Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sonic 3 would have been the best in the series, if not for this one mistake

Don't worry, this is not a fanboy post. Yes, Sonic is my favourite video game character. Yes, I am of the opinion that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is better than 2, Adventure and Generations. But, I am perfectly aware that Sonic 3 had a certain problem and that is what this post will be about.


From the start

Let's take a look at the beginning of the series. Nintendo had a lot of success with Mario for almost 6 years when Sonic came around. If you remember the loyalty wars between Sonic and Mario fans, you can imagine that Sega did a great job designing Sonic to make people doubt the leading video game protagonist for 6 years running.

The first game for the Megadrive (Genesis for those across the pond) was pretty sweet. Sonic ran really fast, but you could see in some levels that the level designers did not know how to implement speed. They improved on this in Sonic 2, there were longer stretches to run in and jumping did not feel slow. The best idea they had was adding the sidekick, Tails the flying fox, as an immortal playable character next to Sonic as player 1. This was the best implementation of couch multiplayer I've ever seen, because anyone could just pick up a controller and play along without player 1 being too annoyed

And then came Sonic 3. They took everything and improved even more. Tails could now lift Sonic to places he could not reach before. There levels were even faster and the theming was better thought through. To top it all off, Sega release Sonic and Knuckles, with which you could play Sonic 3 AND Sonic and Knuckles back to back with Sonic, Tails or Knuckles. As a little kid, my mind was blown.

Bring on the classics!

This place has its own expletives.
And yet, if you ask, most Sonic fans will almost never cite Sonic 3 as the best in the series. Almost no youtuber (at least not my favourite ones) has made a Sonic 3 video and someone makes one, they are just walkthroughs. Why?

I will now give you 5 words that strike fear in the heart of any Sonic 3 player: Carnival Night Zone's Spinning Drums. For all the things Sonic 3 did well, there is 1 great mistake that undid all of them. Somewhere in the second half of the Carnival Night Zone level Sonic is locked in a small room with nothing but a spinning drum in a hole where you supposedly need to get through. You can not evade going into the room. You will enter and you will spend there more than 10 minutes. After those ten minutes, Sonic dies of a so called 'Time Over.' The torture is slow and the carnival music makes it all the worse.

These spinning drums are not a menace on their own, they are scattered across the level and sometimes Sonic will land on them and they will bounce. When you get locked in that room, that is what you are going to try: jump on the drum and try to get it through the hole. This will not work, you can get it halfway through and you will be able to make a huge jump, but you will not be able to get through.

No reason for this screenshot,
this game is just beautiful
If you want to enjoy Sonic 3, I've got 1 tip for you: use the up and down arrows on the gamepad. That is what you are supposed to do. The stupid thing is, the game does not give you ANY visual cues on it. Sonic does not bend his knees and at first the drum only barely moves up and down, but surely and steadily it will move 3 screens up and crush Sonic on the ceiling, if you are not careful. Why did Sonic Team put this in the game and why implement it like this? Everything else is intuitive and sleek, except for this part.

What happened?

Of-course, I haven't got the answers, but here is my speculation: it's a mix of things. First of all: the drums follow a complicated rule using a kind of acceleration we associate with standard physics nowadays. By locking Sonic in the room, the creators made sure you could not see past this complicated piece of game engineering.But that does not explain the lack of visual cues.

Pics or it didn't happen, am I right?
Let me sidetrack a little. I've got a portable Sega Game Gear in the attic that I got for my 7th birthday. The screen is burned and I keep it for parts for when my second Game Gear will finally break. On this Game Gear is a sticker I put under the screen when I was 10. On that sticker you can still see the number of the Sega Mega Phone. It's a telephone number you could call if you got stuck in a game for 1 Gulden per minute, about 0.45 Euro/Dollar cents.

And that is what went wrong. Those days, the internet was not yet widespread and what was on it, usually did not involve walkthroughs. Several 'information hotlines' sprung up during that time to help you with your games if you were stuck. With that information being hot business, it helped that new games would bring in money for them too. I will not say that the spinning drum room was deliberate, but with a game bound for release and thinking the info will be readily available, Sonic Team will probably not have wanted to fix that mistake either.

Except, nobody called those numbers as our parents would not let us. Most people just gave up on Sonic 3. Buying Sonic and Knuckles and combining it with Sonic 3 did not help much, because Sonic would still get stuck in the spinning drum room before you could get to the Sonic and Knuckles level set. The Knuckles level set did not contain the spinning drum room, as if the developers knew.

One tip to the perfect game

The spinning drum mistake should not have been made, it's a stain on an otherwise perfect game, but it does not have to spoil your enjoyment. If, despite my rambling, you still want to try out Sonic 3 with the Knuckles expansion, remember this: use the up and down arrows when you are stuck and you are in for one of the most awesome games in history.

No comments:

Post a Comment