Sonic the Hedgehog 3

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Sonic the Hedgehog 3
North American cover art
Developer(s) Sonic Team
Sega Technical Institute
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
Composer(s) Brad Buxer
Cirocco Jones
Michael Jackson
Sachio Ogawa
Masaru Setsumaru
Yoshiaki Kashima
Tatsuyuki Maeda
Tomonori Sawada
Masayuki Nagao
Jun Senoue
Miyoko Takaoka
Masanori Hikichi
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
Distribution 16-megabit cartridge, CD-ROM

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (ソニック・ザ・ヘッジホッグ3 Sonikku za Hejjihoggu Surī?) is a 1994 platform video game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series for the Sega Genesis. It was developed by members of Sonic Team working at Sega Technical Institute, and was published by Sega. The game is a direct sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and follows the end of the game in which Sonic defeated his enemy, Dr. Robotnik. After crash-landing on a floating island, Sonic encounters a new character named Knuckles the Echidna, and must once more retrieve the Chaos Emeralds while also working to stop Dr. Robotnik from relaunching his ship, the Death Egg.

The game is closely tied to its direct sequel Sonic & Knuckles, as the two games were originally developed as a single game until time constraints and cartridge costs forced them to be split into two interlocking parts.


Main game[edit]

Sonic and Tails in the second zone, Hydrocity.

Sonic 3 improves on the gameplay of previous Sonic titles, in which players collect rings and spin their way through six zones in order to defeat Dr. Robotnik. Like the previous game in the series, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, players can choose to play as either Sonic or Tails, or have Sonic paired with Tails, who can be controlled either by the computer or a second player. Each of the six zones consist of two acts, each with a boss at the end. At the end of every first act boss, players can hit a falling panel to earn points before it hits the ground, where it may sometimes bounce to reveal item monitors. New to the series is the ability to save your progress, with players able to resume their game from the last zone played. If the player clears the game, they can start from any level from their save file.

Characters now have unique abilities, performed by pressing the jump button a second time while in mid-air. Sonic can perform a split second "shield" move that provides both burst of protection and expands his attack range. Tails has the ability to fly in the air or swim underwater for a short amount of time before he gets tired and comes back down, allowing him to explore areas Sonic cannot. While flying, his tails can be used to attack enemies. Additionally, if a second player controls Tails, they can carry Sonic while flying. The standard shields from the previous games are replaced by three new elemental shields that can all protect the user from energy weapons without breaking, and when used by Sonic, feature new abilities that replace his Insta-Shield move until he takes damage. The Fire Shield protects the player from heat-based hazards like flames or magma and allows Sonic to perform a midair "Fireball Spin Dash" that launches him forward to extend his jumps or to attack enemies, but will extinguish upon touching water. The Lightning Shield protects the player from electricity, attracts nearby rings like a magnet and allows Sonic to perform an additional jump in mid-air, but will short out on contact with water. Finally, the Bubble Shield allows its user to breathe whilst underwater, stays with the user even after being submerged unlike the other two Shields, and lets Sonic bounce on the ground like a Basketball to reach higher areas and stomp on enemies directly below him. Hitting Star Post checkpoints while possessing 50 or more rings allows the player to access a bonus stage, in which players bounce around a gumball machine that dispenses items like shields, rings, and extra lives.

Special stages[edit]

Tails on one of seven Special Stages in Sonic 3.

Special Stages can be entered by finding giant rings hidden throughout each stage. In these stages, players navigate a three-dimensional space where the goal is to collect all the blue spheres in the level without touching any red ones. Collecting blue spheres transforms them into red ones, but if a player goes around the edge of a group of blue spheres at least 3x3 in size, all the spheres in that group will transform into rings, which can earn continues if enough are collected; there are also bumper spheres that bounce the player backwards. Successfully completing these Special Stages earns the player a Chaos Emerald, which enables players to access the good ending if all seven are collected. Additionally, if Sonic collects all seven emeralds, he can transform into Super Sonic after collecting at least 50 rings. Additional emeralds known as Super Emeralds can be obtained if the game is locked on with Sonic & Knuckles, which enable Sonic and Tails to become Hyper Sonic and Super Tails with unique abilities.

A diagram of how rings are generated by walking the perimeter of a group of blue spheres.


Competition Mode is a competitive mode in which two players, playing as either Sonic, Tails or Knuckles, race against each other through five laps on an endless level, unrelated to the levels played in the main game. During the game, players can collect items to either help themselves or hinder their opponent. There are three game types available: Grand Prix, in which all five tracks are playing continuously, Single Race, where a single track is chosen to race on, or Time Trial, a single player mode in which players try to clear the five laps in the quickest time possible.

Connection to Sonic & Knuckles[edit]

Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were originally intended to be released as a single title, but ended up being separate games due to time and money constraints.[2] Sonic & Knuckles was eventually released as a "Lock-on" cartridge, which allows other Sonic games to be inserted on top of it to unlock additional content. Locking on Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles turns the game into Sonic 3 & Knuckles, in which all the levels from both games can be played continuously. This allows for scenarios that weren't 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. Other new features are the ability to collect Super Emeralds, which can unlock new powerful forms for all three characters, and improved save options, which now record the number of lives and continues a player has. Lock-on functionality is also available for certain digital releases of the game, such as Virtual Console, if the player owns both games on the same platform. This also allows for an additional ending that shows Sonic returning the Master Emerald to Angel Island.


After Sonic defeats 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 (or simply "the Floating Island" as it's called in the game manual). As Dr. Robotnik begins to repair the damaged station, he meets up with Knuckles the Echidna, the last surviving member of an ancient civilization of Echidnas that once inhabited the island. He is also the guardian of the Master Emerald, which grants the island its levitation powers.

Knowing Sonic and Tails will try to track him down, and realizing he can use the Master Emerald to power the ship, Dr. Robotnik dupes Knuckles into believing Sonic is trying to steal his Emerald. Shortly after, Sonic and Tails in their biplane, the Tornado, are in search of Dr. Robotnik. Sonic, possessing the emeralds from the events of Sonic 2, then turns into Super Sonic. As soon as they arrive, Knuckles ambushes Sonic from underground and knocks the Chaos Emeralds from him, returning him to normal. Knuckles steals the Emeralds and disappears inland. As Sonic and Tails travel through the levels, they encounter Knuckles in almost every level, hindering their progress.

In the last level, the Launch Base Zone, the Death Egg launches off for the second time, knocking Knuckles off a pole and sending him plummeting into the water. Sonic travels to a platform on the Death Egg, fights, and defeats Robotnik for the last time. The Death Egg is seen damaged and falling after Robotnik's defeat, after which it crashes back onto Angel Island- leading into the second half of the story in Sonic & Knuckles.



Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara were mainly responsible for the Sonic 3 design document and project schedule.[3] 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, after the team did not want to change the Sonic formula too radically for a sequel.[4]

Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were originally planned as one single-cartridge game. However, as time constraints and the manufacturing costs of a 34 megabit cartridge[5] with NVRAM would have been prohibitively expensive, the decision was made to split the game in half, giving Yuji Naka and the other developers more time to finish the second part, and splitting the high cost between two cartridges.[6]

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.


Sonic 3 was released in the US on February 2, 1994, dubbed "Hedgehog Day", a reference to Groundhog Day. Toys "R" Us rewarded preorders with the limited edition CD Sonic Boom, containing music from and inspired by Sonic CD and Sonic Spinball.[7]

In Europe, Sonic 3 was released on February 24, 1994. To help promote the game, Right Said Fred adapted the song Wonderman, including references to many aspects of Sonic.[8] The song was used both in the game adverts, and released as a single, which charted in the UK at number 55. In the music video, Fez and Skull from the Pirate TV Sega advertising campaign appeared along with Sonic.

Michael Jackson's involvement[edit]

According to STI director Roger Hector, Michael Jackson was initially brought in during development to compose music for the game, even though no mention of his direct involvement was included in any of the game's credits. This was supposedly due to the scandals that arose around Jackson at the time. His involvement was removed from the title, and much reworking, including all his music, had to be done.[9] These claims are dubious, however, and various interviews have made it clear that any involvement Jackson may have been done without the knowledge of Sega's executives or marketing staff, and no contracts or formal agreements had ever been made.[10] James Hansen, of Sonic Stuff Research Group, retorts that Cirocco Jones (credited as "Scirocco" in Sonic 3) still has possession of presumably the demo versions of Jackson's contributions. "I actually have "ALL" of the tracks...," he writes, "from the original humming of Michael calling in the middle of the night leaving messages, to his ideas at Record One with Matt Forger and Bruce Swedien. - BUT, I don't think I can let any of that out to the public without permission."[10]

In December 2009, Michael Jackson's tour keyboardist and songwriting collaborator Brad Buxer told French magazine Black & White that he and Jackson were involved with some of Sonic 3's compositions, with Jackson supposedly not being credited because he wasn't happy with how they sounded due to the lack of optimal sound reproduction on the Genesis. Buxer also claimed that the ending music of Sonic 3 later became the basis for Jackson's single Stranger in Moscow.[11] In 2013, it was uncovered that the music in IceCap Zone shares the same chord progressions and instruments with "Hard Times", a previously unreleased track by The Jetzons, of which Buxer was its keyboardist and co-songwriter.[12] Buxer is also credited alongside Cirocco Jones and Michael Jackson on Jones' website, with their roles mentioning them contributing musical cues for "levels 2 & 3" for "Sonic the Hedgehog".[13]

In October 2013, GameTrailers dedicated an episode of its Pop Fiction mini-series to discerning Michael Jackson's involvement. Roger Hector, who previously stated in a 2005 interview 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 by design on Sega's part. 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 was 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 tracks he composed.[14]

Alternate versions and ports[edit]

Compilation releases[edit]

Compilations that include the game are Sonic Jam (1997) for the Sega Saturn; Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997) and Sonic & Garfield Pack (1999) for the PC, Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the Nintendo GameCube; Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC; Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; and Sonic Classic Collection (2010) for the Nintendo DS.

Most compilations feature the game largely unchanged. However, Sonic Jam, in addition to featuring the original release, also had a few new "remix" options. "Normal" mode altered the layout of rings and hazards, and "Easy" mode removes certain acts from the game entirely. Sonic & Knuckles Collection features a MIDI rendition of the game's soundtrack, with certain levels featuring completely different music altogether.

Digital releases[edit]

The game was released for the Wii's Virtual Console in September 2007[15] and for the Xbox Live Arcade on June 10, 2009.[16] 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, but does not track progress in the game post-completion.

When the PC version was released via download network Steam, the game was released as though Sonic & Knuckles were attached, or rather as the "complete" version of the game as originally intended.[17]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 89% (Genesis)[18]
78.33% (X360)[19]
Review scores
Publication Score
Computer and Video Games 94% (Genesis)[20]
Electronic Gaming Monthly 9.5 / 10 (Genesis)[21]
GameSpot 8 / 10 (Wii)[22]
IGN 9 / 10 (Wii)[2]
Datormagazin 5/5 stars (Genesis)[23]
Sega-16 10 / 10 (Genesis)[18]
Mega 90%[24]
Mean Machines 94%[25]

The game has received critical acclaim similar to its predecessors. The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the game a 9.5 out of 10 average and their "Game of the Month" award and unanimously described it as clearly superior to any previous Sonic game, including Sonic the Hedgehog CD. They particularly praised the graphics, music, secret areas, and the many different shield weapons.[21] IGN praised the Virtual Console release, giving it a 9 out of 10, and claimed it was the best of the original trilogy of Sonic games for the Sega Genesis, stating "Sonic 1 we called impressive. Sonic 2 we labeled great. Sonic 3, though, is the best of them all – and deservingly earns the highest score of the trilogy."[2] GameSpot also saw it as an improvement to the series, stating "the levels in Sonic 3 offer more interaction than those in previous games, in the form of such things as zip lines, fireman's poles, and giant tree trunks that you can climb by running upward inside of them. You'll also find a boss waiting for you at the end of every level (as opposed to every other level in Sonic 2), and these bosses tend to rip apart the background more often than the bosses in previous Sonic games. Coincidentally, the graphics in Sonic 3, especially the backgrounds, are pretty elaborate, as well as full of animated effects, such as swaying plants and heat distortion."[22]

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 has sold 1.02 million copies on the Sega Genesis.[26] This is less than Sonic 2 at 6 million, and the original Sonic at 15 million,[27][28] in part because unlike the prior games, it was not bundled with the Sega Genesis system itself. It still managed to place in the top 10 selling Sega Genesis games of all time. Mega placed the game at #5 in their Top Sega Mega Drive Games of All Time list.[29]


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.

For Sonic's 20th Anniversary, Sega released Sonic Generations, a game that remade aspects of various past games from the franchise. The Nintendo 3DS version of the game features a remake of the game's final boss, "Big Arms". Additionally, an arranged version of the "Game Over" theme appeared in the game.


  1. ^ IGN: Sonic the Hedgehog 3
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ Emulationzone's interview - "Once Naka & Yasuhara agreed on a general design approach, they drew up a schedule and started working"
  4. ^ Giant Bomb's overview
  5. ^ Sonic & Knuckles UK Manual, Page 4
  6. ^ GameSpy: Sega's Yuji Naka Talks!
  7. ^ Sonic Boom CD Information
  8. ^ CD Cover and information scans
  9. ^ Carless, Simon (2006-03-27). "Michael Jackson's Secret Sonic 3 Shame". GameSetWatch. Gamasutra. 
  10. ^ a b Horowitz, Ken (2009-05-19). "Sega Legends: Michael Jackson & Sonic 3". Sega-16. Retrieved 2009-12-17. 
  11. ^ Montgomery, James (2009-12-04). "Did Michael Jackson Compose 'Sonic The Hedgehog 3' Soundtrack?". Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Jones, Cirocco. "Cirocco Jones discography". Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Virtual Console Release information from IGN
  16. ^ RubyEclipse (2009-05-11). "SEGA Announces 7 new titles for XBLA!". SEGA America Blog. SEGA America. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b "Sonic the Hedgehog 3". GameRankings. Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Sonic 3". [[Computer and Video Games|Computer and Video Games 156: The Essential Guide]]. November 1994. p. 65. ISBN 0-7522-0967-1. Retrieved 2012-02-07.  Wikilink embedded in URL title (help)
  21. ^ a b "Review Crew: Sonic 3". Electronic Gaming Monthly (56) (EGM Media, LLC). March 1994. p. 30. 
  22. ^ a b Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis review
  23. ^ Almén, Jesper (March 1994). "Sonic 3". Datormagazin 1994 (7). Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  24. ^ Mega review, Future Publishing, issue 18, March 1994
  25. ^
  26. ^ Number of games sold
  27. ^ Sonic the Hedgehog GameTap Retrospective Pt. 3/4. Event occurs at 1:21. 
  28. ^ Boutros, Daniel (2006-08-04). "Sonic the Hedgehog 2". A Detailed Cross-Examination of Yesterday and Today's Best-Selling Platform Games. Gamasutra. p. 5. Retrieved 2006-12-08. 
  29. ^ Mega magazine issue 26, page 74, Maverick Magazines, November 1994

External links[edit]