Genre: Platformer Developer: Traveler’s Tales Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1996
It’s the final Sonic game for the Genesis. It’s one of a kind. It’s infamous.
It’s Sonic 3D Blast.
Sonic 3D Blast (also released on the Saturn as a last-second and a comparatively pathetic replacement for the doomed Sonic Xtreme) was the proverbial black sheep of the 16 bit Sonic games. Most gamers view it with downright negativity or, at best, casual indifference. But why? Just look at it… Showy isometric graphics that are full of color and detail, cool stereo tunes and sound effects, and a groundbreaking pre-rendered 3D opening movie! What could be wrong with it?
The storyline of Sonic 3D Blast is as follows: Sonic goes to visit his friends, the Flickies, on Flicky Island. He gets a surprise when he arrives, though. That evil Doctor Robotnik has surfaced again and is using the special location-warping powers of the Flickies in his never ending quest for the Chaos Emeralds. Turns out that the Flickies posses the power, when grouped in fives, to warp from location to location using ring portals. Sonic decides to free his friends from Robotnik and crush the madman’s ambitions.
Standard Sonic fare, of course.
But you cannot say that gameplay in Sonic 3D Blast is anything like any of the Sonic games before it. Because of the pseudo three dimensional camera angle, controlling Sonic is going to be a problem at first for people used to the other Sonic games. Anyone who has played, say, Cool Spot 2: Spot Goes to Hollywood, or Landstalker: The Treasure of King Nole will know what I’m talking about. For most of the pathways you must press a diagonal direction in order to go down the path instead of the customary up-down-left-right (I think there’s a cheat code in there somewhere…) controls. Couple this with having to bounce on top of sometimes highly mobile enemies or tiny platforms and you can expect the problems some gamers might have.
You might expect the graphics of Sonic 3D Blast to be superior to other Sonic games and the Genesis library at large, but surprisingly that isn’t entirely the case. Although, of course, Sonic 3D Blast destroys all competition when it comes to 3D levels and models, I can’t say that the graphics are as good as previous entries in the Sonic line. Whereas the latter of the 2D Sonic games featured highly detailed environments with a lot of movement and special effects, Sonic 3D Blast is sadly lacking of dynamic level elements. The levels just sit there except for enemies, water/ice/lava, Sonic, and his friends. It’s all very static and boring. I have another gripe about the graphics: what’s with the tiled paths? Literally every square inch of the levels that Sonic can walk on is patterned like a kitchen floor, whether it’s in the middle of a forest or on a space station. Why couldn’t we have grass and rocks?
As for sound and music, I have to say I’m satisfied. I’m not big on sound effects, so, although some might call it spartan, I’m fine with Sonic 3D Blast‘s effects library. It’s all decent and there are sounds for all the situations necessary. The music is on par with the rest of the Sonic games, and possibly even a little better. Why? Well, I believe that the music tracks fit the levels much better than Sonic 3D Blast‘s ancestors. Diamond Dust’s soundtrack feels wintry and icy, Volcano Valley’s has a rocky, almost mournful aura, and Rocky Ruin’s has a nice ancient sound to it. All very well done and even hummable! (As of this second I’ve got Diamond Dust spinning around my head).
Something I must say before continuing has to do with the characters. Sonic 3D Blast was released in 1996, well after Sonic 3 and long after Sonic 2. Then why is it we can only play as Sonic? Tails had been around since ’92 and Knuckles had been on the scene since ’94, yet those two are put in roles that used to be filled by…by…STAR POSTS!!! And then we have the inability to become Super Sonic. Even if you get all of the Chaos Emeralds you can never become Super Sonic. I can excuse the lack of Tails and Knuckles on the possibility that there wasn’t room on the cart for more characters, but the absence of a Sonic staple like Super Sonic is absolutely unacceptable.
I realize that I haven’t yet mentioned a defining characteristic of Sonic 3D Blast. Flickies. These are the little birds mentioned in the first paragraphs that have the warping powers, and that Robotnik has been turning into Badniks. In order to progress in the game, you have to break open Badniks in order to collect the Flickie inside. That’s right, this time instead of simply fleeing the scene when you liberate them, the little animals follow you around. Now you might be expecting to be able to pull of some cool moves with these little birdies, like flying or super attacks, but you’ll be sorely disappointed. Essentially you have to get 5 of the Flickies in order to jump through a big ring and into the next part of the Act. That’s the game in a nutshell. Find Badnik, get Flickie, repeat five times, jump through ring. Repeat about 3 times per act. There are two acts to every Zone.
If you think that sounds repetitive, you’re right. After 8 levels of this it gets rather tiresome. Translation: Sonic 3D Blast is best taken in small doses, so be sure to have the level select on hand to pick up where you left off. And then there’s the fact that every time you get hit, in addition to losing your rings, the Flickies all start roaming around. They won’t disappear, but you have to touch them again to get them to follow you. Even if they have wandered past a giant pool of lava.
I’m compelled to add a little blurb here about the charm of the game. Now, I realize that ‘charm’ isn’t part of your normal review categories, but I think something has to be said here. Despite what you believe or what you want to believe, much of why the Sonic games were successful had to do with the ‘charm’ of the characters. Tails, Knuckles, Sonic–even Doctor Robotnik–all had a degree of charm to them. Sonic would glance at you appraisingly if you waited too long, Tails would yawn, Knuckles boxed… You don’t get that in Sonic 3D Blast. My sister commented that playing it was like controlling dead things and although to some extent that is (and was intended to be) an verstatement, it kind of rings true. Sonic races through the levels with a glazed over expression, Tails and Knuckles stand there like statues for indefinite periods of time, and even the Flickies wander aimlessly like zombies in search of a meal.
The bottom line with Sonic 3D Blast is iffy. I can’t really say that it’s a bad game or a good game; I can’t really decide on a score. Let me sum it up like this: it’s probably worth having if only to say you’ve got all the Sonic games for the Genesis. It won’t be your favorite, but it’ll be addicting for a while and even after the first rush wears off you’ll still come back to play it every once in a while. By all means you could do worse, but there are probably better choices out there for you. Just go pick it up and decide for yourself whether it’s worthy of being the final game in a legendary series for a legendary platform.