The year is 1997, it’s June and my birthday has just passed by. I had received some money from my relatives and there was one thing, or one game rather that I wanted to spend it on. The game in question was Sonic 3D. I’m grew up a Sega kid and as a child I was obsessed with Sonic The Hedgehog. I had played the first three games of the franchise and couldn’t wait to see my videogame hero realised in 3D.
My mum took me to a videogame store and we searched for the Megadrive games. I almost immediately found Sonic 3D, but next to it sat two Sonic games that I hadn’t played before; Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic Spinball. Both of these games combined cost the same price as Sonic 3D, which was the around the same amount of money that I had been given. Nevertheless, I wasn’t interested in either of these two games. I gazed upon the Sonic 3D boxart, the European version featured a picture of Sonic’s face bursting from the front of the case in three-dimensional glory. As someone who had only experienced 2D videogames up until this point, you can imagine as a child of 6 years old, how incredible this looked. My imagination began to race as I wondered how amazing this game would be.
Sonic 2 is still near perfect today.
Mum had other ideas though. After a bit of stuttering, she told me to buy both Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic Spinball instead. I guess as a parent she would rather me have two games to occupy myself with rather than one, and as a parent she also decided that this would be best value for money. I was disappointed, I had my heart set on Sonic 3D, but it wasn’t all bad as I still walked out of the store with two new Sonic games.
I don’t remember which game of the two that I played first, but I know I wasn’t blown away at all by Sonic Spinball. I just wasn’t really that interested in playing a pinball version of Sonic The Hedgehog, I also found the game to be incredibly difficult. I remember only overcoming the first level once as a child. Apart from the difficulty, another reason why I didn’t overcome the first level on more than one occasion was because the end of level boss scared the crap out of me! The boss was some kind of demented mechanical spider that had Dr. Robotnik’s odd face slapped on it, as a kid this unearthly creature was enough to give me nightmares.
Just look at that face! Why would you do this to me Sega, why?
Sonic & Knuckles, on the other hand was incredible. With the ability to fly, climb and punch through walls, Knuckles immediately became my favourite character in the Sonic franchise. The game was more of the same great 2D Sonic that I had been accustomed to on the Megadrive. An incredible feature of Sonic & Knuckles is the lock-on feature. The Sonic & Knuckles cartridge has a hatch on top which allows other Megadrive games to be placed on top of it. When Sonic 2 or 3 are connected to the cartridge, it allows the player the ability to play as Knuckles in both of these games. It still amazes me today, that a game released in 1994 was able to incorporate the lock-on technology which Sonic & Knuckles featured.
Anyway, I carried on playing my family’s Megadrive until it was eventually replaced with a next-gen machine, and over time came to forget about Sonic 3D. Several years later I entered a video game store to see Sonic 3D on sale, for a very cheap price, for the PC. The childhood memories can flooding back, I decided to buy it. I finally got my hands on the game that had eluded me all those years ago.
After taking the game home and installing it on my family’s barely functioning PC, I couldn’t wait to see what I had missed out on. A couple of minutes into playing the game, it turned out that I hadn’t missed out on much at all. Sonic 3D felt like a Sonic game only in name. Even at my still relatively young age, it was obvious to me that Sega had sacrificed the brilliant Sonic gameplay of the 2D games to accommodate the new 3D level design. Instead of racing through a stage as Sonic, I was instead forced to skate around (Sonic controls like he is constantly on ice) in search of 5 Badniks, which I had to defeat in order to gather the Flickies that were caged inside of them. I then had to guide the Flickies to a large ring in order to set them free. The game is essentially one big fetch quest.
I played Sonic 3D again briefly in preparation for this post. It’s still terrible.
The 3D visuals themselves also left a lot to be desired. The game wasn’t true 3D at all, instead the camera had been switched to an isometric view, so as to give the illusion of 3D. Of course I shouldn’t be too critical, as this was technically an impressive achievement in using the available hardware at the time, but the problem was that I had spent so much time as a kid imagining how incredible Sonic 3D would look and play, to only be greeted by such a poorly designed game. After experiencing the 3D special stages in Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, I thought that Sonic 3D would look like something which resembled those graphically appealing bonus levels.
After ten-to-twenty minutes of playtime, I gave up with Sonic 3-D, the game was extremely disappointing. If I had chosen to take Sonic 3D home instead of Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic Spinball, I think it would have likely been my most disappointing experience I would have had with a videogame. The same feeling manifested itself again a few years later when I played Sonic R. Instead of buying a Saturn, my family’s next console after the megadrive was a PS1. After seeing an advert for Sonic R, a 3D sonic racing game, I wanted that game more than anything. Again, like Sonic 3D, I purchased Sonic R a few years later on the PC, to find it to be a pretty terrible game.
I doubt that my mum stopped me from purchasing Sonic 3D because she knew it was a bad game, the same goes for not buying a Saturn and getting Sonic R. The most important thing though is that on both occasions she made the right decision in not allowing me to have either of those games, and it was only a few years later when I discovered this for myself. So this leads me to ask you, have you ever encountered a similar situation, whereby you’ve purchased a game that you once desperately wanted, after some time had passed since it’s release, only to find it to not be what you had imagined it to be at all?