Stages and Story
Level Design Notes
Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles stages are what I would consider to be the pinnacle of Sonic level design. Perhaps the hectic, flowing quality that some of the simpler maps in the previous games offer is somewhat missing here, but they still have a powerful mix of speedy roads and curves and slower platforming areas, as you would expect in any good Sonic title, and it's the beautiful layout of these that make them so brilliant. The sheer intricacy of different routes on offer create level maps that also happen to be huge and more complex in comparison to the previous games. They allow their routes to meander away within them wherever they please, pushing and pulling the player in a variety of directions to make the acts last twice as long as most of those in Sonics 1 and 2, making up for the fact that there they are fewer in number. It'll take you ages before you discover every area and route in an act, and some shortcuts are even exclusive to Tails, rewarding good flying skills. Others aren't even meant to be accessed in Sonic 3 alone, and are reserved for when the game is locked into Sonic & Knuckles, so that Knuckles can find his own secret ways, sometimes making for an entirely different level for him. Each of the six levels are divided into two acts, but though they carry a similar theme and location, this time the two acts maintain a certain degree of difference between them. Not just slightly different music, but in most cases, different backgrounds, structural patterns and objects. This is a great way of doing things, as it makes each act feel more unique, as if the level is constantly changing as you move through it, and this makes the game feel bigger and more varied. More modern 2D Sonic games have grasped the part about different music for each act, but they seem to have forgotten about all the other important aspects as well, so the acts of a level all feel the same. Not in Sonic 3 they don't.
Levels, particularly the first, are occasionally interrupted by a cutscene involving Knuckles or Eggman, giving them a more unique quirk compared to the traditional, straightforward approach gamers were used to from the series. In addition to that, there is now a boss to fight at the ends of both Act 1 and 2 for every level, rather than just Act 2. As in previous games, Eggman will attack in an attachment to his eggmobile in the second act, while in Act 1, a large mechanical croney now does his bidding for him, creating a kind of mini-boss. The simpler Act 1 boss takes six hits to defeat while Eggman himself will go down after the usual eight. One thing about Sonic 3 levels is that they're heavy on water, with five out of six holding at least a little H20, which is bad news for those that live their lives in fear of water levels. On the plus side, the game features very few death drops, where the player falls to the bottom of the screen and dies instantly. Always a rather cheap feature if over-used, but thankfully such things are somewhat rare in this game. The hunt for giant Special Stage rings hidden in rooms dotted around the levels encourages the player to explore the vast labyrinthian maps, and all are accompanied by a tremendous soundtrack, yet somewhat unorthodox at times. These six stages, and those of Sonic & Knuckles, truly are among the cream of the crop in Sonic's world, never before or since have any others had so much thought put into their various unique attributes, or replay value by level design alone.
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#1. Comment posted by Enyeribe C. Elegalam on Monday, 9th April 2012, 11:11pm (BST)
Your aim is to guide them through 6 different zones with 2 great acts each, get some cool rings, some cool items, some cool shields, some cool points, collect all the 7 Chaos Emeralds, beat all the badniks and defeat the mad scientist, Dr. Robotnik along the way instead of getting hit once.
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Angel Island Zone
The forests on the edge of Angel Island make for a healthy tropical stage with a jungle twist, at least at first. A fairly simple, straightforward zone, though also unorthodox, as it contains a number of cut-scenes amidst the gameplay. Knuckles makes his debut by stealing Sonic's Chaos Emeralds, and then the entire stage gets set on fire halfway through Act 1, drastically altering its appearance from a lush green jungle into a burning inferno. Not your average, run-of-the-mill Green Hill clone, for sure. Grab swinging jungle vines and use unstable platforms to scale up huge waterfalls.
Hydrocity Zone
Welcome to Hydrocity, the ancient, submerged aqueducts of Angel Island. Sonic 3's main water level can be fairly troublesome in places, what with some lengthy underwater segments in Act 1 that you'll really want to hunt out a bubble shield for, and one or two particularly tricky corridors where you must avoid crushing blocks in Act 2. Other than that though, it's mostly speedy and fun, and you actually spend more time above water than below it. Each act also varies considerably in its structure. Great background music and simple but challenging features make this stage a true favourite for me.
Marble Garden Zone
The massive, rich and decaying gardens of the island are surrounded by thick forests, growing around the ruins of the lost civilisation that once inhabited it. Many multiple routes, shortcuts and hidden secrets, some only open to particular characters, make this one of the largest and most complex levels ever constructed, with a mix of speedy paths from its hilly inclines and tricky, trap-filled labyrinthian mazes. Small earthquakes are common and some unusual devices feature, such as floating spinning tops to run on, arrow-spitting statues to dodge and even badniks posing as sets of spikes!
Carnival Night Zone
A carnival has inexplicably appeared on the island! Quite how or why isn't clear, but it happily provides Sonic 3 with its obligatory night-time "bouncy stage", complete with many of the hallmarks of its predecessors, such as irritating bumpers, although level structure tends to be more speedy and straightforward than the large pinball rooms of similar levels would allow. With a slightly creepy vibe, the very long and large Carnival Night Zone also boasts balloons, circus cannons, huge spinning wheels and what must be one of the most notoriously baffling objects ever conceived in Sonic history: the rotating drum block. Most are a dangerous crushing hazard, but what to do with the ones that just sit there and bob up and down a bit? Answers inside..
Icecap Zone
Kicking off with a classic snowboarding scene, the original snowy zone is fun and fast-paced, and an all time favourite for many, myself included. Taking place in the central mountains of Angel Island, Icecap Zone delves into internal icy caves and Arctic wastelands. Watch out for freezing blasts of air and never-ending sloped drops, crack item boxes out of frozen shells before opening them, and use swinging platforms and trampolines to get around. It also features probably the most popular background music in Sonic history.
Launch Base Zone
After ploughing their way through the island, Sonic and Tails finally make it to the crash site of Robotnik's Death Egg. It's sitting in a lake, surrounded by heavy construction work, complete with massive cranes and launch towers. This mechanical base is well protected too, with a number of different enemies and traps, plus elevators, pulleys and long spinning metal cylinders, based both outdoors and in several large buildings in Act 1. In Act 2, you explore the water systems in and around the lake and leg it full speed across long, twisting water pipes. The Death Egg is almost ready for re-launch, so there's no time to spare!
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