Retro Let's Play: "Sonic 3 & Knuckles" (1994)

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade' started by elvis, Jul 1, 2018.

  1. elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Retro Let's Play for early July 2018: "Sonic 3 & Knuckles"

    Click here if you want to know why we're playing these old games.

    Released in two parts as "Sonic the Hedgehog 3", and then later "Sonic & Knuckles" (with "Lock-on technology", covered in detail below), these games were first developed and published by Sega both in 1994 for the Sega Megadrive and Genesis console.

    These titles are currently ranked number 18 in HardcoreGaming101's top 47,858 games of all time:
    http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/hg101s-top-47k-games-of-all-time/

    Sega were struggling to come up with a solid mascot character for their brand. Professor Asobin, Opa-Opa and Alex Kidd had all come and gone, but none of them could seem to attract the attention that Mario had done for Nintendo. Programming royalty Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Oshima together came up with "Mr Needlemouse", now know as Sonic the Hedgehog. While the character can be criticised for being a heavily commercialised, "designed by committee" style affair, it was a hit, and the first title in the series "Sonic the Hedgehog" released in 1991 saw incredible commercial success, with it's emphasis on the speedy blue mascot.

    "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" arrived in 1992, and introduced a friend for Sonic in the shape of a two-tailed fox named Miles "Tails" Prower (his name was a pun - "Mile Prower" sounds like "Miles per hour", a reference to Sonic's speed). It took everything great about the first title and expanded on it brilliantly, delivering an even better game.

    Development of a third game took two years this time (which doesn't sound like a lot by today's standards, but was considered enormous compared to the usual few months of development for most games of that era). The game got to a point where it was considered too big for a single project, and it was decided to be split in two.

    Initially "Sonic 3" was released in early 1994, and featured the same Sonic and Tails combination, with a new character named "Knuckles the Echidna", strikingly coloured red to offset Sonic's blue. He is an unplayable protagonist in the game, tricked by Sonic's long term nemesis "Dr Robotnik" (or "Eggman" depending on which region the game is from) in fighting Sonic. The game was praised highly for its quality and polish, and it's rumoured that Michael Jackson (a long time fan of Sega) assisted in some of the music composition for the title (despite never being formally credited).

    Later that year, Sega released a second title called "Sonic and Knuckles". This title would offer two major features. Firstly, Tails was dropped as a playable character and replaced with Knuckles, who wasn't as fast as Sonic, but could glide and climb walls, making his character choice quite interesting for certain areas of the game.

    [​IMG]

    The biggest feature by far was that the physical cartridge was made available as a "lock on", allowing it to have two other games plugged in on top. Both "Sonic 3" and "Sonic 2" could be plugged in to "Sonic and Knuckles", modifying the previous games with new options - something that had previously never been offered in a cartridge format system. This allowed 5 different types of games to be played across three different physical cartridges, depending on combination.

    More information: HG101 Sonic retrospective:
    Sonic 3: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/sonic-the-hedgehog-3/
    Sonic & Knuckles: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/sonic-knuckles/

    Playing the games

    Sega have done an amazing job over the years of ensuring their games are available for purchase and play. Various combinations of the Sonic franchise are still available for purchase today:

    * Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Steam (Currently on special for USD$1.35 until July 6)
    * Sega Megadrive and Genesis Classics on Steam (includes Sonic 3 & Knuckles)
    * Sega Megadrive Classics volume 3 for PC - a physical release of several Sega games, including Sonic 3 & Knuckles
    * Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection - physical release for PS3 and XBox360 which contained Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles as separate games (at the time, the "lock on" emulation was not offered).
    * Sonic & Knuckles on XBOne
    * Sonic 3 on XBOne

    Sadly the PS4 and XBOne Megadrive compilation is missing both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.

    Be sure to search archive.org for plenty of options as well (Megadrive and Windows/PC software all shows up available for download):
    https://archive.org/search.php?query=sonic & knuckles&and[]=mediatype:"software"

    For a more modern take, check out the very awesome "Sonic Mania" - a new game for modern PCs and consoles, but designed around the Sonic 2/3/Knuckles style "engines". An absolute gem to play if you love 2D sprite-based Sonic games from the Megadrive era:
    https://forums.overclockers.com.au/threads/sonic-mania.1227931/

    Box art:

    Sonic 3, PAL, USA and Japanese regions:

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Sonic & Knuckles PAL, USA and Japanese regions:

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Sonic 3 & Knuckles long play (as Sonic with Tails computer AI):



    Knuckles in Sonic 2, via the "Lock-on Technology" cartridge:

     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2018
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  2. DonutKing

    DonutKing Member

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    I loved Sonic as a kid. So much cooler than Mario.
    This is a really good LP of Sonic 3 - he covers all 3 Genesis sonic games as well:


    I actually think Sonic 2 was the slightly better game, although the special stages in 2 were less enjoyable and a lot harder.

    An interesting (or not!) factoid about this game. This is the first Sonic game to include a save game feature. Sonic 1 and 2 had to be beaten in one sitting, but Sonic 3 (and the Knuckles addon) let you save your progress. Unfortunately instead of using battery-backed SRAM like every other cartridge at the time, Sonic 3 used proprietary 'FERAM', a type of non-volatile memory with a limited number of write cycles. It's like a hundred thousand writes, but when you are saving after every death and level clear, it adds up. A well loved cart can eventually expire the FERAM, and they don't make pin-compatible replacements any more. I had this problem and was somewhat miffed when I opened the cart to find no sign of a battery. I managed to find some second-hand FERAM that still seems to work and so far so good, but its only delaying the problem.
    I see there are now some 3rd party adapters available that let you use a modern, non-pin compatible replacement chip. But still, a battery would have been so much easier!
     
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  3. Boneman

    Boneman Member

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    You can also use the Wii VC to lock-on the games.
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    I've never played Sonic 3 nor Knuckles at length (maybe a minute at most), so I'll be putting some time into them both (and the lock-on features with other Sonic games) to test it all out. I appear to have a ROM of the various combinations and permutations of lock-ons, which I'll be testing out on my Tototek flash cart to see if it works.

    I had both Sonic and Sonic 2 back in the day at full "Sonic hype", and loved them both dearly. I've still got my original cartridges and cases in almost mint condition (because I don't treat my games like a ham-fisted moron like most people seem to do, if second hand collecting is anything to go by), but I've also managed a dozen copies of both over the years due to them coming in bundles with other games I want.

    From a visual and audio standpoint, I certainly think Sonic 2 is prettier and sounds nicer. The character art of Sonic 3 doesn't really appeal to me currently.

    My favourite Sonic tune of all time is Sonic 2's "Chemical Plant Zone":



    And my favourite rendition of that tune ever is the very awesome 331Erock's covers (here's two slightly different versions)



     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2018
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Confirming that the Windows 95 version of "Sonic and Knuckles" from archive.org worked for me running Linux and WINE in 32bit mode.

    Gameplay was too fast in windowed mode, but worked correctly in full screen mode. Sound effects worked, but background midi did not. I think I need to set up MIDI properly in WINE first.
     
  6. Grant

    Grant Member

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    I don't have much free time this week, but any gaming time I have will be devoted to this, with my format-shifted Steam copy :D
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    I'm still in awe of that project. Amazing work. While I've got you and your FRAM knowledge here...

    Will Sonic 3 take the same FRAM that dbElectronics used in his Saturn solution?:
    https://db-electronics.ca/2017/02/10/sega-saturn-internal-memory-mod-with-fram-no-battery-required/
     
  8. DonutKing

    DonutKing Member

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    I'm a huge fan of Eric's work. He makes some amazing covers. :)
    Also, OCRemix's 'Project Chaos' has a really good collection of remixes: http://s3k.ocremix.org/php/media.php

    Chemical Plant Zone is definitely my fave from Sonic 2. S3&K has some cool tunes as well. Flying Battery Zone and Ice Cap Zone are my faves. Interestingly a part of the end credit medley sounds very similar to Michael Jackson's 'Stranger in Moscow'.


    One thing I wanted to ask this thread. How many of you got stuck at that barrel in Carnival Night Zone????
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Righto, I found a combined "Sonic 3 & Knuckles" ROM (acts like the lock-on of the two carts), and it works on my Tototek Flash cart. So, I gave it a blast today.

    I got into a discussion/argument with a retro-gaming buddy a few months back about Sonic. In general, he hates the franchise. When I asked him why, he explained that his whole "joy" of Sonic was going fast, and being in control of going fast. For him, not only did the 2D aspect of Sonic not gel well with speed (compared to, say, racing games and the like), but in both Sonic 1 and 2, the first level allowed for some speed, and everything after that was just slowed down by annoying obstacles that penalised speed.

    Sonic 3 is the worst in the franchise for this. Every other Sonic game has an amazing, open first level. Sonic 3's first level is packed full of obstacles and unpleasant surprises that you smack into if you run full blast. The whole thing is designed for you to rarely hit top speed, and penalise you heavily if you do. In Sonic 1 and 2, any obstacle you hit in the first level can be dealt with by a tap of the jump button. Not so in Sonic 3.

    Level 2, and you're in the dreaded "water level". The worst point of any 2D platformer, and even worse in Sonic due to the speed penalty. So your "reward" for completing a shitty level 1, is an even shittier level 2.

    Next is the Marble Garden zone in level 3. Much like Sonic 1's "Marble Zone" level 2, this doesn't offer much in the way of being able to run full speed, with lots of spikes being thrust at you if you hit top speed for a second. Beyond that, the only bits of speed you hit are uncontrolled falling, as goodies and power ups fly past, never to be seen again.

    I'm really struggling to enjoy this. As a platformer, on that merit alone, maybe it's adequate. But as a Sonic game, I feel it really fall short of what that mascot was all about.

    I spent all of Tuesday listnening to the complete soundtrack. I really felt no love for it. Very mediocre tracks, easily surpassed by the first two games.

    I'll track down the HG101 podcast (episode 50 - I'm listening to this in the car on the way to work, and only up to about 10 or so), and see what the HG101 team said about this, and why they ranked it so highly. But for me, the first two clobber the third for fun factor on any level.

    I'll try to play just "Sonic and Knuckles" separate to Sonic 3, and see how that feels. But if 3 sets the tone for the next set of games, I'm not expecting much. Like "Streets of Rage", this is one where I have to disagree with the mainstream opinion, and say that it peaked at the second game.
     
  10. DonutKing

    DonutKing Member

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    I definitely agree with this. Sonic 3's opening level was a real change in pace from that of the previous two games. But I will say, the Hydrocity zone is pretty damn good for a water level, you barely need to spend much time underwater at all and you get some good speed up. The Labyrinth zone from sonic 1 is much worse.

    I've heard people say that Sonic is boring because you can win just by holding right on the D-pad and occasionally jumping, but I don't think that is true at all. I wonder if Sonic 3's level design reflects this criticism.
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Podcast here:
    http://media.blubrry.com/hardcore_g...k.net/gameclub199x/podcasts/050_Top_Games.mp3

    Their reasoning didn't make a lot of sense to me. There was definitely discussion about how "just running fast will get you clobbered", but then just claimed it was "the best Sonic ever" despite that fact. They cited that it was "cool", but also acknowledged the "90s poochie" factor that wore off pretty quick with no long lasting appeal. There was even a push to make the game a whole lot higher.

    I can't agree. Sonic 2 is still far better IMHO, and the recent Sonic Mania as well (maybe even better than Sonic 2 itself).
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2018
  12. Zenskas

    Zenskas Member

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    Damn...was thinking of joining in for once. But not keen on it now that it sounds like a "gotta not go fast" kinda game...

    Maybe I'll give Sonic Mania or even Sonic 1/2 a play instead :)
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Worth sticking it in an emulator for 5 minutes to see what you think. My opinion isn't gospel. And it is on Steam still for USD$1.35 for another 24 hours...

    (Definitely play Sonic Mania though :) )
     
  14. Boneman

    Boneman Member

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    Sonic 3 and Knuckles is the greatest experience for me. Finding all the hidden rings and secrets, trying to get to Hyper Sonic, messing around in the casino stuff etc, its just a wonderful game. Ive never felt that Sonic was about just speeding through a level though, I was always the one slowing down and backtracking or replaying to see what I missed, and this game has tons of stuff to find.

    I played it on release so obviously theres a bit of nostalgia there, but my most recent replay was last year and I still feel the same. Best thing with these games is to remember that apart from a small review in Mean Machines etc, there was little information before buying and many of us just played the game blind and used the telephone to ask for help or brag.
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    I feel that this is the dividing factor for this game. If you're just a loon who likes to speed through levels, Sonic 2 feels better. If you're more of a calm and considered player, Sonic 3 seems to be a winner.

    Best magazine ever!!!
    http://www.meanmachinesmag.co.uk/
    https://info.sonicretro.org/index.php?title=File:MeanMachinesSega17UK.pdf&page=44
    https://archive.org/search.php?query=mean machines sega
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2018
  16. Zenskas

    Zenskas Member

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    On the whole I like to take my time and explore a level in its fullest, yet when playing any Sonic game I just want to see how long I can maintain the high speeds! Turns out I already own it on Steam (from the big SEGA classics pack), alongside the first and second ones so I'll give it a crack and if I lose interest I'll just play the first two instead :p
     
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  17. Grant

    Grant Member

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    This is literally just the two ROMs concatenated together (S&K first), as it's how the locked-on cartridge appears in the memory map of the Mega Drive. So if you have the combined ROM out of the Mega Drive Collection, you can also split it in half to get the two separate parts of the game.

    I think so too, but this one is growing on me. Levels 1 and 2 were still fun even if different, though there were a lot of traps I felt were cheap. I really disliked the Casino zone, it felt slow and painful. I don't actually like the pace of the bonus levels at each checkpoint and the blue sphere bonus levels being hidden mid-game, but all that may just be negativity due to getting up to 99 rings in the slots bonus level and then getting 3 Robotniks :tongue:

    I've just finished Launch Base zone at the moment, I enjoyed that way more than the Casino level, and a fair bit more than the ice level (the Ice zone Act 1 boss took like 5 lives out of me...). I've played through the game before, but my last playthrough was quite a while ago.

    I'm really loving how the levels were remade in Sonic Mania while replaying S3&K though - many of the sections were replicated perfectly :thumbup:

    That's cool and all, except for the 10 minute timer, and the slow pace of being interrupted by bonus levels. I ran out of time once in the Casino zone, and I finished the Marble zone Act 2 with 15 seconds to spare. I can see it being fun to explore a level but not when you're under time pressure. When you go slow, you see places that can be reached by going fast, but then there's no real time to backtrack - definitely a multi-playthrough thing.
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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    Agreed. Much more so than previous games in the series.
     
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    elvis

    elvis Old school old fool

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  20. Grant

    Grant Member

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    This game is definitely getting fun again in the back half (ie. the Sonic & Knuckles half). It's been so long since I've played it through that I've forgotten most of the later levels. Mushroom Hill zone was weird, being another Zone 1 in the middle of the game, but after getting used to the difficulty and style of platforming it's suddenly working for me. I ran out of time in Sandopolis and Lava Reef zone, but I'm used to racking up a few lives per level so it just seems almost natural, especially when it now takes one or two lives to just figure out how to do damage to a boss.

    Undecided if Tails is trying to help or kill me.
     

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