Background Information
The third instalment of the original Mega Drive series continues the Sonic legacy with a whole new look. It plays similarly to the previous two but although there are fewer acts in total, they increase dramatically in size and richness, and a more complex storyline begins. It features the debut of Knuckles the Echidna, initially a rival to Sonic, only to become a highly popular character of the series very quickly. Only Sonic and Tails are playable, but they both have new, unique moves and attributes to take advantage of the many hidden areas within the larger stages, plus a 2 player mode and all new Special Stages are included. Sonic 3 was only the first half of the story though, which was continued in Sonic & Knuckles, and together they make up Sonic's largest and what many long time fans would consider, the greatest adventure of his early days. The two games can be connected together via the latter title's built-in cartridge slot to enjoy the whole story with all three characters playable.

Original system: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis

Original release dates: 2nd February 1994 (USA), 4th February 1994 (Europe), 27th May 1994 (Japan).

Developed by: Sonic Team/Sega Technical Institute

Published by: Sega

Original media: 16-Megabit cartridge

Other common aliases: Sonic 3

Stages: 6

Playable characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles "Tails" Prower.

Non-playable characters: Dr Eggman/Robotnik, Knuckles the Echidna.

Main Credits:

Executive Producer: Hayao Nakayama

Executive Management: Shoichiro Irimajiri

Producer/Lead Programmer: Yuji Naka

Director/Lead Game Designer: Hirokazu Yasuhara

Character Designer: Takashi Yuda

Also available on...

Sega Saturn - Sonic Jam (1997)

Windows PC - Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997), Sega B-Club, RealOne Arcade (2003) and Gametap (2005) online services, Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2006)

Nintendo Gamecube - Sonic Mega Collection (2002), limited play on Sonic Gems Collection (2005)

Sony Playstation 2 - Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004), limited play on Sonic Gems Collection (2005), Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Collection (2006)

Microsoft Xbox - Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004)

Nintendo Wii Virtual Console - Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (2007)

Microsoft Xbox 360 - Xbox Live Arcade - Sega Vintage Collection: Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (2009), Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection/Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009)

Sony Playstation 3 - Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection/Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009)

Nintendo DS - Sonic Classic Collection (2010)

Box arts
Sonic 3 European box art
Sonic 3 US box art
Sonic 3 Japanese box art
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If you've read up on Sonic 2, you may recall that Yuji Naka, Sonic's original programmer, left Sega of Japan as a result of disputes regarding their pay policies, before defecting to Sega Technical Institute in the USA to help create the game. After Sonic 2 became a major success, Sega of Japan managed to win him back to their side for the inevitable third entry in the series, offering him a shiny new promotion as producer of the game. Though it was still created in the US, Naka demanded that there be no Americans working on the team this time, most likely to ensure better teamwork and communication between the all-Japanese developers (unless he's some kind of racist or something..). Takashi Yuda created the character of Knuckles the Echidna, chosen amongst ten other character designs. The white mark on his chest is, believe it or not, supposedly inspired by the Nike "tick" logo.
Sonic 3 is the first of a 2-part game, concluded by Sonic & Knuckles, and together the two make the complete version the story, playable by locking Sonic 3 into Sonic & Knuckles' unique cartridge slot. Reasons surrounding why this full, 13 level (admittedly massive) game was divided into two parts aren't known for sure. Remnants of the Sonic Knuckles level names and their background music can be found in the level select menu. Of course, unlike Sonic 2, Sonic 3 knew full well that it would be locked on to Sonic & Knuckles, as inaccessible routes were built into the level structure, specifically designed for Knuckles, who could access them only when the two were combined. It seems clear that S&K was at least well on the way to completion when Sonic 3 was released. Perhaps it was just too much to fit on a single cartridge, but there's no denying that the prospect of splitting a single large game into two and therefore making twice the amount of money would have been particularly salivating for Sega, especially when it's their most popular franchise, and S&K's lock-on gimmick was a great selling point. Not that each game alone isn't (just about) sizeable enough, when you consider the huge levels and variety on offer. Like a mischievous couple discreetly leaving the same bathroom separately, S&K appeared just ten months later, creating a year of disjointed, yet nevertheless fantastic Sonic gameplay, held in only the highest regard by a majority of older fans.
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#1. Comment posted by Meph on Wednesday, 9th September 2009, 3:53pm (BST)
We do actually know why it was split into two games. It's because it would have been to expensive to put the massive game (i.e. Sonic 3 + Sonic & Knuckles) into one cartridge. We've come a long way since then...
#2. Comment posted by Speeding Hedgehog on Wednesday, 9th September 2009, 7:30pm (BST)
Also, they ran out of development time. Hence why remnants of Sonic & Knuckles are in Sonic 3.
#3. Comment posted by Super Volcano on Tuesday, 25th January 2011, 10:11pm (GMT)
If they had of tried to put the whole thing it would have been a 32-bit catridge, which, while working fine, would have been far to expensive to mass-produce, thus the price would have been too high. I would have prefered it as a single game though...
#4. Comment posted by AquaRuin on Saturday, 5th February 2011, 1:51pm (GMT)
No, Mega Drive/Genesis is 16-bit, not 32-bit. And I have another (possible) reason why Sega did not make Sonic 3 and S&K into one full game...memory limits of the Mega Drive/Genesis.
#5. Comment posted by Green Knuckles on Friday, 26th August 2011, 10:46pm (BST)
While slightly off-topic, there are remnants of Sonic 2 in Sonic 3 - compare the level thumbnail images in the level selects of both games (Sonic 3 must be on it's own for this to work).

The thumbnails are identical, and they're in the same order - which explains why some of the thumbnails in Sonic 3 don't look like the selected level.

Another side note is that some games, such as Toy Story, were on 32 megabit cartridges. The combination of the game size, the save game chip, and the long development time over-running the deadline (amongst other reasons) may have contributed to the splitting of this excellent game over 2 cartridges.
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The plot for Sonic 3, Japanese version, is kicked up another notch from those of the previous games, and the island of choice this time is Angel Island (aka "The Floating Island" elsewhere in the world, at the time). Angel Island cannot normally be found on the sea, it has a remarkable ability to float high above in the air, due to a mysterious power which would be discovered in Sonic & Knuckles. Nevertheless, this mysterious island of legend is abruptly taken out by a certain gargantuan chunk of metal falling from space, and mountains are crushed and forests are burned as a result of this unfortunate collision. Together, they fall back down to the ocean where Angel Island rests on the surface. The name of the space junk that caused this catastrophe? None other than the Death Egg, huge spherical satellite of doom, created by Dr. Eggman (Robotnik, in the west) himself. Sonic managed to knock it out of commission at the end of Sonic 2, but having had its fall broken by the island, it may now be within the possibilities of repair and re-launch, as it sits comfortably on a lake within the island.
Though he doesn't fully realise what happened, the events do not go unnoticed by one Miles "Tails" Prower, who witnessed a large tsunami wave occur, caused by the giant splash made by the island when it crashed into the sea. Days later, Tails picks up strong emerald readings on his radar, from out in the ocean. Since he and Sonic still hold all seven Chaos Emeralds collected from their last adventure, this was no doubt puzzling, so he decides to consult with his friend. Sonic was enjoying some relaxation on the beach when he finds a mysterious ring with strange carvings written on it, washed up from the sea. The ring has no particular significance to anything, other than reminding our hero of a story he had once heard...
According to the legend, there once lived an ancient race of individuals, thousands of years ago, dwelling on a now lost island. They used a mysterious "mighty stone" to help advance their society, and made regular worship to it, until one day, when a faction of greedy elders of the tribe intended to steal its power all for themselves. What exactly happened then is unclear, but it's believed that these actions caused the entire population to be wiped out, and what was left of their architecture and culture remained on the island, which magically rose high up into the skies, where it would remain hidden forever from future generations. This inspired Sonic for another adventure, and after hearing of Tails' breaking news, the duo geared up their Tornado bi-plane and took off towards the source of the energy readings, Chaos Emeralds in hand.
How little they know of what lies ahead, however, because Dr. Eggman has not only already begun to repair his Death Egg on the island, he's also found a new ally in the shape of Knuckles the Echidna, last remaining resident of the island, and guardian of the secret it holds within. Due to his lonely life and lack of social interaction, it's all too easy for the doctor to make him believe anything he tells him. Anticipating the arrival of Sonic and Tails, gullible Knuckles is made to believe that they're the bad guys, come to steal the source of the Chaos energy all for themselves. With immense strength and power on his side, plus knowledge of every hidden path and secret on Angel Island, Sonic will surely meet his match upon arrival!
As with Sonic 1 and 2, here in the Western world, we get a version of this prelude that's largely the same idea, but with the details lopped off. Unlike the Japanese version, this account does seem to imply, however, that Angel Island has its own set of Chaos Emeralds which keep it in the air, presumably separate from the original set being carried by Sonic. According to this version of the story, it's the island's emeralds that Robotnik wishes to steal for himself, in order to get the Death Egg back up and running. Of course it's up for debate, but to avoid confusion, it's commonly believed that there is in fact only one set of seven emeralds in the Sonic series, and that the earliest records of them suggest that their place of origin is within Angel Island, alongside the "mighty stone" of legend. The reason Knuckles steals Sonic's emeralds at the start of Sonic 3 is either as a kind of favour for Eggman, or to restore them to their original location. In Sonic Adventure, we find out what really happened to Knuckles' lost race, and what it was that destroyed them.
As a footnote, check out Studio Ghibli's Laputa: Castle in the Sky, if you ever get the chance. Apart from being a brilliant animation anyway, you'll spot some similarity between its castle and Angel Island. They both float high above the clouds as the stuff of legends and are both held up by a single mysterious jewel, without which, they fall apart.
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As inevitable as a Monday morning, Sonic 3 struck the Mega Drive with force, though generally unlike a Monday morning, it was certainly well received. Though starting his career as a bad guy, Knuckles hit it off with the fans as a hugely popular character (though some were under the impression that he was a girl at first, if my memory serves me correctly). Furthermore, Sonic 3 seemed to expand the series more than Sonic 2 had done. Sonic himself was given a whole new sprite, and the game contained a new, much more detailed graphical look in general. More importantly, levels were larger, and not only lasted longer but often contained a plethora of alternate routes and hidden rooms, some only accessible by playing as a particular character, but often long and winding through large portions of the map. Although it didn't come close to matching its predecessors record of ten levels, the six it has are richer, I think. For the first time, the two acts in each level are distinctly different from each other, while still clearly being part of the same level. The music for the second act is remixed slightly (something almost all traditional Sonic titles since have followed), but also there are usually new backgrounds, different sorts of structural patterns and ranges of objects, making the impressive levels feel like they're evolving and changing as you're playing them. They also interrupt the action with occasional cutscenes where Knuckles or Eggman make life difficult for the heroes by laying a trap, which gives the first level in particular a completely different, slightly more manic feel to the levels in Sonic 1 and 2.
The new save feature, recording the level you've reached and number of emeralds collected, meant an end to being forced to play the entire game in one sitting, and in my opinion, the Special Stages in this and Sonic & Knuckles are hands down the best of the bunch. I must admit that this is the only one of the four original Mega Drive games that I didn't actually own until much later, but I made a habit of borrowing the hell out of it from friends and Blockbusters, I assure you. It's a shame that many felt it was too short and the ending, inconclusive. Despite Sega's attempt to hide the fact that they decided to break the full game in two, they couldn't prevent some from feeling like Sonic 3 was only half a game. Soon enough it became clear that that's exactly what it was, and the story was completed by the equally-sized Sonic & Knuckles later in the year. Alone, neither game can really stand victorious against the joys of Sonic 1 or 2, but together, I'm of the opinion that they create the greatest Sonic masterpiece of all time.
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#1. Comment posted by SonicTailsKnuckles on Monday, 12th August 2013, 7:24pm (BST)
Hey, LiQuidShade, have you ever seen Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Master Edition 2? It's really hard! I think you'd like it.
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#1. Comment posted by Geraint on Sunday, 11th July 2010, 1:29pm (BST)
Hi Can you add the Icecap Zone onto the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Section in the begining of September?
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Content for this page last edited:
26th March 2011

Files last uploaded for this page:
8th September 2009

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Posted by SonicTailsKnuckles on 12th August 2013

Posted by Green Knuckles on 26th August 2011

Posted by AquaRuin on 5th February 2011

Posted by Super Volcano on 25th January 2011

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Posted by Geraint on 11th July 2010

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