In September 1996, there were two games released that changed mascot platformer gaming forever: Super Mario 64, and Crash Bandicoot. The writing had been on the wall for some time, and thanks to the success of Saturn’s own Virtua Fighter (a huge hit in Japan especially) Sega was well aware of what was becoming increasingly popular. 3D gameplay. By today’s standards the polygon models were pretty horrific, but it was something new and different–and at times it even played (sort of) okay.
So where was Sonic in all this? The Sega Technical Institute was tasked with creating a 3D Sonic game titled Sonic X-Treme Beach Volleyball, which the fates decided was simply not meant to be. Development hell! Lots of technical difficulties with the game engine, all sorts of miscommunication, lead programmers falling ill… And every step of the way, Sega of Japan and Sega of America were simply not seeing eye to eye (on this, along with quite a few other things around this time). In the end, they had to scrap the whole project–but hey, maybe that was for the best? If the game wasn’t turning out well at all, then no need to push out a completely bug-ridden game in time for Christmas just to make a quick buck and lose all credibility. Good thing Sega is smart enough to never do something like that, right?
Anyways, as luck(?) would have it–there was another Sonic game being made at the time… for the Genesis? That’s right, Sega had UK-based studio Traveller’s Tales develop a title called Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island (or Sonic 3D Blast in North America), which would be (very quickly) ported to the Saturn as well in time for the holidays. Fun Fact: Traveller’s Tales would go on to help out with some Disney games, Crash Bandicoot, and eventually make 478,002 Lego games for Warner Bros. But what was this 3D Blast all about? Was Sonic really in 3D? No… No, he wasn’t. This is one of those isometric games, using Donkey Kong Country-style pre-rendered graphics.
Now, I don’t think it’s an automatic terrible thing for video game franchise to branch out a bit and have spin-off releases. 3D Blast is not what I’d consider a “main” title for the Sonic series, and it’s definitely not what anyone had in mind for what a true 3D Sonic game should entail. But let’s judge the game for what it is, not for what it isn’t. Sonic 3D Blast may bear little resemblance to its forebears, but is it a fun game to play? Well… no. Not really. I mean, it’s an okay way to make a lazy Saturday afternoon go by. I don’t hate it, but it’s not a game I’m ever eager to go back to.
In Sonic 3D Blast, you make Sonic walk around looking for 5 robots that are scattered about in each part of the level. Attempt jumping on the robots for a while. Once you’ve managed to destroy a robot, you will find a bird. Attempt to get the birds for a while. You have to collect all 5 birds and bring them to a giant ring. That’s the game. It’s a lot like Flicky, an older Sega arcade game I quite enjoy–but instead of frantic and points-crazy 2D gameplay, you get frustrating and aimless isometric gameplay. In Flicky, it is a simple and straightforward matter to pick up the birdies and bring them to the gate that ends each level. But in Sonic 3D Blast, everything is much more tedious. The damn birds are a pain in the ass to get a hold of, and every time you get hurt you lose not only your rings–but the damn birds too! Then you have to pick up all the damn birds again. Damn those birds!
I hereby give this game… the bird. (sunglasses fall down) AAAAAAAAAWWWW YEEEEAAAHHHH
Here’s some other stuff:
- The music is different depending on whether you’re playing the Genesis or Saturn versions. There’s good and bad tracks in both, and overall I don’t care too much for either (it’s all rather leisurely). There is a standout track on the Saturn version though: the greatest special stage tune ever.
- Speaking of special stages, those are different in each version too. They both involve a sort of Sonic 2-style of running forward and collecting a bunch of rings though. Uninspired.
- Speaking of uninspired, the levels themselves–and all the robots–are pretty dull. I feel like more could have been done to take advantage of the isometric nature of the gameplay? (IDK.)
- In Japan, the Mega Drive version of the game was never released, and the Saturn version only thrown out at the very end of that console’s lifespan (1999!). Just an interesting tidbit to show how Sonic was never as big a deal in his home country. (Instead, everyone was enjoying Sakura Wars… A damn good trade-off actually; when are we getting that in English, Sega?)