Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Sonic 3D Blast (GEN, SAT, PC) Retro Review

As we approach Christmas, the holiday season, and the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2020 Awards (beginning this Sunday night), let's go back in time for a Super Sonic 3D Blast from the past! It's retro review time, and this time we're checking out Sonic 3D Blast! Here is the SPC review.

A 3D blast from the past

If you're versed at all, whether well or not, with gaming, you're probably aware of the nineties where then-console titan Sega was in a retail and marketing war with Nintendo. The two butted heads considerably throughout the decade. It's no wonder why the two publishers took inspiration from each other, and in many ways, gaming fans of that era were the real winners in the end. 

Following the massive success of the Super Nintendo and Rareware's pre-rendered 3D modeled platformer Donkey Kong Country, Sega, too, didn't want to be the left in the digital dust. They partnered with a British studio, Traveller's Tales, now most known for their mega-hit literal blockbuster LEGO games, to create a unique platformer starring their main mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. That game would be known by the world as Sonic 3D Blast.

Sonic 3D Blast served as a slower paced platformer compared to past console entries, but by no means was that a foreign concept to the Blue Blur. On the Game Gear he starred in Sonic Labyrinth, which was as slow as it was dull (in my opinion, at least, but that's a review for another day). In fact, alongside Nintendo and Rare's Donkey Kong Country, Sega and Traveler's Tales were inspired by Sonic Labyrinth in the design of Sonic 3D Blast. 

Whereas Sonic Labyrinth was clunky and rather boring, Sonic 3D Blast brings with it a higher level of energy. Don't get me wrong--it's still a leisurely romp with a slow, methodical pace, but not to the point of tedium like Labyrinth was. Sonic 3D Blast, like Sonic Labyrinth, features an isometric camera and 3D worlds, though these are much more detailed and interesting than Labyrinth. 

Sonic's mission, if you choose to accept it: recover Flickies from defeated Badniks and deposit them in the goal ring.

The goal of most acts in Sonic 3D Blast is to defeat five enemies, which Dr. Robotnik has trapped colorful bird creatures known as Flickies inside. Beating the badniks results in freeing the Flicky stuck inside, and once grabbed by Sonic, thus circles around him. When Sonic takes damage or a Flicky is in range of a hazard, the Flickies surrounding Sonic scurry away, much like Sonic's rings when the hedgehog gets hit. Flickies will then bounce around near the location Sonic was damaged, and our prideful protagonist will need to recover them. This is easier said than done, as different Flicky types have different movement patterns. Some scurry about on the ground while others bounce back and forth. When you're damaged on a wide area of hazards, like a lava or spike pit, it's quite possible to pick up Flickies lost only to get hit again, thus causing the Flickies to run away once more. It's a cycle of annoyance that can quickly irritate.

Whoa! Watch out for those spikes, Sonic!

Regardless, after nabbing five Flickies, Sonic's objective is to find a floating horizontal gold ring upon which he can hang off of while depositing the Flickies inside. This either opens up a new portion of level or sees the act being completed. Acts generally have at least two segments where you need to recover and deposit five Flickies after defeating five enemies. To lessen the burden of losing Flickies upon taking damage, Sonic can deposit his newfound feathered friends early, and then go back to find the others still around the level, though this will result in a lesser Flicky point bonus at the end of the level. Still, I will take less points if that means less frustration from having to run around like a Flicky with its head cut off to recover both lost rings and lost Flickies from getting hit.

Just like the Paul Simon song, Sonic's slip-slidin' away.
(Yes, I'm old, so this musical reference might go over many of SPC's younger readers' heads.)

With its isometric view, Sonic 3D Blast can be a bit of a challenge to properly line up leaps on platforms (this is a big issue in zones like Rusty Ruin and Panic Puppet), as well as hits on foes. This is especially so with every Robotnik encounter during every zone's third act. These battles showcase how poor hit detection and how much of an enemy the camera perspective can truly become. With Dr. Robotnik, so many parts of his machinery can damage you, and the zone to attack him is seemingly so small. It results in a lot of rings lost, and perhaps lives, too, as you bang your head against the figurative wall to battle and beat his mechanical monstrosities and robotic creations. 

If there's one positive about Dr. Robotnik, it's that he is surely persistent!

As always, collecting rings is Sonic's lifeline and serves as his health bar. As long as he has one ring in his collection when taking damage, he'll be alright. Rings disappear quite quickly upon taking damage, as they bounce away and Sonic gets into a mad dash to collect them again. So it makes boss battles where there are limited quantities of rings available to Sonic all the more challenging, as previously mentioned, getting hit in these encounters is far too common and possible.

However, rings aren't only used for Sonic's health and wellbeing--they're also used to enter special stages to acquire Chaos Emeralds. Hidden and not-so-hidden in each playable act are Knuckles and Tails, and if you have at least 50 rings, you can enter the special stage. Depending on the version, you either run along a bridge, collecting rings while dodging mines (Sega Genesis), or in the more interesting and challenging special stage version on PC and Sega Saturn, you run along a halfpipe, avoiding mines while also collecting rings, Sonic 2-style. Upon collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds and beating the main game, you unlock the final level, a boss rush of sorts against Robotnik's most menacing mechanical creation. If you successfully complete that, you earn a level select, including all special stages to replay at your leisure.

Dodge spiked balls while nabbing rings to satisfy the ring thresholds of each special stage.

Sonic 3D Blast is rather good looking on the Genesis, which the screenshots of this review come from, but on the PC and Sega Saturn, it's of course even better. There's more detail in environments, there's unique animations and cutscenes, such as Knuckles or Tails personally delivering Sonic to each special stage location and dropping him in, and it's just overall a nicer presentation package. This goes into the music, too. While the Genesis version has remarkably catchy tunes, for me they're vastly outrivaled by Richard Jacques' marvelous compositions that deliver delightfully impressive themes. Upbeat when appropriate and epic and sensational when needed. 

Uh... you might want to move out of the way, Sonic.

If you're looking for a lengthy game, you won't find it with Sonic 3D Blast. It's a rather breezy adventure, clocking in at around 3-4 hours, if you're skilled enough and don't encounter too many annoyances from spotty hit detection from boss battles or confusing camera angles due to the less than adequate perspective. Still, there is plenty of fun to be had, even if Sonic the Hedgehog doesn't reach as high of speeds as most, even the Blue Blur himself, are accustomed to. Released on plenty of platforms and in many collections, Sonic 3D Blast isn't too difficult to track down, and if you can play it, I encourage you to do so and experience this unique Sonic adventure.

[SPC Says: C+]

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