Sonic 3D Blast
|Sonic 3D Blast|
North American cover art
|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
Sonic 3D Blast[a] is a 1996 platform video game developed by Traveller's Tales and Sonic Team, and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, and Microsoft Windows. Part of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, the game abandons previous Sonic games' side-scrolling style in favor of isometric gameplay, making use of some pre-rendered 3D models converted into sprites. The game features creatures known as Flickies, which first appeared in the 1984 arcade game Flicky. Controlling Sonic the Hedgehog, the player's goal is to collect Flickies and lead them to safety, periodically sparring with the series antagonist Dr. Robotnik, who is imprisoning them within robots.
The game was developed alongside another Sonic game for the Sega Saturn, known as Sonic X-treme, which was stuck in development hell. While Sonic 3D Blast was created for the Genesis as a swan song for Sonic on the system, Sega also commissioned a port for the Saturn as a backup plan in case X-treme could not be released, a plan that was moved forward on upon the cancellation of X-Treme in 1996. Sonic 3D Blast received mixed reviews from critics, who generally disliked its isometric gameplay but praised its visuals and music. The game was later ported in 1997 to Microsoft Windows computers and re-released on numerous Sonic themed compilations and digital distribution platforms. A similarly titled game, Sonic Blast, was released in the same month for Sega's Game Gear handheld console, though the games had different gameplay, plot, and a separate development team.
Doctor Robotnik discovers mysterious birds called Flickies that live on an island in an alternate dimension. He learns that they can travel anywhere using large rings, so he decides to exploit them by turning them into robots to help him search for the Chaos Emeralds. Sonic arrives at the island only to discover the presence of Robotnik, and he is tasked with saving the Flickies and defeating his nemesis.
Sonic 3D Blast is played from an isometric viewpoint in a 2D environment and uses pre-rendered 3D sprites, displaying pseudo-3D graphics. Sonic must find and destroy robots located around the zones, and bring the flickies inside them to large rings. Every zone has three acts: two standard levels and a boss fight against Robotnik, without any flicky-collecting involved. Once the player collects all five flickies from each section of an act, Sonic is either further advanced into the act, or taken to the next act. If Sonic or the following flickies are hit by an obstacle or enemy, the flickies will scatter. Each individual flicky's colour determines its behaviour. Blue and pink/orange flickies make an effort to find Sonic, while green and red flickies wander off at random, the latter even jumping about, making them harder to re-collect. Sonic can acquire ring bonuses and power-ups by jumping on monitors.
As with previous Sega Genesis Sonic games, Sonic 3D Blast includes "special stages", in which the player collects Chaos Emeralds. Obtaining all seven Emeralds allows the player to play the final boss battle and discover the true ending of the game. To access these stages, the player must acquire 50 rings and find either Tails or Knuckles the Echidna hidden within a level. Doing so allows the player to exchange the rings in order for the chance to play the game's special stage. These levels follow the same basic premise as Sonic the Hedgehog 2's special stages; the camera shifts to behind Sonic as he runs down a preset path and must collect rings while avoiding obstacles that, when run into, make him lose rings. A certain number of rings need to be obtained at certain checkpoints to continue through the stage, and ultimately be able to make it to the end in order to receive a Chaos Emerald. If all seven Chaos Emeralds are collected, any further Special Stages are played for extra lives instead. Collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds also allows the "Final Fight" level to be played, consisting of a final boss fight and the good ending of the game.
Development and release
Sonic 3D Blast was the final Sonic game to be released for the Sega Genesis. Sega had discontinued official support for the Genesis in 1995, but intended all along to produce the game for the 16-bit console because games typically sell for one to two years after their platforms' discontinuation. Early on, a test build was made to help decide if a split-screen two-player mode would be viable, but split-screen would not end up in the final product. Jon Burton, programmer for the Genesis version, implemented an exception handler where, should an error occur, the game would greet the player with a secret level select screen instead of crashing; this was done so the game could easily pass Sega's approval process for publishing games. Burton also gave this version a unique full motion video intro sequence that could only fit on the 4MB cartridge by using compression and various tricks to make the low-resolution video appear higher resolution.
Sega also commissioned a version of the game for the Sega Saturn in case Sonic X-treme, which was also in development for the Saturn at the time, was cancelled. This cancellation did indeed occur, so Sonic 3D Blast was safely released in time for Christmas 1996 in its stead.
The game was ported in four months, during development of the Sega Genesis version. While it does feature some slight graphical upgrades and changes, the game largely looks and plays the same as its Genesis counterpart. Neil Harding wrote a program to convert the code from 68000 assembly language into C++ code which was used on the Saturn and the PC versions. The code was ported in three months, then an additional month was spent adding graphical enhancements. It features a higher quality opening video, higher quality graphics and an entirely new, CD audio soundtrack composed by Richard Jacques. Sonic Team filled in for development of the special stage in the Saturn version of the game, which includes polygonal graphics as opposed to sprites only.
A port of the Sega Saturn version was released for Microsoft Windows in 1997. It contains the same videos and soundtrack, but lacks some of the Sega Saturn's graphical upgrades, such as the fog visual effects. Features exclusive to this version include the ability to save one's progress in the game, and a third version of the special stage that mixes the 2D sprites from the Sega Genesis version with the basic 3D gameplay of the Sega Saturn version.
The soundtrack for the Sega Genesis version, which features 24 tracks in total, was composed by Jun Senoue and Tatsuyuki Maeda, with Masaru Setsumaru and Seirou Okamoto composing the final boss and staff roll themes respectively. The Sega Saturn version's soundtrack was composed and produced by Richard Jacques, and is stored on the Mixed Mode format, giving it CD-quality audio. This soundtrack features the song "You're My Hero" performed by Debbie Morris, which is played during the staff roll.
Compilations and releases
The Genesis version of Sonic 3D Blast is included in several compilation releases, such as Sonic Mega Collection for the GameCube; Sonic Mega Collection Plus for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Windows; and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was also digitally re-released for the Wii's Virtual Console system in 2007 and Valve's Steam marketplace in 2010.
Sonic 3D Blast was met with mixed reviews. Aggregating review website GameRankings gave the Sega Saturn version 67%, and the Sega Genesis version 59%. Mike Wallis, an employee of Sega at the time, recalled in an interview that the game sold around 700,000 copies.
Critics generally disapproved of Sonic 3D Blast's gameplay style, some finding its isometric perspective limiting. GamePro's Art Angel found that it made timing jumps and spin dashes to either destroy enemies or land on moving platforms frustrating at first, and that once those techniques are mastered the game suddenly becomes too easy. Crispin Boyer of Electronic Gaming Monthly remarked that "The game doesn't hold nearly as many secrets [as earlier Sonic the Hedgehog games], and it gets repetitive after a while." Lucas M. Thomas of IGN lamented that "the sense of speed and intense action that Sonic's name was built on is absent here, replaced by, essentially, a looping, lazy fetchquest". Austin Shau of GameSpot echoed this concern, calling the gameplay "an exercise in tedium". Besides the game's goals, Shau and Thomas criticized the controls, particularly in the area of Sonic's overly slow-paced movement and slippery deceleration. Thomas did admit that the game "has its moments" of quick-footed vigor, but characterized these as few and far between, and Shau summarized that, while not unsalvageable in isolation, the game's elements violently clashed and customers would be "spending 800 Wii points for a vat of oil and water". Damien McFerran of NintendoLife stated that its repetition was broken only by its boss battles and special stages, the latter of which Shau wrote off as "childishly easy". However, Shawn Smith and Sushi-X of Electronic Gaming Monthly both found the gameplay formula to be well thought-out, with Smith remarking, "I like having to retrieve the animals in each level and the various warps make the levels seem huge." And despite his criticism of the isometric format, Art Angel was pleased with the game's level designs. Reflecting on its complaints years earlier upon the game's inclusion in Sonic Mega Collection Plus, Jeremy Parish of 1UP.com called the game "much better than you might be led to believe".
Critics were generally more positive about the game's presentation. Art Angel gave it a 4.5 out of 5 for graphics, citing the large sprites, clean animations, and consistent frame rate. Electronic Gaming Monthly's four reviewers all praised the graphics, with Shawn Smith and Dan Hsu in particular deeming it the pinnacle of the Genesis's capabilities in terms of its color palette and sense of 3D. McFerran greatly enjoyed the game's visuals: "the CGI visuals are stunning considering the hardware, the animation is excellent and the level design is colourful and varied". Thomas praised the game's "valiant" pre-rendered graphics, especially taking its limited hardware into account. Shau stated that the graphics and sound were the only areas in which the game bore a welcome resemblance to its Genesis predecessors, and particularly appreciated the return of the ring-scattering sound effect and similarly music. Game Revolution praised the rounded, cartoon-like graphics, referring to them as "some of the sharpest graphics we have ever seen." Thomas gave the music a subscore of 7.5/10, the highest of any element of the game, and noted that its themes would be memorable to players. McFerran welcomed the graphical improvements of the Saturn version, and GameSpot's Jeff Gerstmann appreciated this version's superior handling of certain animations. Entertainment Weekly, however, noted the game's unusually similar presentation on two platforms with differing expectations, claiming that "while 3D Blast is super by 16-bit standards, it falls flat on Sega Saturn, where 32-bit games with far more sophisticated 3-D graphics and gameplay are the norm." Staff of GameSpot saw the PC version as similar to the others, but pointed out some slowdown effects while the camera scrolled, attributing these to its wide color palette.
Archie Comics published a comic adaptation of the game for a 48-page special, published in January 1997. A loose adaptation of the game also appeared in issues 104 through 106 (May through July 1997) of Sonic the Comic.
Certain tracks from the game were later arranged for Sonic Adventure in 1998; composer Jun Senoue stated he included those tracks because he personally enjoyed them, but they had not widely been heard, as he only composed the music for the Sega Genesis version which was not released in Japan. In addition, an unused beta song would also be re-used by Senoue as the boss theme in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. A remixed version of the main theme from the Sega Saturn version appeared in Sonic Generations in 2011.
In 2017, Jon Burton, lead programmer of the Genesis version, announced that he was working on an unofficial director's cut patch of the game. The director's cut features improved controls and gameplay additions not seen in the original version, such as a level editor, a level password save system, time attack challenges, and the ability to transform into Super Sonic. A beta version was released in November 2017.
- Known in Europe and Japan as Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island (ソニック３Ｄ フリッキーアイランド Sonikku Surīdī Furikkī Airando)
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