Sonic 3 & Knuckles (Mega Drive) Review

By Renan Fontes 11.09.2016 2

Review for Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Mega Drive

No Sonic game is complete without its own complicated development story. Originally conceived as one game, Sonic 3 was meant to be the conclusion of the hedgehog's saga on the Mega Drive. It was a swan song in more ways than one, eating up the most resources of any Sonic before it, but hardware limitations and a release day rush meant a forced split in production, with the first half of the game being released as Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and the second half released a few months later as Sonic & Knuckles. With SEGA's new "lock-on" technology, the whole game could be experienced as originally envisioned: as Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

The first big change from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the addition of the save system. Both Sonic titles that came before S3&K were short enough and designed around being beaten in one sitting, but that simply cannot be the case anymore. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is especially long for a platformer, and it's filled with countless secrets. While the best of the best can probably get through the adventure at a short pace, the majority of players would need the save system to get through it.

It's not just because of length that the save system is a good addition; however, it's just a nice feature to have that paces the game around the player instead of the other way around. Breaks can be taken whenever, and little to no progress will be lost. It's a quality of life change that only helps the overall experience.

Screenshot for Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Mega Drive

Following the save system, the next big change is the character select. In all main Sonic entries before S3&K, Sonic was the only playable character in the single-player. Added here, however, are Tails and Knuckles, who play wildly different from the blue hedgehog.

Both Tails and Knuckles run slower than Sonic, but that's more than made up for thanks to their own gimmicks. Tails can fly, allowing him to traverse bottomless pits easily and get to newfound heights, and Knuckles can glide and climb, making his platforming slower, but a bit more precision-based than the other two characters.

Screenshot for Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Mega Drive

With three distinct potential playstyles, the level design makes sure to cater to each of the characters' traits and abilities. Branching paths keep different playthroughs interesting and worthwhile by featuring areas that can only be reached with Tails' flight or Knuckles' climbing, but without ever forgetting to cater to Sonic, giving him his own unique segments that capitalise on the series' selling point: speed.

Top notch fast action is front and centre more than ever in Sonic 3 & Knuckles. There are still occasional breaks in gameplay for more traditional platforming, but Sonic Team clearly showed that the developers learned from previous mistakes by integrating them more efficiently to create a natural flow in running and jumping where as little speed as possible needs to be lost.

Screenshot for Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Mega Drive

Through the addition of Tails and Knuckles, S3&K has cleverly integrated its own pseudo difficulty slider. Because the fox and echidna are slower than Sonic, and the level design is primarily designed with speed foremost, they can be used for reflex practice. Neither character can reach the speed Sonic can, but that means nothing more than just allowing levels to be learned naturally. Which leads back to Sonic Team's biggest breakthrough: letting the player control the pacing.

There's so much control in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, more so than any other title in the series. It doesn't try to force a tutorial or break the action for arbitrary reasons, instead letting everything progress through the controller. The few cut-scenes there are are incredibly short, and action still remains possible in some of them. There's an emphasis on making sure the player is always in charge, that Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles can move at their own pace without worry. It's something modern Sonic games have forgotten. There are plenty of reasons as to why S3&K is good, but its best reason is simply that it respects its audience.

Screenshot for Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Mega Drive

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the Sonic formula at its finest. Everything it does, it does so with great finesse. It avoids the common traps that most platformers fall into by having each character stand out, while making sure the level design plays to each of their unique styles. It offers an excellently composed soundtrack that never betrays the tone of a stage, but, most importantly, it never stops being fun. S3&K stands above every Sonic game that came before and every Sonic game that's come after, nearly perfecting its style of play. It's hard to believe that SEGA will ever be able to live back up to S3&K's legacy, but its existence is proof that even the smallest of hedgehogs can reach the greatest heights.






2D Platformer



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (2 Votes)

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I never played much Sonic back in the day. After sampling the first game I just shrugged and continued playing Mario games instead. I have since revised my opinion of the series (partly aided by using a modded Megadrive - the 50Hz versions of these games are atrocious), and also by some good quality compilations (Sonic Jam on Saturn lets you save your progress in all the games).

I always thought the series peaked at No. 2 as I liked the quick pick up and play aspect. The deliberately loose (sloppy?) control has always grated with me, as have those pipe sections where you end up being a spectator as well,  but these games and in particular the later ones like 3 and Knuckles look spectacular and in their own way haven't been bettered in that department. 

The loose control meant a move to 3D wasn't going to be successful. Apart from some on-rails sections in Sonic Adventure 2, and Colors which played like a 2D game, this series has always been best as a 2D game.

( Edited 12.09.2016 19:01 by davyK )

Sonic 2 was always my fave too, but that could be because I rarely had the chance to play 3&K growing up. It's the one I'm most familiar with, so is usually my go-to Sonic game. Plus, the special stages in Sonic 2 were my fave.

Can I also just say that the Sonic and Knuckles image logo is the best gaming logo ever. Unbeatable.

Image for

( Edited 20.08.2017 22:35 by Azuardo )

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