, or two players to go head-to-head as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles in the game’s split screen mode. While this is nowhere near as awful as Sonic 2’s thanks to the screen not being stretched to ugly proportions, it is very zoomed out and Knuckles is missing his moveset, though you are able to play through five unique Zones in three different match types (Grand Prix, Match Race, and Time Attack). Sadly, though, this mode (and a playable Tails) is absent from Sonic & Knuckles.
As mentioned before, the Xbox Live version of these games doesn’t allow for the original save feature but it does come with three save states for each game and access to online leaderboards. Owning both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles not only allows you to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles but also gives you access to the “Blue Sphere” mini game to take on a near-infinite number of the game’s Special Stages and, best of all, if you also purchase Sonic 2, you’ll be able to play as Knuckles in that game too.
I love Sonic 2, don’t get me wrong, but Sonic 3 is worlds better in every single way and Sonic 3 & Knuckles is just about as perfect a 2D Sonic game as you can get. Certainly, for me, this combined title is the quintessential 2D Sonic title, with only Sonic Mania Plus (PagodaWest Games/Headcannon, 2018) coming close to matching the scope and entertainment offered by Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
With massive Zones, loads of gimmicks and tweaks that pretty much perfected Sonic’s gameplay, a fantastic soundtrack, some of the most detailed and animated graphics of the 16-bit era, and a simple but wonderfully well told story, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the complete package for any self-respecting Sonic fan. Blisteringly fast, with loads of replay value and additional features to keep you coming back for more, the only thing keeping Sonic 3 & Knuckles from being infallible is SEGA’s inability to release a proper remaster of the title for a new generation of players.
How do you feel about Sonic 3 & Knuckles? Which of the two games did you prefer? What did you think about Sonic & Knuckles’ “Lock-On” technology? Where do you rank the games against Sonic’s other 2D titles? Perhaps you prefer a different 2D Sonic game; if so, which is it and why? How did you feel about Knuckles upon his debut, the new Super forms introduced in this game, and would you have liked to have played as Sonic and Knuckles or Tails and Knuckles? Would you like to see a remaster of the title? How are you celebrating the anniversary of Sonic 3’s release today? Whatever your thoughts, please feel free to share them and your memories of Sonic 3 & Knuckles below.