Tuesday Feb 10, 2009
Sonic is nearly 20 years old now, and he’s made appearances in nearly every conceivable type of game–side-scrolling, 3D-action, racing, sports, action/adventure, really weird 3D, puzzle, more racing, and even RPG. One might say he is a well-traveled hedgehog.
Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection releases today, and lest we forget, this is Sonic’s ultimate Genesis Collection: Although he’s usually out-of-office here at Sega HQ, his office (which by the way is filled with rings) is equipped with every Sega system all the way back to the SG-1000. I think he has Tails (currently VP of Hovering and Market Research) spearheading a port of Sonic R for it (rumors that the Tails Doll from that game was hard-coded into the motherboard of the SG-1000 years before the release of the first Sonic game are totally unsubstantiated). So his presence here at Sega is what one might call significant.
The point is, Sonic owns these games. There’s a reason so many collections have pulled together Sonic games, especially the original three (and Sonic & Knuckles). I’ll leave the original two Sonic games out of this blog–there’s not exactly a dearth of info on these games, and many of us know the levels by heart–but this is Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (did I mention that?), and I thought it would be fun to take a look at the last of the side-scrolling Sonic games that came out for the Genesis.
Sonic 3′s design isn’t a lot different from Sonic 2, at least not as dramatically as Sonic 2 was an upgrade of the first Sonic. There’s a lot in the details, though–level design is at a pinnacle for Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, and the simple addition of different shield types added a huge amount to the games. If you think that all Sonic needs is a pair of sneakers, you’ve obviously never tried the bubble shield. And as in Sonic 2, the work-to-payoff ratio of taking the time to collect all the Chaos Emeralds in the bonus stages to become Super Sonic is one of the most awesomely satisfying payoffs in all of video games.
Also: We’ve gotten comments & questions from die-hard Sonic fans about this collection, and whether Sonic 3 + Knuckles would be included, or just the separate games. For those who don’t know: the original games were intended to be part of the same cart, and Sonic & Knuckles was eventually released as a “lock-on” cartridge, that could be locked-on to Sonic 3 and Sonic 2 so that Knuckles would be playable in those games. Locking Sonic & Knuckles into any other Sega Genesis game allows access to the game Blue Sphere, based on the Sonic bonus levels.
This ‘Sonic 3 + Knuckles’ feature wasn’t included for Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection. I spoke with the producer for Sonic’s UGC, Ethan Einhorn, who definitely understands the nature of hard-core Sonic fandom. We had a good conversation about the game, and I got Ethan’s official explanation for why Sonic 3 + Knuckles wasn’t included: “To shore up the development time necessary to get “Lock-On” to work in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, we would have had to drop all of the bonus games from the disc. Faced with an either/or scenario, we chose to retain our title lineup in its entirety.”
In other words, that would have meant losing the Sega Master System ports (Phantasy Star and Golden Axe Warrior) and all of the arcade ports. Just throwing an old ROM into a game is one thing, but combining lots of different types of ROM technology (arcade, Genesis, Master System) and making them all work together is another, and to get the game out with this lineup, that’s what needed to happen.
Lock-on was a cool feature but I love seeing the games here regardless; the levels for Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are fantastic, definitely at the height of game design for side-scrolling action games. These games were made near the end of the Genesis’ heyday, and showcase the best combination of speed, sound, graphics, and gameplay available for the system. This collection has a lot of terrific games from all over Sega history, and they’re all worth investigating in their own way–but it’s always nice to revisit the best that a beloved system was capable of.
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