As a fun feature for all you Sega Addicts out there, the staff and I have decided to take a few moments to celebrate the birthday of society’s favorite over-caffeinated, blue rodent by having a short discussion/line-drawing about two of his best games: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 3. What about the original, you ask? The original is often the most well-remembered, while these two games have been somewhat forgotten. Both titles improve upon their namesake in unique ways and the two selections represent a chasm among Sega fans, with seemingly every player having a clear favorite.
Which camp are you in?! Everyone is invited to partake, we’ve collected the staff’s feelings for this initial offering. More importantly, we would like our readers to weigh in with comments. We’ll collect the best of the bunch and re-print them in a companion article a few days later. Let us know what you think!
Brett Hatfield: Sonic 3
The impossible question, but ultimately, I’m gonna have to say Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The amount of content packed within those carts, with some of the best levels, music, and gimmicks in the series’ history just can’t be beat, even if it is a very very small margin of victory. Plus, at least it didn’t have Wing Fortress or Oil Ocean Zone, which are two of the worst levels in any game (although Sandopolis Act 2 is almost as bad as both of them combined).
Pocky X: Sonic 2
I really love Tails and my only childhood memories of Sonic 2 was from going over my next door neighbor’s house and playing as Tails since I was a Nintendo kid. My neighbor wasn’t just any Sega kid though, he was THE Sega kid and had everything, including the Sega Channel! I think I fell out of touch with him by the time Sonic 3 was released, so my pick is mostly based on nostalgia.
Scott Morrison: Sonic 3
I may be alone when I say this, but I definitely prefer Sonic the Hedgehog 3 over Sonic the Hedgehog 2. As stated in a recent podcast, Sonic 3 is my favorite Sonic game of all time. I loved the new levels, the elemental shields for Sonic, and of course the introduction of Knuckles.
Speaking of Knuckles, it seemed like the coolest thing in the world that you could play as him in the 2-player mode, so naturally I always would. At the time, he seemed like this mysterious new awesome nemesis, who may even have more attitude than Sonic. But the 90’s soon showed us otherwise.
I also loved how the zones tethered to each other at the end and beginnings of each one. This made the game feel a little bigger in my eyes as I felt like each zone was a chapter in one big story.
Allowing us to play as Tails with his flying ability was an amazing new feeling of freedom, and even more so when you could pick up Sonic. Tails couldn’t use the elemental shields the same way as Sonic, but I felt like his ability to fly greatly made up for that. It was also pretty entertaining watching him “swim” under water.
Overall, I loved everything about Sonic 3 more than Sonic 2 with the new levels, new enemies, creative level design (even the shape-shifting Marble Garden Zone), and especially the introduction of my now favorite character: Knuckles. Sonic 3 will always be my favorite Sonic game, no matter what it’s pitted against.
Harry Nezumi’s Pick: Sonic 3
It’s just a platformer, right? Run from one end of the screen to the other, occasionally stab the jump button, job done. How hard can that be? With Sonic’s 23rd birthday, the clear difference in design philosophies between two relatively simple games in a seemingly simple genre are glaringly clear. It’s the eternal battle between ‘more’ and ‘better’ and Sonic 2’s whole design prioritized ‘better’.
Almost every feature from the first game was improved, the level layouts encouraged a new depth of speed and skill (‘Chemical Plant’ remains a tour de force), boss designs reached a new peak in creativity, as did the level themes, hell, even the underwater levels were made less of a chore. Mixed with just enough new – the spin dash, Tails, a two player mode and an outstanding special stage – the package was and still is irresistibly refined and a joy to experience.
Sonic 3 however, is the bugle blast that heralded the Light Brigade’s charge. The end point of this philosophy of ‘more’ is Big the Cat, Sonic Heroes and a ‘Team Dark’ collect-’em-up. The streamlined levels were replaced with Byzantine warrens. Yes, the environmental features were wonderful, but now the myriad of nooks and crannies, wherein hid the special stage rings, became mandatory for completing the game.
Previously the player had to balance speed and ring collecting to finish swiftly and deprive Robotnik of his emeralds, one of Sid Meier’s ‘interesting choices’ for great games. Sonic 3 curtailed this agency through its design choices while adding confusion with two types of special stages. This is a poster boy for ‘more’ gone wrong and exemplifies the lack of focus that would go on to bedevil the series. Such polemic is, naturally, one sided.
Sonic 3 is an undoubted technical marvel, vibrant levels bounce with life, the game sings both graphically and sonically and presents a far greater investment in time with its & Knuckles expansion. It’s a shame that, for this Addict, Sonic 3’s legacy is one of decline from the wonderful peak of Sonic 2 and its CD cousin. Happy 23rd Sonic! Genius is merely madness gone on holiday, and is thus all the more precious.
Chris Gooch: Sonic 3
Before I ever crafted this post, I had decided quite emphatically that Sonic 2 was my choice. I have been a long-time critic (hater, even) of Sonic 3’s deliberate and deplorable pacing of its namesake. The game is designed from the very ground up with the intention of slowing Sonic down, and was the harbinger of terrible things to come (I’m looking at you, Sonic and Knuckles and Sonic ’06). However, for posterity’s sake, I decided to sit down one more time and give Sonic 3 a chance.
I’d always found Sonic 3 to be beautiful and technically superior to the previous games in nearly every way. The game is a fantastic showcase of what the Genesis can do, in fact I believe it rivals the very best artistic work seen on the Super NES. However, I have always simply hated the pacing and the punishment the game doles out on you for going too quickly. As I played, however, something magical happened. My heart grew three sizes over for this third entry. As I completed the first three stages, I started to appreciate how the game worked, that slowing you down (once your brain gets over the initial shock, this is a Sonic game after all) is a strength.
The compromised pace forces you to stop and consider the consequences of Sonic’s every action. You play carefully, and you take in the fantastic scenery that the development team crafted for all to see. This required gameplay realignment is what I’ve always missed. Finally making this adjustment, nearly twenty years after the game was released, has made me understand just what a brilliant creation Sonic 3 really was. Also, it gave us Knuckles, it should get bonus points for that.
The Final Tally:
It would appear that Sonic 3 is the runaway winner amongst the staff, let us know on the forums or via comment how wrong we are!