The Weekly Five: Celebrating 18 Years of Sonic 3

February 2nd, dubbed Hedgehog Day, marked the 18th anniversary of the American release of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Damn, does that make me feel old. Sonic 3 marked a very important point in the Sonic franchise. At the time of release, Sonic mania was in full force. The franchise had multiple TV shows airing, comic books, fast food promotions and even had a float in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. In early 1994 it was near impossible to avoid Sonic, and the release of Sonic 3 only made the franchise even more of a hot commodity. It’s no question that SEGA had a lot riding on the success of the game. Of course, 18 years later we’re still talking about it, so clearly SEGA was successful. In this week’s weekly five, we’ll take a walk down memory lane and look back on just why we love Sonic 3 so much.

The Mysterious Knuckles

If you were active in the Sonic scene pre-1994, you are probably 100% with me on this memory. Think waaaay back to late 1993. Sonic 3 was being teased in magazines, the Archie comics began to talk about Sonic’s next big game and the name “Knuckles” began cropping up. Newer Sonic fans may find this hard to believe, but back in Sonic’s early years the announcement of a mysterious new character was an exciting thing. We actually looked forward to potentially new playable characters. However, early impressions of Knuckles lead fans to think that he would be a proper villain. Knuckles didn’t seem to appear to be playable, and once the game released it was discovered that he wasn’t!

Of course, eight months later with the release of Sonic and Knuckles, Sonic’s newest enemy became playable and by the end of the game he turned friend. But for a brief 8 months in Sonic’s history, Knuckles was an unplayable baddie and we loved to hate him. The most apt comparison I can think of is that brief, but fun, two year period in which Shadow was thought of as dead. That isn’t to say that I dislike Knuckles post-Sonic and Knuckles, but it’s fun to think back to a time when he was seen in a very different light.

Ice Cap

What is it about snow stages that make fans love them so much? Ice Cap itself is an awesome stage, filled with fun gimmicks and great music. But I think theres something happening at a deeper level that makes us love Ice Cap so much. Going outside Sonic 3, and even video games, there are numerous examples of snowy scenes being popular moments in fictional franchises. The battle of Hoth in Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back, the Sunday winter themed comics of Calvin and Hobbes, the moment in The Simpsons Movie in which Homer is trudging through the snow. The last example was actually touched upon in the commentary track for The Simpsons Movie, and I think it applies well to Sonic 3’s Ice Cap Zone. Placing a popular character in a stark, white, snowy environment allows for almost all attention to be placed on the character itself. Essentially, a snowy environment is a lack of environment. Unlike, say, Green Hill Zone in which there is a lot to see, in Ice Cap the absence of environment allows for Sonic himself to take center stage. I recall that it wasn’t until this stage that I really got to appreciate the upgrades and additions to Sonic’s sprite set. Okay, enough visual theory, next up…

Happy Meal Toys!

1994 saw the release of not one, but TWO lines of Happy Meal toys featuring Sonic the Hedgehog. The first was the popular Sonic 3 line, seen above, which featured the four main characters of the game. For many fans, this was the first time they were able to own a physical figure of Sonic and friends. Robotnik and Knuckles especially were early examples of products based on these characters. Interestingly enough, the Robotnik toy was based on his American cartoon design rather than his in-game design. It was only in Japan that the Eggman design was seen in the line of toys. Nowadays McDonald’s gets a lot of flack, some deserved, but I do miss the days in which being a Happy Meal toy was a status symbol. Sort of like a pop culture Academy Award. You hadn’t truly made it until you we’re a Happy Meal, and in 1994 Sonic made it.

Mastering the Elements

Without the elemental shields, Sonic 3 would not have been as great as it was. While players didn’t have to put as much thought into the shield’s special powers as they would in a game like Sonic Colors, knowing which shield protected against which attacks added a whole new way to play a Sonic game. The shields were perhaps the best example of new elements working in perfect harmony with the established formula. The fact that certain shields repelled badnik projectiles caused the shields to dictate the badnik designs. The result were badniks which shot fire and hazards which gave off electric sparks. The whole game really has a “rock, paper, scissors” sort of element to it which makes for a lot of experimentation and fun surprises to be had. It’s just a shame that elemental shields never appeared beyond Sonic and Knuckles, aside from their cameo in Generations. Hopefully Sonic 4 Episode 2, or 3, bring them back.

The Cliffhanger

Not only did the Sonic franchise borrow the concept of the Death Star for the Death Egg, but they also took inspiration from The Empire Strikes Back and left players on a cliffhanger. I’m so glad that I didn’t get around to completing Sonic 3 before Sonic and Knuckles released, because I can only imagine how frustrating it may have been to complete Sonic 3 in February, 1994 only to have to wait until October for the conclusion. Did Knuckles survive? Was he to be good or bad? What came of the Death Egg?

Mystery is perhaps the biggest theme of Sonic 3; The mystery of who was Knuckles, the slow reveal of the full potential of the elemental shields and the unresolved conclusion. We know all these answers now, but back in 1994 who knew where things would go.


9 responses to “The Weekly Five: Celebrating 18 Years of Sonic 3

  1. Tracker_TD says:

    I find it terrifying that by pure coincidence I started an S3&K 100% runthrough a few days ago and picked up Sonic 3 on Mega Drive last week.
    Creepy timing is creepy. XD

  2. shizzle says:

    So no love for Michael Jackson?

    • Hey! I like Mike! But I wanted to cover some less expected elements. Plus, to be fair, most if not all fans didn’t know of his involvement back in ’94.

    • Damon says:

      As far as I know, there’s still no conclusive proof that Michael Jackson composed a single piece for the game, and even if he did, that any of his material made it into the final game.

  3. teirusu says:

    for me this is one of the coolest game on the genesis mega drive

  4. Radrappy says:

    Knuckles was pretty much the coolest cat in town back then for me. He was up there right next to Zero. Part of what made him so cool was that he debuted as a nonplayable character. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never taken to Shadow (apart from him being incredibly lame to begin with). Knuckles’ introduction was tasteful and intriguing whereas Shadow burst onto the scene overpowered and overdramatic with the staying power of a bad fan character. He shot laser projectiles for crissakes.

    nice article, definitely a big fan of S3.

  5. teirusu says:

    i agree sonic original rival was knuckles

  6. funkyjeremi says:

    This reminds me of a good time … far away, years ago, when i was a kid. I remember this time without Internet. The way to get teased by upcoming games was reading videogames journals. I still have this french journal called “Console+”, there was a preview of Sonic 3, it was maybe a month or two before it’s european relase, the magazine was only showing a few pics of the game, but it was so awesome! At this time, they were unsure about what s gonna be S&K but they already were speaking about its later release at the end of the year^^. And i remeber the first time i played sonic 3, i was like ” OMG, the graphics are AMAZING!!!” with the different foregrounds and backgrounds elements scrolling in Angel Island ^^

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