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Posted by BombKareshi


Sonic & Knuckles title screen

For many Sonic fans, the classic Mega Drive games remain the best in the franchise, and I readily count myself among these fans. That said, I have noted a tendency for Sonic 2 to rank above the others when fans are discussing their old favourites, a prospect which I found interesting, considering that, as much as I love that game myself, I have always placed it below Sonic 1 and Sonic 3 on my list. This realization beckoned me to launch an investigation into the reasons for my own preferences, and thus this wonderful little post was born.

Below is my ranking for the classic series entries Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. The latter two I have merged into a single entry, for I have always considered them to be a single game, and ever since the very first time I locked Sonic 3 onto my Sonic & Knuckles cartridge, I have yet to play either of them standalone again.

  1. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles
  2. Sonic the Hedgehog
  3. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
At first when I tried to puzzle out the reasons for this preference of mine, I tried to make a list of reasons for each game's placement. The fact is, I love each of these games dearly, from the music to the level design. Therefore, I thought it would be easier to break the bigger question into two smaller ones. Firstly, what is it that I love about Sonic 3 & Knuckles so much over the other games. Secondly, and perhaps more curiously, what makes me choose the original Sonic over Sonic 2?

Why do I love Sonic 3 & Knuckles so much?

This game, to my mind, is the ultimate evolution of the other two, and one of the main reasons for my frequent disappointment with later Sonic games is that they fail to extend upon Sonic 3&K the way it built on its predecessors.
First of all, something that many might take for granted is Tails's ability to fly. Even though this ability was demonstrated in Sonic 2 when the second player went too far off-screen, it only became available to the player in Sonic 3. The character was clearly designed with this behaviour in mind, so it seems only natural that this be implemented. Also, the ability to lift Sonic makes Tails a much greater asset when playing with a friend.
 Sonic wearing the water shield
Another important factor that sets Sonic 3&K ahead of the others is the ingenuity that went into the shields; the flame shield, the water shield and the lightning shield. Perhaps I simply have a fondness for the classic elements, but I thought these were very well thought out. Every shield has a "passive" ability (the flame shield resists fire attacks, the water shield allows you to breathe under water, and the lightning shield resists lightning attacks and acts as a ring magnet) as well as an "active" ability (the flame shield propels you forward, the water shield lets you bounce and the lightning shield grants you a double jump). It is the attentive detail that went into these, such as the flame and lightning shields wearing off in water, that makes this feature astound and inspire. As a child, I used to always dream about wind shields and earth shields!
Perhaps one of the most obvious new features of Sonic 3&K is the facility to save your progress. This meant players no longer had to start over when they got tired, stumbled upon a bug or the power got interrupted. I was shocked to see this feature disappear in Sonic 3D Blast (which failed to even make this list for many reasons, but that's a different story altogether).
 Sonic 3 special stage
I'll be frank. I love Sonic 3's special stages. This is another example of a very clever and creative idea that sets this game apart from other entries into the series. The simple rules for turning blue spheres into red spheres and for changing a group of spheres into rings allowed players the option of either taking the easier route and simply going for the emerald, or putting their skills to the test in hunting for the way to gather the most rings from the formations presented them. It's pure logic, and boy do I love logic!

The addition of bonus stages (as opposed to special stages that rewarded the player with chaos emeralds) is another welcome innovation and added greatly to the fun factor of the game. My personal favourite is the Glowing Spheres stage, which is littered with goodies, and a special reward for those who make it to the top. The Gumball Machine stage was hard to score in, but you could always expect to walk away with at least a shield. The Slot Machine stage was a lot more risky, as one actually stood the chance to lose rings, so I used to only warp into these to grab a continue and be on my way.
 Knuckles in an in-game cinematic
Last but not least, the introduction of Knuckles as both an antagonist and later a playable character was a stroke of genius in and of itself. Not simply for the addition of an original character, which later sequels have demonstrated cannot redeem a game by itself (of course, in my opininion, character designs have become increasingly crappy of late, what with all the Sonic clones and such). No, as with most of Sonic 3's merits, Knuckles's strength lies in his design. In contrast to Robotnik, Knuckles is tailored to appear as if he is bound to the same constraints as Sonic and Tails, which makes him an ideal rival. Indeed, his showdown with Sonic in the Hidden Palace Zone is epic exactly because of this. Furthermore, as a playable character, Knuckles is denied the ability to fly with Tails, but with his own gliding and climbing skills, provides the player with a unique experience still.

What makes me choose the original Sonic over Sonic 2?

Verbalising the reasons I like Sonic 1 more than Sonic 2 is difficult, especially as I find that nostalgia plays a very prominent role here. I can safely say that the gap between Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 is not as large as the one between Sonic 1 and Sonic 3, and as I'll describe below, can be attributed mostly to trivialities.
 The memorable Green Hill Zone
First and foremost, let me address the nostalgia issue. Yes, this was the very first Sonic game, and one that set the standard for platform games to follow, including its own successors. It was the game that vivified the Mega Drive, and it was my very first game on this console. Therefore, I admit that I am biased in favour of this game. Nothing could ever take its place. However, I would expect the nostalgia to be present just as strongly in my fellow Sonic fans, many of whom appear to favour Sonic 2. Therefore, there must be other factors affecting my judgment.

 Sonic 2 special stage
Another reason might be the special stages. Disorientating as they may be, I found I prefer them to those of Sonic 2. The nature of Sonic 1's special stages allowed it more diversity than those in Sonic 2. In the latter game, the character runs down a speedway that is identical to every other in everything but colour, and with slight variations in bomb positioning. Not only did I find Sonic 2's special stages repetitive, but I also found them frustrating, as at times the runway would block the player's view, leaving them helpless. I remember purposely not warping from star posts because to me the game was more fun without them.

Not only that, but when I finally get all the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic 2, I am forced to play the game as Super Sonic whenever my rings reach 50. This makes some parts of the game easier and other parts more difficult, it's not very nice to Tails when you're having a second player, and worst of all, I have to listen to the same annoying tune all the time while I'm missing so much of the game's beautiful music. In Sonic 1, I can go for the emeralds without worrying about a stinking "reward" like this spoiling the game.


In retrospect, I think it's mostly the special stages that put me off Sonic 2. If it weren't for that and the nostalgia, I'd probably rank Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 together. Sonic 3, however, is simply such a vast improvement on its predecessors that I think it will be my favourite forever. So many ideas went into that game. In my opinion, throwing that away (like just about all the later games do) is like taking Sonic back to the Stone Age.
Posted by BombKareshi

After playing the game again recently, I detected something else about Sonic 2 that might influence my opinion of it, again related to special stages. When you exit a special stage, regardless of how many rings you had before entering, you start again with 0 rings and no shield. Not only does this cause frustration as any prior progress is nullified, but it also leaves you vulnerable to enemies at places where Sonic is normally expected to have at least some rings.

Posted by Raymayne

All Sonic games suck balls.

Posted by mylifeforAiur
@Raymayne said:
" All Sonic games suck balls. "
Wow, great argument. I like the part where you clarified your opinion, instead of making an ignorant generalization.  
  Personally, I've only finished Sonic 2, I could see why you'd find Sonic's gameplay boring, but I enjoyed the fast-paced gameplay that Sonic provided, it was fast but not difficult, unlike a certain clone >:I  
Posted by Babylonian

I don't think I've ever met anyone else who agreed with me that 3&K is the best, followed by 1, followed by 2! Whenever people say Sonic 2 was the best Sonic game, I think they're nuts - and I loved Sonic 2. 
For it me, the preference it might come down to the variety of gameplay and abilities and minigames, as well as the excellent look and music of Sonic 3. And yeah, in addition to the nostalgic upper-hand Sonic 1 has over Sonic 2, I think the look of it is way cleaner, more colorful, more saturated, etc.  
All three are great games, though. Shame about Sonic 4.

Posted by FreakAche

Sonic 3 and Knuckles is my favorite too. It was the best looking of the old games, plus it was just really cool that there were three pretty distinct characters. I also thought that it had the best special stages and music.

Posted by Mr_Skeleton

I have no idea why people hate Sonic 3, I thought it was great.

Posted by Castro

I think that the most fun I've ever had with a Sonic game was the Sonic 2 Time Trials. My friends and I would play that for hours on end.

Posted by HistoryInRust

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles will always be two separate entities to me, even though they were developed as the halves of a single game. About a year ago I went on a Sonic rampage, replaying all the old Genesis games. Sonic & Knuckles is unbearable. There just isn't anything appealing about it. Like, literally the most unenjoyable Sonic experience of his "Golden Age."
In terms of visual aesthetic, I'd probably agree that Sonic 3 is the most finely-tuned. But that's only natural, considering the game came so late in the Genesis's lifecycle.  
Sonic 2 had the best natural flow. The levels weren't really a drag (until goddamned Metropolis, that is), and the music, I felt, was the most dynamic in that game than in any Genesis Sonic title before or after. And when you consider the general design philosophy of Sonic the Hedgehog, the bonus stages in 2 make the most sense. None of this red orb/blue orb hogwash. Just Sonic running like hell down a tube trying to dodge crazy shit while collecting rings. 

Posted by BombKareshi
@Sir_Ragnarok said:
" And when you consider the general design philosophy of Sonic the Hedgehog, the bonus stages in 2 make the most sense. None of this red orb/blue orb hogwash. Just Sonic running like hell down a tube trying to dodge crazy shit while collecting rings. "
I know Sonic's definitive feature has always been his speed, but to me, the main attraction in the game's unique physics was never that. Rather, Sonic's movement is like that of a pinball. There are times when you get to watch the ball roll down a tube at high speed, but there also are times when you need to be move slowly and take cautious aim.
Posted by ryanwho

Sonic 3 is the easiest and the prettiest. So its the best of the 3, considering flow and graphics are in hindsight really all it had going, which is why it never made a proper transition like Mario which was actually a good game in addition to the other things.

Posted by trophyhunter

I'd rather play frogger than any sonic game ever

Edited by agentboolen
@BombKareshi: I always prefer Sonic 1 over all the sonics after it.  I know a lot of fans concider Sonic 2 as the holy grail but i never understood that either.  For the graphics I always enjoyed them the most in Sonic 1, they seemed to get softer and blurrier in the games to follow.  For Sonic 3 and Knuckles I never cared for the level design as much.  It seemed those 2 games seemed to have much longer levels and I found myself getting board of them.  For me Sonic 1 is forever my favorite, and after paying the trial of 4 I think it will even trump Sonic 4 in my book.  It was just done right in the 1st game, after that its been a lot of altering of the game that I never felt worked as well.
For 3 vs Knuckles, I never really played through Knuckles.  I did play through 3 and did enjoy it, so I think if I had to chose between the 2 of those games I would have to pick 3.  I also hated the long animations that they put into 3, I despise that beginning cut scene right at the very opening of the game that introduces us to Knuckles.  I don't even think the start button would skip it, how I hated that animation.
 I also liked this start  screen the best.
Posted by HistoryInRust
@BombKareshi: See, that seems almost contradictory to me. I mean, I understand where that thought comes from, but I'm not sure that it's totally sound.  
Like you said, Sonic's definitive trait is his speed. And the Sonic games' definitive traits are their ability to present that sense of speed. The way Sonic handles when he's not moving quickly, however, works against the pretense of precision. He's unlike Mario in that regard most of all, really. The level design and the placement of power-ups, all that is predicated on the idea of having chosen the right path and barreled your way through the given obstacles to reach a designated endpoint. Sonic does encounter certain portions of levels when he's got to time his jumps lest he fall through a verticalized platform or lands ass-first on an upright arrowhead, but those parts are always segues between larger, more speed-centric stretches.  
So there's that. The fact that this timing-based bonus stage is constructed to emphasize a facet of Sonic's design made present only to give his blinding speed more texture. It's not reaffirming anything that's unique to Sonic. It's contorting the idea of Sonic to fit some environment in which he cannot readily function. The "pinball" analogy doesn't hold, then, because pinball isn't about slowing down or being precise at all. Rather, it's about muscle memory in relation to high velocity. And, more along the lines of Sonic philosophy, it's about doing one thing and watching this simulacrum of your action (the pinball; Sonic; etc.) act on its own accord for the better part of the next few beats.  
With that, then the Sonic 3 Bonus Stage becomes something much more intrusive. The player is given more control when, really, they ought to have less. Sure, you can't control Sonic's speed, but in the context of the orb-grabbing business, that just problematizes the whole thing. What's more, it positions the bonus stage itself against your "slow down, cautious aim" statement. Because you can't slow down or be cautious.   
Posted by HistoryInRust
@ryanwho said:
considering flow and graphics are in hindsight really all it had going
I would agree whole-heartedly with this statement if you'd changed "graphics" to "aesthetics." Sonic was about the sound every bit as much as it was about the sight. 
Edited by BombKareshi
My pinball analogy was aimed at the game itself, not the special stages. They are a mini-game, and because they are so different from the main game, I completely understand if they do not appeal to all people that like the Sonic games as a whole. I personally love the logic and the execution of the idea, however, and I despise the gameplay of the Sonic 2 special stages in contrast  –  and I'm afraid that is something no amount of perceived "un-Sonic-ness" is going to change.