Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Sonic the Hedgehog 3[a] is a 1994 platform game developed and published by Sega. It is part of the Sonic the Hedgehog series and follows Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). After Doctor Robotnik's spaceship, the Death Egg, crash-lands on a mysterious floating island, Sonic and Tails attempt to retrieve the Chaos Emeralds to stop it from relaunching. Sonic 3 introduces Knuckles the Echidna, the island guardian, who lays traps for Sonic and Tails. Gameplay is similar to previous entries, with players traversing side-scrolling levels at high speeds while collecting rings and defeating enemies.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
North American box art by Greg Martin
Developer(s)Sega Technical Institute
Director(s)Hirokazu Yasuhara
Producer(s)Yuji Naka
  • Yuji Naka
  • Hiroshi Nikaidoh
  • Masanobu Yamamoto
  • Takashi Yuda
  • Satoshi Yokokawa
SeriesSonic the Hedgehog
Platform(s)Sega Genesis, Windows
ReleaseSega Genesis
  • NA: February 2, 1994
  • PAL: February 24, 1994
  • JP: May 27, 1994
  • JP: February 14, 1997
  • WW: 1997
Genre(s)Platform game
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Development began in January 1993, shortly after the release of Sonic 2. It was initially developed as an isometric game similar to Sonic 3D Blast (1996), but became a conventional 2D platformer due to time constraints. Sonic 3's production took place simultaneously with Sonic & Knuckles; they were developed as a single game until time constraints and cartridge costs forced the developers to split it. The Sonic 3 cartridge can be attached to an adapter on the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge, creating a combined game, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. According to conflicting sources, pop musician Michael Jackson composed portions of the soundtrack but left the project and went uncredited.

Sonic 3 was released for the Sega Genesis in North America and Europe in February 1994, and in Japan in May. As with its predecessors, it was a critical and commercial success, with critics seeing it as an improvement over previous installments. It sold over one million copies in the United States, making it one of the bestselling Genesis games. Alongside Sonic & Knuckles, a Windows port was released through the Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997). The game has also been rereleased via emulation and compilations for various platforms, such as Sonic Mega Collection (2002) and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).


Sonic and Tails exploring the underwater portion of Hydrocity, the second zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is a 2D side-scrolling platformer. Players can control Sonic, Tails, or both. In the former choice, players control Sonic while Tails runs along beside him; a second player can join at any time and control Tails separately.[1] Sonic 3 adds the ability for Tails to fly for a short time by spinning his twin tails like helicopter rotor;[1] when he tires, he falls. Unlike Sonic, Tails can also swim underwater.[2]

Sonic 3 takes place over six zones,[3] 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.[2] 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.[4] 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.[5] Reaching a new level saves the game to one of six save slots.[6]

As with previous Sonic games, Sonic 3 uses rings, scattered throughout the levels, as a health system; when the player is attacked without rings, is crushed, falls off-screen, drowns, 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,[7] 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.[8]

Tails in one of the special stages, in which the player can earn Chaos Emeralds
A diagram of how rings are generated by walking the perimeter of a group of blue spheres

Sonic 3 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,[9] 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.[10]

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.[8][11] Failing to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds triggers a post-credits scene in which Robotnik and Knuckles taunt the player.[12]

Sonic 3 includes a competitive mode: two players, controlling Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles the Echidna, 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.[13]

Sonic 3 & KnucklesEdit

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were intended to be a single game, but were released separately due to time constraints and small cartridge sizes.[14] The Sonic & Knuckles cartridge features a "lock-on" adapter that allows other Genesis cartridges to be physically attached to it. Connecting the Sonic 3 cartridge creates a combined game, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The lock-on function is available in some rereleases, such as the Virtual Console service for the Wii.[9]

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles allows the player to play Sonic 3 levels as Knuckles or Sonic & Knuckles levels as Tails or both Sonic and Tails.[15] Other new features are the ability to collect Super Emeralds, unlocking new "Hyper" forms for Sonic and Knuckles and a "Super" form for Tails, improved save options, access to new areas that Sonic or Tails could not previously access, altered boss forms, and an additional ending that shows Sonic returning the Master Emerald to Angel Island.[16]


After Sonic and Tails defeat Dr. Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Robotnik's space station, the Death Egg, crash-lands on the floating Angel Island. There, Robotnik meets Knuckles the Echidna, the last member of an ancient echidna civilization that once inhabited the island. Knuckles is the guardian of the Master Emerald, which grants the island its levitation power.[17] Robotnik dupes Knuckles into believing Sonic is trying to steal the Master Emerald, turning the two against each other while he repairs the Death Egg.[18]

Sonic and Tails approach Angel Island in their biplane, the Tornado. Sonic uses the Chaos Emeralds to transform into Super Sonic, but Knuckles ambushes him and steals the emeralds.[17] Sonic and Tails travel the island hindered by Knuckles and Robotnik.[18] At the Launch Base, where the Death Egg is under repair, Sonic and Tails fight Knuckles, but the Death Egg relaunches. On a platform attached to the Death Egg, they defeat Robotnik, causing the Death Egg to crash-land on Angel Island again. The story resumes in Sonic & Knuckles.[18][19][20]


Like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was developed in California by Sega Technical Institute (STI).[21] After the completion of Sonic 2, STI split into two teams: one comprised Japanese developers, who worked on Sonic 3, and the other Americans, who worked on Sonic Spinball.[22][23][24] Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara were the primary creators of the Sonic 3 design document and project schedule.[25] Naka selected the majority of the team, while STI director Roger Hector oversaw development.[22]

Development began in January 1993, with a deadline of February 1994, when Sega and McDonald's would launch a major promotional campaign.[26] Initially, the team used the new Sega Virtua Processor chip, allowing for 3D graphics. They created a prototype with isometric graphics with the working title Sonic 3D; the original special stage featured a polygonal Sonic in a figure eight-shaped stage. When it became apparent that the chip would not be finished by 1994, Sonic 3 was restarted as a more conventional 2D platform game.[26] The isometric concept was eventually used for Sonic 3D Blast in 1996.[22][27]

According to Naka, the team felt that they needed a deeper story to expand the world of Sonic, which "made the project huge"; the levels are triple the size of those in Sonic 2.[28] Many elements were conceived during the development of Sonic 2 but deferred to Sonic 3.[22] Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were originally planned as a single game. However, time was limited and the manufacturing costs of a 34-megabit cartridge[29] with NVRAM would have been prohibitively expensive.[30] Due to the game's scope and the impending McDonald's promotion, the team reluctantly split it in half,[22][14] allowing more time to develop the second part and splitting the cost between two cartridges.[30] The Sonic & Knuckles cartridge's lock-on technology was implemented so Sonic 3 could be experienced as intended.[14]

Sonic 3 features the debut of Sonic's rival, Knuckles the Echidna. Numerous designs for the character were submitted;[31] the chosen design was submitted by Takashi Yuda. Yuda envisioned him as a supporting character for Sonic, and felt he would make a good playable character.[32] Whereas Sonic symbolizes speed, Knuckles symbolizes power,[28] and the emphasis of the character was to break walls.[33] His shoe coloration was inspired by Jamaica's flag.[28] The original name for the character was "Dreds", referring to his dreadlocks.[34] The design was tested with focus groups of American children.[26]

Hector said Sonic 3 had a troubled development. He recalled having to prevent the rest of Sega from bothering the team while simultaneously making sure the game would be finished in time. Additionally, Hector struggled to balance resources between Sonic 3 and other projects, Naka was sometimes seen as a harsh leader, and STI staff not on the Sonic 3 team became jealous of the priority given to the game.[22]


According to those involved in development, Michael Jackson composed portions of the Sonic 3 soundtrack but went uncredited.

In 2005, Hector stated that Sega hired American pop musician Michael Jackson to compose music for Sonic 3.[35] Jackson was a fan of the Sonic games[36]:292 and had collaborated with Sega on the 1990 arcade game Moonwalker.[37] According to Hector, Jackson's involvement in Sonic 3 was terminated following the first allegations of sexual abuse against him;[35] his music had already been implemented and had to be quickly reworked by Howard Drossin.[22] The website of musician Cirocco Jones, who contributed music to Sonic 3 under the name "Scirocco", credits himself along with Jackson and Jackson collaborator Brad Buxer for musical cues for "levels 2 & 3" of "Sonic the Hedgehog".[38] Sonic co-creator Naoto Ohshima said Jackson recorded an a cappella demo tape for the game, but that Sega was unable to use the compositions due to "various incidents".[36]:301 He added that Sega probably still had the demo tape.[39]

In a 2009 interview with French magazine Black & White, Buxer stated that Jackson had been involved with some Sonic 3 compositions, but chose to remain uncredited because he was unhappy with the sound capabilities of the Genesis. He also said that the Sonic 3 credits music became the basis for Jackson's 1996 single "Stranger in Moscow".[40][41] In 2013, fans discovered that the musical theme for IceCap Zone closely resembles a previously unreleased 1982 track by the Jetzons, "Hard Times", co-written by Buxer.[42] An anonymous source involved in development told GameTrailers that Jackson's contributions remained, such as in the theme for Carnival Night Zone, and that Jackson had chosen to remain uncredited.[38] In 2019, GameRevolution's Alex Donaldson noted that Sonic 3 had been rereleased less frequently since Jackson's death in 2009, and speculated that this was due to legal problems with his estate.[43][44]

Sega staff including senior producer Mike Latham, marketing director Al Nilsen, Sonic 3 marketing director Pam Kelly, and Sega of America president Tom Kalinske stated that any involvement of Jackson was arranged without their knowledge, and that no contracts nor formal agreements were made.[37][40] In 2013, Hector stated that any similarities to Jackson's music in Sonic 3 were unintentional.[38] Journalist Ken Horowitz raised questions about Jackson's alleged involvement, such as how an agreement between Sega and Jackson could have been kept secret from the media, why Sega's marketing never mentioned Jackson's involvement, and why Jackson would reuse music originally composed for a video game.[37]

Other tracks were composed by Sega sound staff, including Jun Senoue, who became a regular composer for the series.[45] In 2010, Senoue indicated that he knew "quite a lot" about Jackson's involvement, but was not allowed to discuss it.[46] Some tracks were replaced in the 1997 Windows port, Sonic & Knuckles Collection.[47] These tracks also appear in a Sonic 3 prototype discovered in 2019, suggesting that they were written for the Genesis before being replaced by Jackson's music.[48]


Sonic 3 was released in North America on February 2, 1994, in Europe on February 24,[citation needed] and in Japan on May 27.[49] To promote the European release, the British band Right Said Fred adapted their song "Wonderman" to include references to Sonic.[50] The song was used in Sonic 3 advertisements and released as a single, which charted in the UK at number 55.[51] A single-cartridge version of Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Limited Edition, was canceled.[52] A ROM image of this version was leaked online in 2008.[53]

Sonic 3 is included in the compilations Sonic Jam (1997) for the Sega Saturn,[54] Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997) and Sonic & Garfield Pack (1999) for Windows,[55] Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the GameCube,[56] Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Windows,[57] Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3,[58] and Sonic Classic Collection (2010) for the Nintendo DS.[59] Most compilations feature the game largely unchanged. However, Sonic Jam introduces "remix" options:[60] "Normal" mode alters the layout of rings and hazards, and "Easy" mode removes certain acts.[61] Sonic 3 is not included in the Sega Genesis Mini (2019), a dedicated console containing 40 Genesis games. AtGames, which was briefly involved with the product's development, said the exclusion was due to licensing problems with the soundtrack.[62][63]

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was released for the Wii Virtual Console in September 2007[64] and Xbox Live Arcade on June 10, 2009.[65] The Xbox version was developed by Backbone Entertainment[66] and has enhanced graphics for high-definition, online leaderboards, support for multiplayer via split screen and Xbox Live, and a new saving system that allows progress to be saved anywhere during play.[16] A PC version was released via Steam in January 2011, as Sonic 3 & Knuckles.[67]

In 2014, independent developers Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley proposed a remaster of Sonic 3 & Knuckles for iOS and Android, developed using Whitehead's Retro Engine, to Sega, similar to their remasters of previous Sonic games. Despite fan enthusiasm, Sega did not develop the project.[68] Thomley speculated that this was due to legal problems regarding the music.[69]


Aggregate scores
GameRankings89% (Genesis)[70]
78% (X360)[71]
Metacritic79/100 (X360)[72]
Review scores
CVG94% (Genesis)[73]
EGM38/40 (Genesis)[74]
Eurogamer8/10 (X360)[75]
GamePro19/20 (Genesis)[76]
GameSpot8/10 (Wii)[77]
Hyper90% (Genesis)[78]
IGN9/10 (Wii)[1]
Nintendo Life8/10 (Wii)[79]
PALGN7/10 (X360)[8]
Entertainment WeeklyA+ (Genesis)[80]
Génération 493% (Genesis)[81]
Mean Machines94% (Genesis)[82]
Sega Magazine95% (Genesis)[83]
Sega Power90% (Genesis)[84]

The Genesis version of Sonic 3 is one of the bestselling Genesis games,[85] selling 1.02 million copies in the United States.[86]

Like its predecessors, Sonic 3 received critical acclaim. It holds a score of 89 percent at review aggregator GameRankings based on five reviews.[70] 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.[78] 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".[83] Sega Power wrote that despite their skepticism, they found it "excellent" and easily "the most explorable and playable" in the series.[84] Electronic Gaming Monthly also compared Sonic 3 favorably to Sonic 1, 2, and CD and awarded it their "Game of the Month" award.[74] They later ranked it number 1 in The EGM Hot 50, indicating that it received the highest average score of any game they had reviewed in the past year.[87] Lucas M. Thomas of IGN stated that Sonic 3 "completed the trilogy as the best of them all".[1] Dan Whitehead of Eurogamer, however, considered Sonic & Knuckles superior.[75] Lionel Vilner of Génération 4 believed Sonic 3 offered more challenge than its predecessors.[81] The Unknown Gamer of GamePro proclaimed that it "proves that you can teach an old hedgehog new and exciting tricks. Take that old Sonic magic, add fun new variations, and you have another spectacular game."[76]

Some critics felt that Sonic 3 had innovated too little from previous Sonic games. Humphreys of Hyper saw only "a few new features"[78] while Sega Power thought it was "not all that different"[84] and Nintendo Life writer Damien McFerran said that "there's not a lot of new elements here to be brutally frank".[79] While Deniz Ahmet of Computer and Video Games agreed that the game was "more of the same", he was placated by the new and imaginative ideas.[73] Frank Provo of GameSpot stated that the most significant addition was its save system.[77] However, he and Electronic Gaming Monthly also both enjoyed the new power-ups.[74][77] Many aspects of the level design were praised; Electronic Gaming Monthly and Sega Power enjoyed the expansive stages, secret areas, much less linear level design, and difficulty.[74][84] Mean Machines agreed, describing the game as "a rollercoaster 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".[82] 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 replay value.[78][82][83] On the other hand, Whitehead said that the large stages would keep players sufficiently engrossed.[75] Sega Magazine also enjoyed having the ability to play as Knuckles in the two-player mode.[83] The Unknown Gamer felt that while the two-player mode was less fun than the main game, it was much improved over that of its predecessor due to the change of format from split-screen to full-screen.[76]

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.[78] Sega Magazine exclaimed that its graphics were "brilliant" even for a Sonic game,[83] while Provo praised the "elaborate" backgrounds.[77] 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.[82] Rik Skews of Computer and Video Games stated that "the graphics were stunning, attention to detail is breathtaking". Ahmet of the same publication also noted that the graphics were more detailed than those of previous installments.[73] The Unknown Gamer described the settings as having "gorgeous background detail and lots of visual treats" and was impressed by the new obstacles that Sonic can traverse at top speeds.[76] Thomas and Provo especially enjoyed the use of wordless cutscenes to create a coherent story and thematically connect the zones.[1][77] McFerran, however, felt that the visuals had been downgraded, particularly Sonic's "dumpier" sprite and "the infamous 'dotty' textures".[79]

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.[83] Mean Machines stated that every level had "great tunes" and sound effects and particularly praised the ending music.[82] 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.[78] The Unknown Gamer also saw musical similarity to previous installments, and described the individual tracks as "catchy... until you've heard it a hundred times."[76] Thomas thought the music was "impressive", but not quite on par with Sonic 2's.[1]

Reviews of ports have been slightly less positive; the Xbox 360 release has scores of 78% and 79% at GameRankings and Metacritic, respectively.[72] Some critics, such as Adam Ghiggino of PALGN, felt Sonic 3 had been insufficiently upgraded for re-releases;[8] Whitehead of Eurogamer wished online co-op had been implemented.[75] Provo of GameSpot and Thomas of IGN wished Sega had re-released Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles together as Sonic 3 & Knuckles instead.[1][77]

Mega ranked it the fifth best Genesis game ever in November 1994.[88] In 2014, GamesRadar ranked Sonic 3 & Knuckles as the seventh best Genesis game;[89] in 2013, Jeremy Parish of US Gamer ranked it eighth.[90]


Sonic 3 was the first appearance of Knuckles the Echidna, who featured prominently in later Sonic games. Sonic the Comic (UK) and the Archie Sonic the Hedgehog comic (US) published adaptations of the game.[91]

For Sonic's 20th anniversary, Sega released Sonic Generations, a game that remade aspects of various past games from the franchise.[92] The Nintendo 3DS version features a remake of the final boss, "Big Arms", and re-arranged version of the "Game Over" theme.[93] Some levels were included in remixed form in Sonic Mania (2017).


  1. ^ Japanese: ソニック・ザ・ヘッジホッグ3 Hepburn: Sonikku za Hejjihoggu Surī


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