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Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

North American cover art

Developer(s) Sonic Team
Publisher(s) Sega
Director(s) Hirokazu Yasuhara
Producer(s) Yuji Naka
Designer(s) Hirokazu Yasuhara
Hisayoshi Yoshida
Takashi Iizuka
Programmer(s) Yuji Naka
Hiroshi Nikaidoh
Masanobu Yamamoto
Artist(s) Takashi Yuda
Satoshi Yokokawa
Series Sonic the Hedgehog
Platform(s) Sega Genesis, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo DS, Wii (Virtual Console), Xbox Live Arcade
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Platform game
Mode(s) Single player, multiplayer

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Japanese: ソニック・ザ・ヘッジホッグ3(スリー) Hepburn: Sonikku za Hejjihoggu Surī) is a platform video game developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive as part of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. It was released on February 2, 1994. The game is a direct sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, as Dr. Robotnik's space ship, the Death Egg, crash-lands on a floating island following the end of the previous game, and Sonic and Tails follow him there. There, the duo must once more retrieve the Chaos Emeralds to stop Death Egg from relaunching, while also making rounds with the Emeralds' guardian, Knuckles the Echidna.

Development of the game began shortly after the release of its predecessor in 1992; it was originally intended to be a top-down, isometric game, similar to what would eventually become Sonic 3D Blast. However, this concept was abandoned early into development as the team did not want to change the Sonic formula too radically for a sequel. The game is closely tied to its direct sequel Sonic & Knuckles, as the two titles were originally developed as a single game until time constraints and cartridge costs forced them to be split into two interlocking parts. Some re-releases have packaged the two together as Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

As with its two predecessors, the game was a critical and commercial success, with critics seeing it as an improvement over previous installments. The game sold 1.02 million copies on the Genesis; although that ranks it as one of the best-selling Genesis games of all time, its predecessors, which were both bundled with the Genesis in some regions, had sold a combined 21 million. Since its 1994 release, the game has been re-released through several compilations and download releases for various platforms, including Sonic Mega Collection for the GameCube and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.


  • Plot 1
  • Gameplay 2
    • Connection to Sonic & Knuckles 2.1
  • Development 3
    • Michael Jackson's involvement 3.1
  • Alternate versions and ports 4
    • Compilation releases 4.1
    • Digital releases 4.2
  • Reception 5
  • Legacy 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


After Sonic the Hedgehog and Miles "Tails" Prower defeat Dr. Robotnik at the end of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, his space station, the Death Egg, crash-lands on a mystical floating landmass called Angel Island. As Robotnik begins to repair the damaged station, he meets up with Knuckles the Echidna. Knuckles is the last surviving member of an ancient echidna civilization that once inhabited the island, as well as the guardian of the Chaos Emeralds, which grant the island its levitation powers.[1] Knowing Sonic and Tails will try to track him down and realizing he can use the emeralds to power the ship, Robotnik dupes Knuckles into believing Sonic is trying to steal the emeralds.

Meanwhile, Sonic and Tails approach Angel Island in their biplane the Tornado. Sonic, possessing the emeralds from the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, jumps off the plane and turns into Super Sonic, zooming towards the island. When they arrive, Knuckles ambushes Sonic from underground and knocks the Chaos Emeralds from him, returning him to normal; he then steals the emeralds from them and disappears inland.[1] As Sonic and Tails travel through the levels, they frequently encounter Knuckles, who hinders their progress with various traps.

At the Launch Base Zone, Sonic uses a spare Egg-O-Matic to travel to the Death Egg, and ends up encountering Knuckles on a girder. As usual, Knuckles tries to stop Sonic, but is defeated when the Death Egg re-launches and the girder collapses, sending Knuckles plummeting into the water. Sonic continues to a deck on the Death Egg, where he fights and defeats Robotnik's Big Arm machine. The Death Egg is damaged and falls out of orbit, after which it explodes.[2]


Sonic and Tails explore the underwater portion of Hydrocity, the second zone in Sonic 3.

Sonic 3 is a 2D side-scrolling platformer. At the game's start, players can choose to select Sonic, Tails, or both. In the latter choice, players control Sonic while Tails runs along beside him; a second player can join in at any time and control Tails separately.[3] Sonic 3 adds the ability for Tails to fly for a short time by spinning his twin tails like a propeller;[3] when he gets too tired, he falls. Unlike Sonic, Tails can also swim underwater.[4]

The game takes place over six zones,[5] each divided into two acts. Levels are populated with Robotnik's robots, called "badniks"; Sonic and Tails can defeat badniks by jumping on them or using the "spin dash" attack, which also gives the character a speed boost.[4] The levels include obstacles and other features such as vertical loops, corkscrews, breakable walls, spikes, water that the player can drown in, and bottomless pits.[6] There is a miniboss fight with one of Robotnik's large, powerful robots at the end of the first act of each level and a full boss fight with Robotnik at the end of the second.[7] Reaching a new level saves the player's game to one of six save slots, which can be loaded later.[8]

As with previous Sonic games, Sonic 3 uses rings, scattered throughout the game's levels, as a health system; when the player is attacked without rings, is crushed, falls off-screen, or exceeds the act's ten-minute limit, they lose a life and return to the most recently passed checkpoint. Dying with zero lives gives the player a game over. The levels also include power-ups in television monitors that, when hit, grant the character an extra life, temporary invincibility to most hazards, a number of rings,[9] a shield that allows them to breathe underwater, a shield that allows them to withstand fire from enemy projectiles, or a shield that attracts nearby rings.[10]

Tails in one of the game's special stages, in which the player can earn Chaos Emeralds

The game contains two types of "special stages". When the player collects at least 50 rings and passes a checkpoint, they can warp to the first type,[11] which involves bouncing up a gumball machine-like corridor to earn power-ups by hitting a switch. Both sides of the corridor are lined with flippers, which disappear when the character bounces on them, and the switch drops when both flippers supporting it are removed. The corridor's floor contains a bounce pad, which also disappears after one use; falling afterwards causes the player to leave the stage with the most recent power-up collected.[12]

The second type, triggered by entering giant rings found in secret passages, involves running around a 3D map and passing through all of a number of blue spheres arranged in patterns. Passing through a blue sphere turns it red, and touching a red sphere causes the player to leave the stage, unless the player has just completed a cycle around an arrangement of blue spheres, in which case all of these spheres turn to harmless rings. Removing all of the blue spheres gives the player a Chaos Emerald; if Sonic (not Tails) collects all seven, he can become Super Sonic at will, which makes him invincible to most obstacles.[10][13]

Sonic 3 includes a competitive mode: two players, controlling Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles the Echidna (this is the only way to use Knuckles without attaching Sonic & Knuckles to the cartridge), race through one or all of five stages that do not appear in the main game. In these same stages, a single player can compete against the clock in time attacks.[14]

Connection to Sonic & Knuckles

If the player owns a copy of Sonic & Knuckles, they can attach it to their Sonic 3 cartridge in order to play through both games end-to-end as "Sonic 3 & Knuckles". This allows for scenarios that are not possible in the individual games, such as playing Sonic 3 levels as Knuckles or Sonic & Knuckles levels as Tails or the combination of Sonic and Tails.[15] The two games were intended for release as a single title, but ended up being separate games due to time and financial constraints.[3]

Other new features are the ability to collect Super Emeralds, which can unlock new "Hyper" forms for both Sonic and Knuckles, a "Super" form for Tails, and improved save options, which record the number of lives and continues a player has. Lock-on functionality is also available in certain digital releases of the game, such as the Virtual Console service for the Wii, if the player owns both games on the same platform.[11] This also allows for an additional ending that shows Sonic returning the Master Emerald to Angel Island.[16]


As with its predecessors, Sonic 3 was developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega. Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara were the primary creators of the Sonic 3 design document and project schedule.[17] Sonic 3 originally began as a top-down, isometric game, similar to what would eventually become Sonic 3D Blast. This concept was abandoned early into development as the team did not want to change the Sonic formula too radically for a sequel.[18]

Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were originally planned as one single-cartridge game. However, time was limited and the manufacturing costs of a 34 megabit cartridge[19] with NVRAM would have been prohibitively expensive. As a result, Sonic Team decided to split the game in half, giving Naka and the other developers more time to finish the second part, and splitting the high cost between two cartridges.[20] The cartridge has a small amount of non-volatile RAM built into it, which allows the player to save game progress to the game cartridge.[21]

Sonic 3 was released on February 2, 1994 in North America[22] and February 24 in Europe. To help promote the game's European release, Right Said Fred adapted the song "Wonderman" to include references to many aspects of Sonic.[23] The song was used in the game's advertisements and released as a single, which charted in the UK at number 55.[24] In the music video, Fez and Skull from the Pirate TV Sega advertising campaign appeared along with Sonic.[25]

Michael Jackson's involvement

In a 2005 interview, former STI director Roger Hector stated that Michael Jackson was brought in to compose all the music for Sonic 3, but after scandals involving Jackson arose during development, his involvement was terminated and the music reworked to hide said involvement.[26] However, senior Sega staff have stated in interviews that any involvement of Jackson was arranged without the knowledge of Sega executives or marketing staff, and no contracts or formal agreements were made.[27]

James Hansen of Sonic Stuff Research Group has stated that Cirocco Jones (credited as "Scirocco" in Sonic 3) possesses some demos of Jackson's contributions. "I actually have 'all' of the tracks...," Jones wrote, "from the original humming of Michael calling in the middle of the night leaving messages, to his ideas at Record One with Matt and Bruce. But, I don't think I can let any of that out to the public without permission."[27] On his website, Jones is credited alongside Jackson and Jackson's tour keyboardist and songwriting collaborator Brad Buxer, mentioning their roles in contributing musical cues for "levels 2 & 3" of "Sonic the Hedgehog".[28]

In a 2009 interview with French magazine Black & White, Buxer stated that Jackson was indeed involved with some of Sonic 3‍ '​s compositions, but chose to remain uncredited because he was unhappy with the sound reproduction capabilities of the Genesis. Buxer also said that the ending music of Sonic 3 later became the basis for Jackson's single "Stranger in Moscow".[29] In November 2013, it was discovered that IceCap Zone's theme shares the same chord progressions and bassline as "Hard Times", a previously unreleased track from 1982 by The Jetzons, of which Buxer was the keyboardist and co-songwriter.[30]

In October 2013, GameTrailers dedicated an episode of its Pop Fiction mini-series to discerning Jackson's involvement. Roger Hector, who previously stated that Jackson's involvement in the game was dropped due to scandals surrounding the artists coming to light, reaffirmed his stance, stating any similarities to Jackson's music in the final game was not intentional on Sega's part.[31] Whilst GameTrailers were unable to interview Buxer to confirm his stance and were about to close their investigation, they were able to find and speak to an anonymous source who was directly involved with the game's development. They echoed Buxer's statements that Jackson left the project due to his displeasure with the sound quality and that tracks that he had worked on before he left the project, which the source claimed was actually before the scandals concerning him were made public, remained in the game unaltered, with Jackson choosing to remain uncredited. Carnival Night Zone was specifically mentioned as one of the zones he wrote music for.[32]

Alternate versions and ports

Compilation releases

Compilations that include the game are Sonic Jam (1997) for the Sega Saturn;[33] Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997) and Sonic & Garfield Pack (1999) for the PC;[34] Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the GameCube;[35] Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC;[36] Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3;[37] and Sonic Classic Collection (2010) for the Nintendo DS.[38] Most compilations feature the game largely unchanged. However, Sonic Jam, in addition to featuring the original release, also had a few new "remix" options.[39] "Normal" mode altered the layout of rings and hazards, and "Easy" mode removes certain acts from the game entirely.[40] Sonic & Knuckles Collection features a MIDI rendition of the game's soundtrack, with certain levels featuring completely different music altogether.[41][42]

Digital releases

The game was released for the Wii's Virtual Console in September 2007[43] and for the Xbox Live Arcade on June 10, 2009.[44] The Xbox version has enhanced graphics for high definition displays as well as online leaderboards and support for multiplayer via split screen and Xbox Live. The original method of saving the game is replaced with a revamped version that allows progress to be saved anywhere during play, except after completing the game.[16] When the PC version was released via the Steam software, the game and its successor were released together as Sonic 3 & Knuckles as originally intended, with the player (even if playing as Tails) simply continuing at the beginning of Sonic & Knuckles after finishing Sonic 3.[45]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 89% (Genesis) (5 reviews)[46]
78% (X360) (6 reviews)[47]
Metacritic 79% (X360) (6 reviews)[48]
Review scores
Publication Score
CVG 94% (Genesis)[49]
EGM 38/40 (Genesis)[50]
Eurogamer 8/10 (X360)[51]
GameSpot 8/10 (Wii)[21]
Hyper 90% (Genesis)[52]
IGN 9/10 (Wii)[3]
Nintendo Life 8/10 (Wii)[53]
PALGN 7/10 (X360)[10]
Mean Machines 94% (Genesis)[54]
Sega Magazine 95% (Genesis)[55]
Sega Power 90% (Genesis)[56]

The game has sold 1.02 million copies on the Sega Genesis as of December 2007.[57] While Sonic 1‍ '​s sales have been estimated at 15 million[58] and Sonic 2‍ '​s at 6 million,[59] Sonic 3, unlike these two, was not bundled with the Genesis console itself. However, Sonic 3 is still classifiable as one of the best-selling Genesis games of all time.[60]

Like its predecessors, Sonic 3 received strongly positive reviews. It holds a score of 89% at review aggregator GameRankings based on 5 reviews.[46] Critics generally felt Sonic 3 was the best game in the series so far. Andrew Humphreys of Hyper, who declared himself not a Sonic fan, said it was "undoubtedly" the best of the series, including the acclaimed but obscure Sonic CD, though he admitted having preferred Sonic 2‍ '​s special stages by a small margin.[52] Sega Magazine, however, stated that Sonic 3 has better special stages and was not only superior to Sonic 2 as a whole but would be "a serious contender for the Best Platform Game Ever award".[55] Sega Power wrote that despite their skepticism, they found it "excellent" and easily "the most explorable and playable" in the series.[56] Electronic Gaming Monthly also compared Sonic 3 favorably to Sonic 1, 2, and CD and awarded it their "Game of the Month" award.[50] They later ranked it number 1 in The EGM Hot 50, indicating that it received the highest average score of any game they'd reviewed in the past year.[61] Thomas of IGN stated that Sonic 3 "completed the trilogy as the best of them all."[3] Whitehead, however, considered Sonic & Knuckles superior.[51]

Some critics felt that Sonic 3 had innovated too little from previous Sonic games. Humphreys of Hyper saw only "a few new features"[52] while Sega Power thought it was "not all that different"[56] and Nintendo Life writer Damien McFerran said that "there's not a lot of new elements here to be brutally frank".[53] Provo stated that the game's most significant addition was its save system.[21] However, he and Electronic Gaming Monthly also both enjoyed the new power-ups.[50][21] Many aspects of the game's level design were praised; Electronic Gaming Monthly and Sega Power enjoyed the game's expansive stages, secret areas, much less linear level design, and difficulty.[50][56] Mean Machines agreed, describing the game as "a rollercoater ride from start to finish" and listing Carnival Night as their favorite level, which they described as "probably the most slickly programmed portion of game in Megadrive history".[54] Humphreys and Mean Machines felt that the game was too short, but they and Sega Magazine felt that its two-player mode and the Emerald collecting would significantly extend the title's replay value.[52][54][55] On the other hand, Whitehead said that the stages' large sizes would keep players sufficiently engrossed.[51] Sega Magazine also enjoyed having the ability to play as Knuckles in the two-player mode.[55]

The visuals were very well received. Humphreys described Sonic 3 as "one of the most beautiful games around" and full of "flashy new visual tricks", highlighting Sonic's ascension up pipes and spiraling pathways as particularly inventive.[52] Sega Magazine exclaimed that its graphics were "brilliant" even for a Sonic title,[55] while Provo praised the "elaborate" backgrounds.[21] Mean Machines thought similarly, giving special praise to the camera's quick scrolling, the diversity of the level themes, and the "chunkier, more detailed" overall aesthetic.[54] Thomas and Provo especially enjoyed the use of wordless cutscenes to create a coherent story and thematically connect the zones.[3][21] McFerran, however, felt that the visuals had been downgraded, particularly Sonic's "dumpier" sprite and "the infamous 'dotty' textures".[53]

The sound effects and music were also well received, though somewhat less so than the visuals. Sega Magazine described them as "brilliant" and "far superior" to Sonic 2‍ '​s.[55] Mean Machines stated that every level had "great tunes" and sound effects and particularly praised the game's ending music.[54] However, Humphreys described the sound as "Sonicky ... with the emphasis on the 'icky'"; he also found it strikingly similar to the first two Sonic games' soundtracks.[52] Thomas thought the music was "impressive", but not quite on par with Sonic 2‍ '​s.[3]

Reviews of later ports have been slightly less positive; its Xbox 360 release has scores of 78% and 79% at GameRankings and Metacritic, respectively.[47][48] Some critics, such as Adam Ghiggino of PALGN, felt the game had been insufficiently upgraded for its re-releases;[10] Dan Whitehead of Eurogamer wished online co-op had been implemented.[51] Frank Provo of GameSpot and Lucas M. Thomas of IGN wished Sega had re-released the game and its successor together as Sonic 3 & Knuckles instead.[3][21]

Mega ranked it the fifth best Genesis game ever in November 1994.[62] In 2014, GamesRadar ranked Sonic 3 & Knuckles as the seventh best Genesis game;[63] Jeremy Parish of US Gamer ranked the combined title eighth on a similar list in 2013.[64]


Issues 33 and 34 of Sonic the Comic and issue 13 of the Archie Comics version of a Sonic the Hedgehog comic consisted of their own comic adaptations of the game.[65] For Sonic‍ '​s twentieth anniversary, Sega released Sonic Generations, a game that remade aspects of various past games from the franchise.[66] The Nintendo 3DS version of the game features a remake of the game's final boss, "Big Arms". Additionally, a re-arranged version of the "Game Over" theme appeared in the game.[67]


  1. ^ a b Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) instruction manual, p. 4.
  2. ^ This is retconned in Sonic & Knuckles, where the Death Egg is shown to have collapsed on Angel Island rather than being outright destroyed.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas, Lucas M. (September 11, 2007). "Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Review".  
  4. ^ a b Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) instruction manual, pp. 8–9.
  5. ^ Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) instruction manual, pp. 16–17.
  6. ^ Sonic Team (February 2, 1994). Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Sega. 
  7. ^ Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis) instruction manual, pp. 4–5.
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  35. ^ Mirabella, Fran (November 2, 2002). "Sonic Mega Collection". IGN. Retrieved November 16, 2014. 
  36. ^ Goldstein, Hilary (November 3, 2004). "Sonic Mega Collection Plus". IGN. Retrieved November 16, 2014. 
  37. ^ Miller, Greg (February 12, 2009). "Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection". IGN. Retrieved November 16, 2014. 
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  58. ^ Sonic the Hedgehog GameTap Retrospective Pt. 3/4 ( 
  59. ^ Boutros, Daniel (August 4, 2006). "A Detailed Cross-Examination of Yesterday and Today's Best-Selling Platform Games".  
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  61. ^ "The EGM Hot 50".  
  62. ^ Mega ( 
  63. ^ GamesRadar Staff (August 14, 2014). "Best Sega Genesis/Mega Drive games of all time". GamesRadar. Retrieved January 5, 2015. 
  64. ^ Parish, Jeremy (October 29, 2013). "The 10 Best Genesis/Mega Drive and Top 5 Sega CD Games".  
  65. ^ Narcisse, Evan. "These Are the Guys Who Make Sonic’s Life Hell in His Comic Book Series".  
  66. ^ "Sonic Generations for 3DS". Metacritic. Retrieved January 6, 2015. 
  67. ^ Lee, Patrick. "Bark beats bite: 7 video game boss themes better than the actual boss fights".  

External links

  • Official Sega Website (Japanese)
  • Official Virtual Console Website (English)
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