Sonic 3D Blast
|Sonic 3D Blast|
North American Genesis cover art
|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
Sonic 3D Blast, known outside North America as Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island,[a] is a 1996 isometric platform game for the Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn. The story follows Sonic the Hedgehog as he embarks on a journey to save the Flickies, a species of bird that are being enslaved by Doctor Robotnik. The player must guide Sonic through a series of themed levels to collect Flickies, in order to defeat Robotnik. Though it shares similar gameplay elements with prior Sonic the Hedgehog games, Sonic 3D Blast is differentiated by its isometric viewpoint, making occasional use of pre-rendered 3D models converted into sprites.
While the game was conceived by Sonic Team, most of the actual programming was outsourced to Traveller's Tales. Produced as a swan song for the Genesis, Sonic 3D Blast was developed alongside the unreleased Saturn game Sonic X-treme. When X-treme was canceled, Sega commissioned a port of 3D Blast for the Saturn as a backup plan. Both versions were published by Sega in November 1996, and the game was ported to Microsoft Windows the following year. Sonic 3D Blast was the final Sonic game for the Genesis, and has been rereleased on numerous Sonic themed compilations and digital distribution platforms.
Though a commercial success, becoming the second bestselling Saturn game behind Nights into Dreams, Sonic 3D Blast received mixed reviews from critics. Reviewers generally disliked its isometric gameplay, citing frustrations with its controls and slow pace, but praised its visuals and music. An unofficial director's cut version developed by the Genesis version's lead programmer, Jon Burton, was released in 2017. It features new gameplay features and improved graphics and controls, among other changes.
Sonic 3D Blast is a platformer action game played from an isometric viewpoint. Players control Sonic the Hedgehog, whose goal is to save the Flickies, collect the seven Chaos Emeralds, and defeat Doctor Robotnik and his robot army. Sonic retains most of his abilities from prior games: he can jump and spin in mid-air to defeat robots or hop on platforms, perform a spin-dash on the ground to gain speed, and collects rings as a form of health. Sonic can also collect power-ups, such as elemental shields, speed shoes, or invincibility, by breaking television monitors containing them.
The game is split into several levels called zones. Every zone has three acts: two standard levels, where the player must collect Flickies by defeating robots in order to proceed; and a boss fight against Robotnik, without any Flicky-collecting involved. In normal levels, 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 and the following Flickies are hit by an obstacle or enemy, the Flickies and the rings Sonic collected will scatter. Each individual Flicky's color determines its behavior: blue, pink, and 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 starts the game with three lives; if he is hit with no Flickies or rings in his possession, he will lose a life. Losing all lives results in a game over. Lives can be replenished by collecting a 1-up or collecting ten Sonic-shaped medals.
As with previous 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 find one of Sonic's friends (either Tails or Knuckles the Echidna) hidden within a level, and stand next to them with at least 50 rings collected. Doing so allows the player to exchange the rings in order for the chance to play the game's special stage. During 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. 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.
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 travels through the island, saving the Flickies and clashing with Robotnik in his various machines. If the player collects all the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic proceeds into a black void, where he engages in a final battle with Robotnik, who pilots a large robot. Sonic manages to destroy the robot's weapons and defeats Robotnik, freeing the Flickies. If the player fails to collect the Emeralds, Robotnik escapes in their possession.
Sonic 3D Blast was the final Sonic the Hedgehog game produced for the Sega Genesis, and was developed as a swan song for the system. Sega had discontinued official support for the Genesis in 1995, but intended to produce the game for the 16-bit console because games typically sell for one to two years after their platforms' discontinuation. The game's basic concept was conceived by members of Sonic Team during the development of Sonic the Hedgehog 3; however, most of the actual programming was done by the United Kingdom-based developer Traveller's Tales. According to the founder of Traveller's Tales, Jon Burton, the team had just finished developing Toy Story and wanted to start developing games for 32-bit systems such as the Sega Saturn and PlayStation. Sega, impressed with their work on Toy Story and Mickey Mania, approached them with the isometric game; as Sonic was extremely popular at the time, the concept "got [their] attention". In retrospect, Burton stated that he believed the reason the game was commissioned was due to the fact that Sonic X-treme, in development for the Saturn at the time, was struggling, and Sega wanted to bring Sonic into the 3D era of gaming.
The game was developed from scratch in eight months, beginning in July 1995. Burton, who served as lead programmer, 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 the game a unique full motion video intro sequence, and used compression methods to make the video fit in the 4MB cartridge and appear higher resolution. The game makes use of some pre-rendered 3D models converted into sprites. Inspiration for the isometric viewpoint was drawn from Sonic Labyrinth and Super Mario RPG. The item collection was influenced by the 1984 Flicky game, and the graphics were inspired by Donkey Kong Country's. Burton remembered the partnership with Sega fondly, recalling that he greatly enjoyed "making a machine do something you haven't seen it do". Towards the end of development, Traveller's Tales began to expand its scope, and Burton passed the rest of programming to his employees.
Sega also commissioned a version of the game for the Sega Saturn in case Sonic X-treme was canceled. 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 seven weeks, during development of the Sega Genesis version. While it does feature graphical changes, such as weather effects and higher resolution textures, the game largely plays the same as the original version. It features a higher quality opening video and improved graphics. 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. This version is also compatible with the Saturn's analog control pad. The team attempted to rework X-treme into bonus stages in the Saturn version. However, they were unable to properly transfer Sonic's model from X-treme into 3D Blast, so the feature was scrapped.:292
The Genesis version's soundtrack, 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 features the song "You're My Hero" performed by Debbie Morris, which is played during the credits. The musical styles on the soundtrack were described by Sega Saturn Magazine as both traditional Sonic music and "hardcore techno".
Sonic 3D Blast was released for the Genesis in Europe on November 5, 1996, and in North American version was released on November 7, 1996. The Saturn version was released in Europe on February 13, 1997. The Genesis version was not released in Japan; only the Saturn port was, on October 14, 1999. A port of the Sega Saturn version was released for Microsoft Windows in Europe on September 11, 1997, and worldwide later that year. The game's launch coincided with the release of the similarly-titled Game Gear game Sonic Blast, which also features pre-rendered 3D graphics.
The Genesis version of the game is available in several Sonic-themed compilations. These include 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 received mixed reviews from critics, according to the review aggregator GameRankings. Mike Wallis, an employee of Sega at the time, recalled in an interview that the Genesis version was successful for the company, eventually selling over 700,000 copies. The Saturn version was the system's second bestselling game, behind Nights into Dreams.
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 Nintendo Life 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." Though he compared the gameplay unfavorably to previous Sonic games, Sega Saturn Magazine's Lee Nutter found it had a great deal of fun to offer and praised it as being more challenging than any previous Sonic game. 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". Brett Alan Weiss of AllGame voiced a similar opinion, feeling it was a "nice departure" from the style of the side-scrolling Sonic games.
Reviewers were 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." Weiss wrote that the visuals, though not an improvement from other games artistically, were well-produced and high-quality. 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." Smith and Hsu of Electronic Gaming Monthly agreed that the Saturn version is overly similar to the Genesis version, though Hsu added, "that's a compliment to the Genesis, not a rip on the Saturn". Hsu and Boyer both also said that the game's controls are considerably improved with the Saturn's analog controller, though Sushi-X found it of little help. The 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.
Electronic Gaming Monthly named Sonic 3D Blast a runner-up for Genesis Game of the Year (behind Vectorman 2). In retrospect, the game has been viewed more negatively; some journalists called one of the worst games in the Sonic franchise. USgamer and Complex wrote that the game did not feel like a true Sonic game, the latter exclaiming it was "offensive" to call it 3D. PC Gamer described it as "the first sign that Sonic in 3D was just plain not going to work".
Archie Comics published a comic book adaptation of Sonic 3D Blast for a 48-page special in December 1996, written by Mike Gallagher. A loose adaptation of the game also appeared in issues 104 through 106 (May through July 1997) of Sonic the Comic.
Jun Senoue re-arranged two of his tracks from the Genesis version for Sonic Adventure in 1998, explaining he included the tracks because he personally enjoyed them, but they had not widely been heard, as the Genesis version 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 I. A remixed version of the main theme from the Sega Saturn version appeared in Sonic Generations in 2011.
After Sonic 3D Blast, Traveller's Tales and Sonic Team would collaborate once more, with the racing game Sonic R. Sonic 3D Blast was one of Traveller's Tales earliest games; the studio would become famous in later years for their work on video games based on the Lego toy line. In 2017, Jon Burton 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, with the official release the following month.
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