Welcome back to Games That Time Forgot, where we take a look at games nobody remembers. So the Sonic series is going open world this month with Sonic Frontiers. I've heard some good things about it, I'm still in a wait and see mode whenever it's anything related to 3D Sonic; but hey. it gives me an excuse to talk about the blue blur's technically first foray into 3D: Blue Sphere! Just kidding, we're talking about Sonic 3D Blast. Guess this also counts as the Halloween game too!
Well maybe not. Sonic 3D Blast is one of those weird games where it very clearly played an important part in the series, but at the same time was easily forgotten, with the few people remembering it as not being very good or rough in places, myself included. But at the same time, it's also pretty clear that there is a lot of history with this game, coming out in an awkward time for Sega as a whole, and it had a few big ideas for the series. Besides being the first game to star Sonic in 3D, it was one of the first games to be developed by a non-Sonic Team studio, one of the last games for the Genesis/Mega Drive, and was the game that introduced the homing attack, which has since become a series staple. And yet that doesn't seem to stop it from being forgotten or overlooked when it comes to rest of the series. Why is that though? That's what we're going to look at today.
So put on your best running shoes, chow down on some chili dogs, and let's go fast. It's time to look at Sonic 3D Blast.
Sonic 3D Blast, or Sonic 3D: Flickes Island in Europe, was released on the Genesis/Mega Drive in Europe on November 5th, 1996, and North America a couple days later on November 7th, 1996. This version was never released in Japan, though they got the Sega Saturn version, which came out in North America during November 1996, Feburary 14th, 1997 in Europe, and October 14th, 1999 in Japan, and......wait what?! 1999 in Japan?! That can't be right, the Dreamcast came out in Japan in 1998, with Sonic Adventure! This is one of the many reasons Sega doesn't make consoles anymore kids! Anyway, there was also a PC version, but who cares, no one talks about that version, even Sega, who instead released the Sega Genesis version on Steam years later, which is also the version I played for this. Instead, let's talk about something else, specifically a Sonic game that never came out: Sonic X-treme! ......It was the 90s.
I won't go to into the development of Sonic X-treme because there is a lot to go through and other people have talked about it better than me, but we need to discuss the game briefly because it's development affected 3D Blast. The short version is that Sega wanted a 3D Sonic game for the 32X, but later shifted to PC and Saturn and was set to release in 1996 for the Saturn, to compete with Nintendo and Sony. Unfortunately, due to various reasons, including poor health of two of the developers, Sega upper management not liking the game from the start, and Yuji Naka being Yuji Naka, the game was promptly canceled. "But Goof", I hear you ask. "What does this have to do with 3D Blast?!" Well, you see, Sonic 3D Blast was in development at around the same time as X-treme, and was meant as a way to make a quick buck on the Genesis, while also using some of the 3D assests made for X-treme, like a tech demo; kind of. Unfortunately, the X-treme was cancelled, Sega asked developer Traveller's Tales (yes, the same guys who make the LEGO games now), who were working on the Genesis version, to make a Saturn version. Like I said before, this is one of the first Sonic games not developed primarly by Sonic Team; while they provided the design, graphics, and music, Traveller's Tales were the programmers, who now had to work on a Saturn version, despite never having worked on a non-16 bit console. And they had to do it in eight months. And the game had so many problems with crashing that to make sure they got approval, the lead programmer made it so that it woud throw up the debug menu to trick the people at Sega testing the game that it was an easter egg (no, I'm not kidding).
So in other words, they were the opening act for a concert, but then the opening act had a meltdown backstage and cancelled, so now they're the main act. Let's see how that worked out.
.....Normally when I do this part, I try to be coy about how I feel, maybe leave a quick anecedote or something, and give my overall feelings near the middle or the end. I'm not going to do that and instead just straight up say it: Sonic 3D Blast is bad. Maybe not the worst game in the series, not even close, but definetly bad enough that I found myself asking what I was doing with my life to slog through this. Decisions like this are why we don't have flying cars.
I'm not going to have a lot of nice things to say about 3D Blast, so let me get the positives out of the way right now. The game looks and sounds great, especially for 1996. Sega had discontinued everything that was the Saturn due to how horribly things like the 32X did, but this game was thrown out to get a few more sales, and it does look really good, especially on the Saturn version. It doesn't hold a candle to most Super Nintendo games, but again for a (very) late Genesis /early Saturn game, it looks good; the Genesis version even has a short opening video that again, for a Genesis game, looks pretty good. But I'm more of a music guy, and Sonic 3D Blast's soundtrack is actually really good....at least in the Genesis version. This will cause some controversy, but I never really liked the Saturn version's soundtrack, not because it's bad, but more that it felt like it belonged in another game, a common theme with Traveler's Tales music in Sonic games. It does sound good though, but the Genesis version just fits the game a lot better; the fact that part of the soundtrack was done by series regular Jun Senoue doesn't hurt either.
Regardless of which version you play, you have a game that looks and sounds pretty good. Actually playing it on the other hand, is a different story.
So the plot of the game is that Robotnik captures a bunch of Flickies, aka those birds that you usually find in capsules at the end of the older games, because they have the ability to travel through dimensions and stuff, something that is brought up in this game and never again (I did look it up and apparently they're a special kind of Flicky in this game, but it's still so weird). Robotnik wants to do a bad thing, Sonic has to stop him, and it involves the Chaos Emeralds. This is all par for the course, so why am I bringing this up? Well, the point of the game this time isn't just getting to the end of the stage, go across two acts, fight Robotnik at the end and getting the Emeralds. Oh you still do those things, but in order to get to those points, you have to gather the Flickies, take them to a ring, and then get to the next area. Do that twice or thrice a stage, and then you clear it. Sounds simple right? Well, it kind of isn't.
Because the way the levels are set up, you have to explore every nook and cranny for enemies, who have a Flicky. I'm kind of torn on this, because on paper this sounds like a good idea. While Sonic games have a lot of enemies, they're usually nothing more than an obstacle, because Sonic games were manly 2D platformers at this point. You can't really do that with a 3D game necessarily because, well, you can go around them, so having to defeat the enemies to progress isn't a bad idea. The problem with Sonic 3D Blast is that its levels aren't designed in a way that fit this concept, because the levels themselves are either too big, too filled with traps, or both, making exploring and finding enemies a pain, not to mention that the only there are only five enemies a section. The sections are set up so that you do loop around eventually, but it just makes the hunt for the Flickies harder, made worse by the fact that they scatter and fly away when Sonic gets hit, like rings in previous games. It isn't too bad when it comes to the normal blue Flickies who will fly straight toward Sonic if seperated, but later levels introduce pink Flickies who like to fly in a pattern, red Flickies who fly between two points and avoid Sonic, and green Flickies who just run away from Sonic. Imagine if the pellets from Pac-Man had the same personalities of the ghosts, and you can see why this is a problem. But all of this is nothing compared to what really hampers Sonic 3D Blast: the physics and controls.
I won't beat around the bush here either and just say it: Sonic doesn't feel good to control in Sonic 3D Blast. Sonic doesn't move as fast in this game as he would in other games, which is fine due to being in 3D, but his movement regardless of his speed is just really awkward, like he's slipping on ice instead of actually running fast. This can lead to moments where Sonic slides into a wall or an enemy or a stage hazard hitting you. It isn't the worst thing, but it happened enough for me to notice and realize I don't like how Sonic handles. Hills are even worse because of this, and I was starting to realize why there were so many boosts next to ramps and hills, which I guess means the boost to win gameplay started sooner than we thought. And while there aren't as many platforming segments to worry about here, jumping is still a pain too, especially when jumping on enemies, where I have a better chance of prediciting a coin toss 100 times in a row than this attack working. Earlier I talked about how this game had something similar to the homing attack, and that is true. There is a orange shield that gives you a homing attack where it'll lock on to the nearest enemy and hit them, as well as helping moving up hills, which makes the game a little less bad; the problem is that it's a shield, so if you get hit, you lose it, you can't take it with you to other levels, and you lose it if you grab another shield. Yeah, I don't like that very much.
I don't like this game, in case it wasn't obvious. It's poorly designed, at times frustrating, and when compared to other games that came out at the same time or since, it looks even worse. I've been trying not to talk about the two elephants in the room here, or in this case the plumber and the bandicoot, but it's hard not to think of Super Mario 64 and the first Crash Bandicoot, especially since they both came out in 1996, and a good few months before Sonic 3D Blast did. I don't expect Traveler's Tales and Sega to be aware of these games, and with the tight deadline I don't think they could have done much, but it does make you look bad when your competition releases one of the greatest games of all time that changed the industry and Crash Bandicoot 1, like a student who didn't realize a paper was due and rushed something at the last minute. Sonic 3D Blast isn't a very good game, and is a terrible first 3D outing for the blue blur.
......Having said all of that, I can't in good faith call it the worst game in the series, not by a long shot. It's bad, don't get me wrong, but considering everything the game had to go through to get made, not to mention that it wasn't even supposed to be anything but a game to make a quick buck while Sonic X-Treme's release would be the big 3D Sonic debut, I feel like I can cut it some slack. Not a whole lot, but a little. There's even a version of this game that was made the lead programmer that fixes a lot of the problems 3D Blast had; I didn't play it because I don't think it's fair to look at a mod when playing a game, but if I didn't mention it, someone might, and who knows? Maybe you'll play it and have a good time.
I still remember when Sonic Mania came out and I put this game in my top 5 worst Sonic games, and honestly after playing it again for this, I do think that I would maybe put it a little bit lower, like number 6 or something. Am I this way because I'm getting older and thus feel a little more forgiving, or is the bar so low for Sonic games that anything that isn't a total dumpster fire is considered a success?
......Sonic 3D Blast is an interesting game when it came to reviews, and is proof that time is not always on your side. At the time, critics....absolutely loved the game! At least for the Genesis version. Yeah I was surprised to see that too, with a lot of critics giving it decent scores and everything, praising the game's graphics and music, but lamenting the gameplay. Granted, there weren't that many reviews and they came from mostly Sega focused magazines and press, but that's still decent. The Genesis version supposedly sold 700,000 copies and was the second best Sega Saturn game according to Mike Wallis, a lead producer of Sega of America at the time, and are numbers that I wasn't able to confirm or verify, though fun fact, a currently unopened copy of Sonic 3D Blast is on eBay right now, and can be yours for the low, low price of $1200! More recent reviews of the game, which came out when the Genesis version was released on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console were....less than kind. Lucas Thomas of IGN was not a fan of the game, saying "the sense of speed and intense action that Sonic's name was built on is absent here, replaced by, essentially, a looping, lazy fetchquest", while Austin Shau of Gamespot called it "an exercise in tedium", and PC Gamer really let the game having by saying "the first sign that Sonic in 3D was just plain not going to work", which I'm sorry I don't agree with that last one. The game is bad, yeah, but saying that this was the first sign that Sonic couldn't do 3D is as silly as blaming Ridely Scott for Metroid: Other M, espcially when there are other autrocites you can blame Ridley Scott for *cough* Promethus *cough* sorry, bad cold.
As for the impact, Sonic 3D Blast has had a suprisingly long shelf life.....well the Genesis/Mega Drive version at least. It's been included in multiple collections and re-releases, with the Sonic Mega Collection being one of the earliest and when I first heard of the game, though in retrospect it was kind of funny how they painted this as Sonic's first major 3D outing. With the cancellation of Sonic X-Treme, Sonic didn't have any other 3D games like this for a good few years. Sure, there was that one area in Sonic Jam, but that was more of a tech demo, to give us a taste of Sonic in 3D, which we would finally see in Sonic Adventure, which released on the Dreamcast in 1998. This segways perfectly into the music, a.k.a the best part of 3D Blast, which was brought over to Sonic Adventure by composer Jun Senoue...okay well it was only the opening/final level theme and the theme for the first level in Green Grove Zone, but he worked on those. Senoue said he brought them over because at the time Japan hadn't gotten the Genesis/Mega Drive versions, so he wanted them to have these tracks. And to be honest, these are the best versions of these songs, so look them up on YouTube if you got them time. Traveler's Tales went on to make Sonic R, which is also bad, but hiliariously bad, before going onto make a few other games, including Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, finally making Lego Star Wars and making LEGO games every since, even reuninting with the Sonic series for Lego Dimensions, ironically. So yeah, they're doing fine. Sort of.
So then why is it so forgotten? If it's such a bad game that very few people like, why isn't it brought up as much as say Shadow the Hedgehog, both versions of Sonic the Hedgehog that released in 2006, or even more recent games like Sonic Forces? Part of me wants to say that it released so late into the Genesis' life that no one cared, but as I've said before, there are a lot of games that release toward the end of the system's life that go on to be remember, so it can't be that. But after thinking about, I think I know why. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the reason Sonic 3D Blast is so forgotten is because it wasn't bad enough. Yes, you read that correctly, but hear me out.
Now, Sonic has had a lot of bad games. Like a lot. I know that at this point that's cliche and baby's first game critique, but there's a reason for that. But while there have been a lot of bad Sonic games, most of them have also been key turning points in the series. Shadow the Hedgehog was so bad that it caused Sega to reboot the series and give us the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.....and we all know how that one went. Sonic 3D Blast, while bad, doesn't have that level of badness tied to it.
It isn't a "come to Jesus" moment like the aformentioned Sonic The Hedgehog 2006, it isn't Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric bad, where it was meant to kick off this new side series before pettering out, nor is it disappointly bad like the Sonic The Hedgehog 4 episodic games that I still have to prepare myself mentally to talk about. Hell it's not even embrassingly bad like Sonic Forces, where it got outclassed by Sonic Mania, a fan made greatest hits album that needed a sequel yesterday. One could maybe argue that it's retroactively bad, like the original Sonic the Hedgehog, the Sonic Adventure games or arguably Sonic CD, where those games were held in high regard but are now seen as not that great, but Sonic 3D Blast isn't even that, because most of the reviews that I saw still praised the game despite saying the controls and gameplay sucked. So then all it is just bad, which I guess in the grand scheme of things makes it the highest failing grade in the class, but it's still not very good. And it doesn't make it very memorable by comparison.
Despite how good it is, or rather not good, I do think it is an important part of Sonic's history. Sonic 3D Blast was a game that was an interesting first step for the series. It was the first game to implement the homing attack, which has since become a series staple, and while it ulitmately didn't work, it was interesting to see how Sonic handled the third dimension, and I feel the series may have gone a different route if this game hadn't been made. And while Nintendo and Sony wiped the floor with Sega two generations in a row, there is something to be said about what is technically the first 3D Sonic......even if it went down as well as a chili dog sundae.
Hahahahaha, god no!
Look I know I just spent some time defending Sonic 3D Blast a bit and still think it's an important game in the series, but that doesn't make it good or an underrated gem. It is clunky, poorly executed, and plays badly, especially when compared to other 3D games. It may not be the worst game in the series, not by a long shot, but this is still a hard game to recommend. If you are going to play it, maybe play it with the Director's Cut mod on the PC; who knows? You might find something worthwhile in this. For everyone else, just look up the Sonic Adventure soundtrack and listen to the music for Windy Valley. It's amazing and the best part of Sonic 3D Blast.
Well that sucked more than I thought. Hopefully the next game is going to be a bit better this time, though with my finals coming up soon, that may or may not happen. We'll see how everything goes, but in the meantime I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving if you celebrate it.