GameSpite Journal 12: Sonic 3 & Knuckles

While Sonic 2 was the first to introduce a multiplayer component to the series, it was kind of half-assed. Tails as player two was invincible, but his signature flying ability was little more than window dressing, an excuse for why he came out of nowhere to catch up with Sonic when he inevitably left him in the dust. With the sequel, Sega made a complete overhaul to Tails, making him a more distinct option rather than just a Sonic clone. Not only can you use his flight to reach new heights (including grabbing player one’s Sonic and giving him a boost), but he’s also more mobile underwater with the ability to swim. This opens the game wide for the normally grounded Sonic to exploit a myriad of hidden bonuses. Tails does eventually grow tired and drop like a rock, though, so he can’t get absolutely everywhere.

The “& Knuckles” inclusion of Knuckles the Echidna has no such limits, though. Not only can he glide at a slightly downward horizontal angle forever, he also sticks to almost all vertical surfaces allowing him to climb as high as possible. While most of S3&K’s stages are designed around this ability, the same can’t be said of Sonic 2. Using the lock-on technology of the Sonic & Knuckles cart, you can replay the previous game with an entirely new skill set. Knuckles breaks that game in such a wondrous fashion—it’s just a shame that his slightly lower jumping arc makes the final showdown with Dr. Robotnik such a chore to defeat.

Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are presented as stand-alone halves to a single story. Locking the two games together adds a simple story bridge between them, replaces a few songs (allegedly because secret composer Michael Jackson hated them) and introduces a second set of seven new Super Emeralds to further power Super Sonic into Hyper Sonic. Knuckles is similarly powered-up at both seven Chaos and seven Super Emeralds, but Tails requires all 14 gems to unlock his powered-up form (complete with four bird buddies to help destroy the opposition). As usual, these Emeralds are the only way to unlock Sonic 3 & Knuckles’ true ending. Lock-on technology is the only way to unlock Tails (either solo or co-op) in Sonic & Knuckles, and conversely the only way to unlock Knuckles in Sonic 3.

Also new in Sonic 3 & Knuckles are a trio of elemental shields to bring Sonic a bit closer to his companions’ strength. The lightning shield endows Sonic with a double jump, as well as the ability to draw in any nearby rings (a real boon when paired with Super Sonic). The fire shield allows Sonic a quick forward dash (perhaps a less-broken predecessor to the lock-on ability in Sonic Adventure) as well as immunity to fire attacks. Rounding out the three is the bubble shield, far and away the most useful of the bunch. This shield allows a quick bouncing attack, but more importantly prevents Sonic from drowning underwater without having to repeatedly search for oxygen bubbles. Tails and Knuckles get the secondary abilities of the shields, but cannot use the double jump or attacks.

Unlike the previous games in the series where bosses only appeared every two or three zones, Sonic 3 & Knuckles includes a miniboss at the end of every minor act with a showdown with Robotnik (or a robot stand-in in Knuckles’ storyline) at the end of the zone. Each of these acts runs together into a single logical whole, with the miniboss encounters serving as logical stopping points. Most of the Robotnik fights are more involved this time around, including a fight mid-flight and a showdown with a screen-tall sarcophagus.

There are a few stumbling points with Sonic 3 & Knuckles, such as the infamously unintuitive Carnival Night barrier (which my brother and I actually managed to get through in an unintended way by alternating jumps as Sonic and Tails). Oh, and the all around terrible Sandopolis Zone with its block puzzles and errant ghosts. But the refinements to the solid foundation laid in Sonic 2 did more than enough to make up for these small issues.

Article by Scott Lowe

GameSpite Journal 12: Sonic 3 – Sonic & Knuckles

7 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Sonic 3 & Knuckles

  1. Where Sonic 2 takes its influences for many of its level design more from Sonic 1’s Green Hill/Star Light style places you can rush through if you know what you’re doing, S3&K goes more for the Marble/Labyrinth style emphasis on platforming and puzzles. I think that’s a big part of why it’s simultaneously so interesting yet so divisive. It’s also neat how there’s a sense of progression with how Act 2 continues on from the first act like it’s one giant stage and there’s some form of transition to the next zone.

    S3&K has to be the first time in the series when the normally generous 10-minute time limit is just not enough sometimes. All the stages tend to take longer to navigate in general, but if you don’t run out of time at Carnival Night or Sandopolis, they will at least have you very close to doing so, even if you know their tricks.

    Knuckles is a lot of fun to play as once Sonic & Knuckles defined his abilities and made him a fully playable character instead of just an option in Sonic 3’s racing mode. In Sonic 3 though, he’s just a douchebag who occasionally pops up to torment you and you just wanna sock him in his smirky face.

    Speaking of Knuckles in Sonic 2, while his climbing and gliding can really help tear through the levels (Casino Night’s boss is a joke with him), his shorter jump is definitely a handicap. The Aquatic Ruin boss fight stands out, since the arrow firing pillars aren’t a climbable surface and Knuckles can’t reach some of the arrows Sonic could jump to easily.

    On one final note, it was nice that Sonic had his own exclusive abilities with the elemental shields to make up for his lack of flying and gliding skills. He wasn’t so fortunate in the first two Sonic Advance games, where the other characters overshadow him so much he’s little more than “that guy with the dumb somersault kick who’s required for the final ending.” Sonic Advance 3 largely avoided that problem with character pairings determining what you were capable of.

  2. Definitely one of my favorites, particularly when combined. I just wish getting those damned emeralds wasn’t so hard– particularly as Sonic’s final zone is inaccessible without them.

  3. MetManMas great points all around. The other thing about Sonic 3 is that the design of the levels was made in order to benefit from the future lock-on with S&K, whereas Sonic 2 never had that advantage, but was still amazing that you could use Knuckles in that game.

  4. Nice, thoughtful article. Too bad about Carnival Night, especially since the ensuing Ice Cap had that wonderful 20 second set-piece on the snowboard, just for style.

    While in the long-term, I don’t think this game can touch Sonic 2 or Sonic CD, I still remember the thrill of suddenly seeing a continuation of Sonic 3 that I legitimately was not expecting, shortly after Sonic 3 came out. Maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention, but suddenly stumble upon a demo where I was playing as Knuckles and racing to catch up with the Mushroom Hill boss as he flew through the trees seemed thrilling.

  5. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is easily the apex of the Sonic series (sorry, but Sonic CD is more of a spin-off that died with the lone title in the evolution of the Sonic series). Also, maybe it’s just me, but Sonic 3 & Knuckles has the best Sonic soundtrack of any of the Sonic Genesis titles (except for perhaps the original, but perhaps that is just nostalgia clouding my judgement). No small feat considering how iconic games are inseperably tied with their legendary sound designers. Everything about this game is the Sonic formula refined and improved to perfection. Part of the reason that the later Sonic games have gone downhill from the Genesis titles is because Sonic was meant to be utterly simple game from the start, and S3&K represented the original design taken to its natural perfection. By no means is S3&K a perfect game, but it is a perfect Sonic game.

  6. Bit of a disappointing article. You just sort of summarized the game.

    Seriously, though, if you haven’t played S3K yet, get on it. It’s an incredible game.

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