Sonic 3 & Knuckles is an epic end to a stellar trilogy. Everything about this game is epic, big, and in your face. Sonic and Sonic 2 are incredible games in their own right but this is Sega displaying absolute mastery of Sonic and his world. If I ever find Doc Brown, one of the things I would have him help with is bringing Sonic 3 & Knuckles back to Sonic Team in 1990. Again, these are all amazing games but the confidence of Sonic Team is just overwhelming and so apparent as you play through Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The formula was crafted with the original Sonic and then perfected with Sonic 2. Now it was time to go all out and have as much polish as humanly and technically possible and damn it, that’s exactly was Sega did.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles begins right where Sonic 2 ended and it wastes no time in establishing key characters and the intro to the story. Knuckles shows up and steals the Chaos Emeralds from Sonic and Tails. You need to, of course, get them back. That’s it for now and that’s all you need. Now you are treated with some beautiful visuals and incredible graphical effects as you traverse across Angel Island to get back those Chaos Emeralds! I love a great story but it’s also impressive when a gameplay-focused game is able to manage minimal story in the background and with such ease.
Now, story may not be the main focus here but what you have is a story of epic proportions that takes place in between expertly crafted levels that are woven beautifully into the fabric of this masterpiece. The key takeaway here is the presentation of this entire package; the story and gameplay work side by side and are lifted by a flawless and polished presentation. There are very few games that were designed as deliberately and wonderfully as this game. The story can be explained and told within a few sentences but the journey as you experience it all is impossible to communicate. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a game that needs to be played to be fully understood. In essence, Sonic is, of course, trying to get the Chaos Emeralds back from Dr. Robotnik but Knuckles has been tricked into believing Sonic just wants the Emeralds for himself. Knuckles spends a great deal of time fighting against Sonic and delaying him with traps, but in the end they realize they’re both fighting against the same thing: Robotnik and his evil schemes. They are able to come together and stop evil once and for all… well for now; I mean, if Robotnik stays defeated how will we ever get to play future entries in the series?
The Genesis’ hardware gets to shine so much here. This is more than a beautiful Sonic game – it’s a beautiful game. The graphics shine and pop with such vibrant colors and just impressive graphical effects. There are times I died playing this game as a kid because I was distracted by just how great it looked! It’s aged very well and, while most 16-bit games have, this is a prime example of those that did. Sonic 3 & Knuckles features fire, explosions, and so many other awesome effects that will impress and immerse the player in Sonic’s battle against evil.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles also features catchy music that will get stuck in your head. My personal favorite in terms of music will always be Sonic 2 but there is a lot of great music here and it really helps add to the immersion. Sega did a great job in making sure the sound effects were great too. The sounds of Sonic 3 & Knuckles do a great job of feeling as big and complete as the graphics and presentation do.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a must play experience that all gamers need to familiarize themselves with. It’s a gem from an extremely important part of gaming history. There are plenty of other great games on the Genesis, and from the 16-Bit era for that matter, but this is the explosion at the end of a long and winding road that Sonic ran through on one of most incredible journeys in gaming. This game needs to be played for its importance to be fully known. After you finish it, you can experience more within the worlds of Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 with the ‘Lock-On’ technology Sega created to add even more oomph to their Blue Blur’s series. With this technology, extra levels and features could be added to Sonic 2 and Sonic 3, including being able to play the last two games as they were intended. If you opt to play these games digitally these features are included, as long as you own the appropriate games within your library.
Sonic the Hedgehog changed gaming when it was released and Sonic 3 & Knuckles ensured that his Genesis legacy was fully realized, while also showing the Genesis’ full potential and giving gamers one of the greatest gaming experiences of their childhood. If you haven’t played this series or just haven’t finished it with this entry, get to it! They are available across many different platforms, including PSN, XBLA, and Steam, for a very low price.
I’d like to address why I’ve combined Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles into one review. Most recently, Sega combined them for the release of the games on Steam and secondly, this is how it was always intended to be played. The only reason Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were ever split up to begin with was due to time constraints and due to the cost of higher memory cartridges. This is how it was always intended to be played though and how it is sold on Steam. If you play on XBLA, PSN, or another platform then just make sure to keep playing as soon as you finish Sonic 3 and connect the two games in your mind!