Sonic 3 was released near the beginning of 1994 (though curiously delayed several months in Japan), but as I mentioned last time this was really only about half of what Sonic Team had in mind for their third big installment to the franchise. Near the end of 1994, Sonic and Knuckles was to be released. This game would be the direct continuation of Sonic 3, so everything good I said about that game can be applied to Sonic and Knuckles as well. It was all one huge project, and its conclusion would mark the end of an era. It was the last of the 16-bit 2D Sonic platformers, and one of Sega’s final big games for the Genesis (as the Saturn released in Japan about a month later).
When you start this game up, you can choose to play either Sonic or Knuckles, the red echidna introduced in Sonic 3 as a sort of rival enemy to deal with periodically. Knuckles is fun to play as. He glides left or right in the air, climbs up and down walls (thanks to his spiked knuckles), and can run through barriers to access secret passageways that Sonic can’t. He can still run and roll like Sonic, but his special abilities lend more of an exploratory playthrough of the game. You’ve rolled through the game as Sonic, and now you can go back as Knuckles and find all the different areas of the levels you missed before. Good replay value.
The levels in this game, much like those in Sonic 3, are really well-designed, look fantastic, have excellent music, and are a blast to play. They’re also very long–so again, Sonic and Knuckles ends up feeling like it can stand on its own all right as a full game. But what if you’re in the mood for a really big Sonic game? What if you want to play through all fourteen zones of Sonic 3 AND Sonic and Knuckles, and have the option of playing ANY of the three characters involved in the two titles?
Sonic Team wanted everyone to be able to get the full experience they had in mind for this project, so they came up with “lock-on technology.” (It’s revolutionary!) The Sonic and Knuckles cartridge is special, in that you can connect other Genesis cartridges on top of it. (Note: Don’t go overboard with this.) What you want to do here is combine Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles for the purpose I just described previously: you can play as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, and go through all the levels of both games together. And with the built-in save feature and multiple save slots, you can work on multiple playthroughs with the different characters whenever you feel like it. Combining the two games also gives access to twice as many emeralds to collect in the special stages, and in turn two levels to Sonic’s super-charged form (plus similar forms available to Tails and Knuckles). Getting each of the possible endings in Sonic 3 and Knuckles gives you quite a bit to do, especially for an old-school platformer.
Wanting to reward fans for putting up with a split release, Sonic Team also managed to create a sort of… free DLC(?) in the form of Knuckles in Sonic 2. Get your copy of Sonic 2, connect it to Sonic and Knuckles, and voila! You are now playing as a brand new character in an earlier-released game. Freaking mind-blowing! I don’t know if such a thing had been attempted before, or if it really had ever been attempted again. It’s definitely something usual though, and I found this a fun way to play through Sonic 2 again. A couple levels you can literally just glide through (lol), but some of the bosses are actually more challenging due to Knuckles’ shorter jump. Sonic Team intended to have Knuckles in Sonic 1 as well, but there were apparently technical issues with that, and so they implemented a 134,217,728-level special stage game to enjoy if you connect Sonic 1 to Sonic and Knuckles. I’ll admit to having wasted enjoyed more than a few hours on this… Has anyone ever beaten every single level, I wonder? Pull it off yourself, and you may very well earn the title of Knuckles Jr!
So there you have it. Loads of content, tons of fun, and just a really solid platformer through and through. If I were to make a list of favorite levels from all Sonic games combined, I’m rather sure most of the top spots would be from Sonic 3 and (even more so) Sonic and Knuckles.
- Mushroom Hill Zone — excellent intro level to run through; the mushrooms make a great boWAAHK sound effect
- Flying Battery Zone — awesome BGM; easily my favorite “flying fortress” type of level
- Sandopolis Zone — definitely one of the tougher Sonic levels, but still pretty neat; plus GHOSTS inside the pyramid make for a unique act to play through
- Lava Reef Zone — really cool-looking volcano level; I love the song for the second act
- Sky Sanctuary Zone — you get to bounce on clouds; A+
- Death Egg Zone — this level is amazing; definitely one of the best “final level” zones in any old-school game; love all the anti-gravity stuff going on, and how it’s still a great level for running through despite all the hazards
Great game. I even liked its approach to storytelling actually, what with everything being shown without any text or voice acting. Those little 16-bit sprites could get quite emotive, and it was fun to work out what was going on with all the characters, the Death Star, a new robot Sonic, that floating island, and all those emeralds that can make you go super saiyan. Fun times! Definitely give Sonic and Knuckles a spin, and be sure to make a run through Sonic 3 and Knuckles as well with each of the characters.