Episode 11: Sonic 3 & Knuckles



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With the completion of our Sonic & Knuckles play through, Brian and Ray sit down and discuss the game itself, the controversy around how it was made and it’s place in gaming history.

All of this quickly dissolves into an argument around the best 2D Platformer of all time, Super Mario World for the SNES vs. Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

Some 90’s habits die hard…



Sonic & Knuckles 3 Notes

Major Contributors:

Director(s) Hirokazu Yasuhara
Producer(s) Yuji Naka
  • Yuji Naka
  • Hiroshi Nikaidoh
  • Masanobu Yamamoto
  • Takashi Yuda
  • Satoshi Yokokawa


Sonic & Knuckles 3 – 1994 (feb), Sega Genesis

Genre:  Platformer

Developer:  Sonic Team

Publisher: Sega

Ports: Windows OS (and every modern console)


Dr. Robotnik’s space station, the Death Egg, crash-lands on a mystical floating landmass called Angel Island after Sonic and Tails defeat him at the end of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. As Robotnik begins to repair the damaged station, he meets Knuckles the Echidna, the last surviving member of an ancient echidna civilization that once inhabited the island, as well as the guardian of the Master Emerald, which grants the island its levitation powers. Realizing Sonic and Tails will try to track him down, Robotnik dupes Knuckles into believing Sonic is trying to steal the Master Emerald, turning the two against each other while Robotnik tries to repair his space station.

Meanwhile, Sonic and Tails approach Angel Island in their biplane, the “Tornado”. Sonic jumps off the plane and, using the Chaos Emeralds, turns into Super Sonic, and zooms towards the island. When they arrive, Knuckles ambushes Sonic from underground, steals the emeralds, and disappears inland.

As Sonic and Tails travel through the island, they frequently encounter Knuckles and Robotnik, who hinder their progress with various traps. Sonic and Tails eventually arrive at the Launch Base, where the destroyed Death Egg is being repaired. They fight with Knuckles, but the Death Egg launches back into the sky, leaving him behind. They fight Robotnik one last time on a platform attached to the underside of the Death Egg. They defeat him, and the resulting explosion drops Sonic and Tails away from the Death Egg, which crash-lands farther off on Angel Island again. The story is continued in Sonic & Knuckles.   (wiki)

Notable Releases in 1993:

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Zones   (wikia)

  1. Angel Island Zone: A tranquil jungle that is set ablaze by Dr. Robotnik after Sonic and Tails arrive. The mini-boss is one of the hovering flame drones that burned the jungle. Sonic and/or Tails faces off against Dr. Robotnik’s own flame-wielding vehicle at a waterfall.
  2. Hydrocity Zone: The inner workings of a complex dam from the echidna age. After tangling with a mini-boss that can spin Sonic and Tails in a whirlpool, Dr. Robotnik tries to stop them with his own whirlpool inducer as well as depth charges.
  3. Marble Garden Zone: The marble ruins of an ancient civilization. The mini-boss uses a pair of drills to attack Sonic and Tails, both directly and by drilling into the rock above and raining debris on their heads (reminiscent of Dr. Robotnik’s own vehicle in the Mystic Cave Zone of Sonic the Hedgehog 2). Dr. Robotnik attempts to crush the pair under the collapsing ruins, and when Tails airlifts Sonic out of danger, charges at them directly with his drill. This is the only Zone without any water to drown Sonic or Tails, though tar pits can still drag the heroes down and kill them.
  4. Carnival Night Zone: Tails drops Sonic into a playful carnival filled with balloons, pinball bumpers, and cannons to launch from, although unlike Casino Night Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 there are no slot machines. After Sonic and Tails survive the mini-boss on a slowly eroding platform, they face Dr. Robotnik, who this time drops a large sphere and uses it to create an electric storm that draws the pair towards its discharge. Halfway through Act 2, Sonic must push a rotating cylinder down through a slot low enough for him to escape through. This is completed by pressing up and down on the D-pad, essentially frustrating many players who didn’t figure out the tricks at first. Carnival Night Zone is the longest of all Zones available in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles as well).
  5. IceCap Zone: An icy area that takes place within an icy cavern and within icebergs. The level contains vents that shoot out cold bursts that freeze and harm Sonic. At the end of Act 1, a snow machine that spins snow at Sonic or Tails tries to crush them. Robotnik attacks in Act 2 in a machine that that has a spiked platform drop down and fires the freezing bursts in a pattern at Sonic.
  6. Launch Base Zone: Dr. Robotnik’s site that houses the stricken Death Egg, with spinning elevators for facilitation of travel and alarms to keep out intruders. The mini-boss uses two flailing arms. Dr. Robotnik uses three different weapons to stop Sonic and Tails: first, a static projectile launcher at the foot of the Death Egg. When that fails, Robotnik flees to the Death Egg and Sonic chases after, leaving Tails behind. After boarding, Dr. Robotnik employs a rocket armed with lasers to fight Sonic, and then finally resorts to a large pair of arms (possibly inspired by his power suit at the end of Sonic the Hedgehog 2) to grab Sonic in a ball and slam him into the floor (as well as the rather impressive ability to damage even Super Sonic, though taking Super Sonic to the final battle is rare).


As with its predecessors, Sonic 3 was developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega. Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara were the primary creators of the Sonic 3 design document and project schedule. Sonic 3 began as a top-down, isometric game, similar to what would become Sonic 3D Blast (1996), but the concept was abandoned early as the team did not want to change the Sonic formula too radically for a sequel.

Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were originally planned as a single game. However, time was limited and the manufacturing costs of a 34-megabit cartridge with NVRAM would have been prohibitively expensive. Sonic Team split the game in half, giving the developers more time to finish the second part, and splitting the cost between two cartridges. The cartridge has a small amount of non-volatile RAM built into it, which allows the player to save game progress to the game cartridge.

Sonic 3 was released on February 2, 1994 in North America and February 24 in Europe. To help promote the game’s European release, the British band Right Said Fred adapted the song “Wonderman” to include references to Sonic. In the music video, Fezhead and Skull from the Sega TV advertising campaign appeared along with Sonic. The song was used in the game’s advertisements and released as a single, which charted in the UK at number 55.  (wiki)


Sonic 3 is a 2D side-scrolling platformer. At the game’s start, players can choose to select Sonic, Tails, or both. In the latter choice, players control Sonic while Tails runs along beside him; a second player can join in at any time and control Tails separately. Sonic 3 adds the ability for Tails to fly for a short time by spinning his twin tails like a propeller; when he gets too tired, he falls. Unlike Sonic, Tails can also swim underwater.

The game takes place over six zones, each divided into two acts. Levels are populated with Robotnik’s robots, called “badniks”; Sonic and Tails can defeat badniks by jumping on them or using the “spin dash” attack, which also gives the character a speed boost. The levels include obstacles and other features such as vertical loops, corkscrews, breakable walls, spikes, water that the player can drown in, and bottomless pits. There is a miniboss fight with one of Robotnik’s large, powerful robots at the end of the first act of each level and a full boss fight with Robotnik at the end of the second. Reaching a new level saves the player’s game to one of six save slots, which can be loaded later.

As with previous Sonic games, Sonic 3 uses rings, scattered throughout the game’s levels, as a health system; when the player is attacked without rings, is crushed, falls off-screen, or exceeds the act’s ten-minute limit, they lose a life and return to the most recently passed checkpoint. Dying with zero lives gives the player a game over. The levels also include power-ups in television monitors that, when hit, grant the character an extra life, temporary invincibility to most hazards, a number of rings, a shield that allows them to breathe underwater, a shield that allows them to withstand fire from enemy projectiles, or a shield that attracts nearby rings.

The game contains two types of “special stages”. When the player collects at least 50 rings and passes a checkpoint, they can warp to the first type, which involves bouncing up a gumball machine-like corridor to earn power-ups by hitting a switch. Both sides of the corridor are lined with flippers, which disappear when the character bounces on them, and the switch drops when both flippers supporting it are removed. The corridor’s floor contains a bounce pad, which also disappears after one use; falling afterwards causes the player to leave the stage with the most recent power-up collected.

The second type, triggered by entering giant rings found in secret passages, involves running around a 3D map and passing through all of a number of blue spheres arranged in patterns. Passing through a blue sphere turns it red, and touching a red sphere causes the player to leave the stage, unless the player has just completed a cycle around an arrangement of blue spheres, in which case all of these spheres turn to harmless rings. Removing all of the blue spheres gives the player a Chaos Emerald; if Sonic (not Tails) collects all seven, he can become Super Sonic at will, which makes him invincible to most obstacles.

Sonic 3 includes a competitive mode: two players, controlling Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles the Echidna, race through one or all of five stages that do not appear in the main game. In these same stages, a single player can compete against the clock in time attacks.    (wiki)

Gameplay cont.  (wikia)

As the player, the player controls either Sonic or Tails or both. The player’s aim is to guide them through six Zones, defeat Dr. Robotnik and collect all Chaos Emeralds along the way. The six Zones are divided into two Acts where, unlike previous Sonic games, each Zone has a mini-boss at the end of the first Act, and each first Act connects directly to the second, preserving any shields the players may have. After a boss is defeated, a short cutscene is shown to segue into the next Zone.

Basic gameplay remains unchanged from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, with the addition of a Spin Attack for Sonic (by double-tapping the jump button) and flight movement for Tails, enabling him to pick up and carry Sonic around the map. In addition, three new shields, each with their own special ability, are added to the item bonuses:

  • Flame Shield: Absorbs all fire damage and enables the player to walk freely on lava. Sonic can use it to perform a horizontal charge in mid-air.
  • Water Shield: Enables the player to breathe underwater. Sonic can use it to bounce on his enemies.
  • Lightning Shield: Protects against all electrical damage and also magnetically draws any rings nearby to the player. Sonic can use it to perform a vertical charge or double jump in mid-air.

Both the Flame and Lightning Shields cannot be used underwater and they will instantly fizzle when submerged in it. All shields deflect enemy shots.

Michael Jackson’s involvement

In 2005, former Sega Technical Institute director Roger Hector stated that Sega brought in Michael Jackson to compose music for Sonic 3, but following the allegations of sexual abuse against Jackson, his involvement was terminated and the music reworked. The website of musician Cirocco Jones, who contributed music to Sonic 3 and is credited in-game as “Scirocco”, credits himself along with Jackson and Jackson’s tour keyboardist and songwriting collaborator Brad Buxer for musical cues for “levels 2 & 3” of “Sonic the Hedgehog”. However, senior Sega staff later stated that any involvement of Jackson was arranged without their knowledge, and no contracts nor formal agreements were ever made.

In a 2009 interview with French magazine Black & White, Buxer stated that Jackson was involved with some Sonic 3 compositions, but chose to remain uncredited because he was unhappy with the sound capabilities of the Genesis. He also said that the Sonic 3 credits music later became the basis for Jackson’s 1996 single, “Stranger in Moscow“. In 2013, it was discovered that the musical theme for IceCap Zone closely resembles a previously unreleased 1982 track, “Hard Times”, by the Jetzons, for which Buxer was the keyboardist and co-songwriter.

In October 2013, GameTrailers dedicated an episode of its Pop Fiction series to examining Jackson’s involvement with the game. Roger Hector, who previously stated that Jackson’s involvement in the game was dropped due to the sexual abuse allegations, stated that any similarities to Jackson’s music in Sonic 3 was not intentional on Sega’s part. However, an anonymous source involved in the game’s development reaffirmed Buxer’s statements and said Jackson was involved before the scandals came to light in August 1993, and that his contributions remained in the game with Jackson choosing to remain uncredited. The source specified that the musical theme for Carnival Night Zone was one of the pieces Jackson contributed to.    (wiki)


Like its predecessors, Sonic 3 received critical acclaim. It holds a score of 89% at review aggregator GameRankings based on 5 reviews. Critics generally felt Sonic 3 was the best game in the series so far. Andrew Humphreys of Hyper, who declared himself not a Sonic fan, said it was “undoubtedly” the best of the series, including the acclaimed but obscure Sonic CD, though he admitted having preferred Sonic 2’s special stages by a small margin. Sega Magazine, however, stated that Sonic 3 has better special stages and was not only superior to Sonic 2 as a whole but would be “a serious contender for the Best Platform Game Ever award”.  Sega Power wrote that despite their skepticism, they found it “excellent” and easily “the most explorable and playable” in the series. Electronic Gaming Monthly also compared Sonic 3 favorably to Sonic 1, 2, and CD and awarded it their “Game of the Month” award. They later ranked it number 1 in The EGM Hot 50, indicating that it received the highest average score of any game they’d reviewed in the past year. Thomas of IGN stated that Sonic 3 “completed the trilogy as the best of them all.” Whitehead, however, considered Sonic & Knuckles superior.

Some critics felt that Sonic 3 had innovated too little from previous Sonic games. Humphreys of Hyper saw only “a few new features” while Sega Power thought it was “not all that different” and Nintendo Life writer Damien McFerran said that “there’s not a lot of new elements here to be brutally frank”. Provo stated that the game’s most significant addition was its save system. However, he and Electronic Gaming Monthly also both enjoyed the new power-ups. Many aspects of the game’s level design were praised; Electronic Gaming Monthly and Sega Power enjoyed the game’s expansive stages, secret areas, much less linear level design, and difficulty.  Mean Machines agreed, describing the game as “a rollercoaster ride from start to finish” and listing Carnival Night as their favorite level, which they described as “probably the most slickly programmed portion of game in Megadrive history”. Humphreys and Mean Machines felt that the game was too short, but they and Sega Magazine felt that its two-player mode and the Emerald collecting would significantly extend the title’s replay value. On the other hand, Whitehead said that the stages’ large sizes would keep players sufficiently engrossed. Sega Magazine also enjoyed having the ability to play as Knuckles in the two-player mode.

The Genesis version of the game sold 1.02 million copies in the United States    (wiki)


Yuji Naka – Sonic Retro

Yuji Naka and Miyamoto – Gamnesia

Yuji Naka  –  Polygon

Brad Buxer – VGMdb

Stranger in Moscow (Ending Credits Sonic 3) – youtube

Hirokazu Yasuhara – Sonic Retro

Iizuka says Sonic 3 released early for McDonald’s?  –  IGN

Naoto Ohshima  –  Gamasutra


Sonic & Knuckles – 1994, Sega Genesis

Genre:  Platformer

Developer:  Sonic Team

Publisher: Sega

Ports: Windows OS (and every modern console)


The game follows Sonic and Knuckles in their respective quests to save Angel Island. Sonic’s side of the story picks up immediately after the events of Sonic 3, where Dr. Robotnik’s orbital weapon, the Death Egg, is damaged in a battle with Sonic and crash-lands back onto Angel Island. Sonic travels through each zone looking to retrieve the Chaos Emeralds to defeat Robotnik, and once again comes into conflict with Knuckles, who believes Sonic is trying to steal the Emeralds for himself.

In Hidden Palace Zone, Sonic fights and defeats Knuckles. The two hear a disturbance outside of the chamber, and go out to find Dr. Robotnik stealing the Master Emerald, the secret to the island’s levitation powers. Knuckles attempts to attack Robotnik, but is electrically shocked in the process, and is trapped with Sonic in an underground passage. Knuckles, realizing Sonic is on his side, shows him a portal that leads them to Sky Sanctuary, where the Death Egg is relaunching.

At Sky Sanctuary, Sonic battles against Robotnik’s robotic EggRobo minions and Mecha Sonic. Mecha Sonic is left behind in a damaged state as Sonic boards the relaunching Death Egg, where he battles and defeats Robotnik, who flees with the Master Emerald. If the player collects all the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic enters the Doomsday Zone where he chases after Robotnik and the Master Emerald. After destroying the robot, Sonic reverts to his normal state and falls to Earth, but is saved by Tails, and returns the Master Emerald to its rightful place. In a post-credits scene, a lone EggRobo rises from the wreckage of the Death Egg. This leads into Knuckles’ story.

Knuckles’ story begins in Mushroom Hill, where he is relaxing with his animal friends but is interrupted by a bomb dropped by EggRobo. This prompts Knuckles to chase after him, leading him through most of the same zones Sonic went through. The chase ends at the damaged remains of Sky Sanctuary, where Mecha Sonic attacks Knuckles but accidentally destroys EggRobo instead. After a short fight, Mecha Sonic uses the power of the Master Emerald to achieve a Super form similar to Sonic’s. Knuckles manages to defeat Super Mecha Sonic, who blows up. Sonic flies in piloting the biplane Tornado and Knuckles hitches a ride to return the Master Emerald to Angel Island. If all the Chaos Emeralds are collected, Angel Island rises upwards, into the sky. However, if the player has not collected all the Chaos Emeralds, Knuckles cannot redeem the Master Emerald, and Angel Island plummets into the ocean.   (wiki)

Notable Releases in 1994:

Sonic & Knuckles Zones   (wikia)

  1. Mushroom Hill Zone: A lush forest, with pump elevators, sticky vines, and filled with mushrooms that also serve as trampolines or parachutes. The miniboss is a woodcutter robot, and for the fight with Robotnik, the player must avoid the spiked bars and cannon shots while hitting the satellite-enhanced Eggman Mobile.
  2. Flying Battery Zone: The player is propelled to this flying fortress with electrified robots. The mini-boss looks like the Flicky-capsule and must be tricked into hitting itself. Robotnik is fought twice: first, he traps the player in an arena with a moving laser blaster on the ceiling, very similar to the Wing Fortress Zone boss. Then, it goes to an exterior platform which Robotnik latches onto from below and crawls along, spouting flame from the top of the pod every time the character attempts to jump over, and swinging upwards to be hit. This zone is the only zone where Knuckles faces Robotnik instead of Eggrobo, due to his access to the blimp being a last-minute decision.
  3. Sandopolis Zone: The heroes fall in this desert zone, which houses a haunted pyramid which the character enters after beating the Guardian mini-boss. The boss, Egg Golem, must be hit in the face so Robotnik is exposed.
  4. Lava Reef Zone: The interior of a volcano, on which the Death Egg had crash-landed. The miniboss consists of mechanical hands that hit the player and orbs that shoot fireballs. Knuckles doesn’t face a boss, but Sonic faces Robotnik in an invincible machine, which is only harmed by the landmines it drops.
  5. Hidden Palace Zone: The old Echidna temple. Knuckles just traverses the zone. Sonic and/or Tails however, has to fight Knuckles. After he is defeated, Robotnik steals the Master Emerald to deceive the echidna; Knuckles decides to help the heroes instead.
  6. Sky Sanctuary Zone: A secret passage leads to these crumbly aerial ruins. Knuckles just faces his final boss, Mecha Sonic, which uses the Master Emerald to go Super. Sonic and/or Tails has to climb the zone facing Mecha Sonic three times – one in the first flail-swinging mobile, another in a “Flying Eggman” and finally on foot.
  7. Death Egg Zone: Robotnik’s space station, with electric traps, a vacuum chamber and sections with altered gravity. Two minibosses – Red Eye, a vulnerable laser shooting eye surrounded by spiked orbs, and Death Ball, which is only hit when the rotating shield bumpers are away – before facing a Robotnik-shaped mecha, Kyodai Eggman Robo.
  8. The Doomsday Zone: Only accessible as Super Sonic, this zone has Sonic chasing Robotnik through space, avoiding meteors and missiles, and trying not to get his rings depleted.


Sonic & Knuckles is a platform game developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis. Released on October 18, 1994, it is the fifth installment in the main Sonic the Hedgehog series and a direct sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which released earlier that year. It follows Sonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles the Echidna in their respective quests to save Angel Island; Sonic tries to prevent Dr. Robotnik from relaunching his orbital weapon, the Death Egg, while Knuckles scuffles with Robotnik’s minion, known as EggRobo.

Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were originally intended to be released as a single game. However, due to time constraints and the cost of a large-memory-capacity cartridge, Sega split the project in two. The Sonic & Knuckles cartridge uses “lock-on technology” that allows the game to connect to the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 cartridges, combining elements from either game.

Sonic & Knuckles was developed at the Sega Technical Institute by members of Sonic Team in the United States. It and Sonic 3 were originally planned as a single game; due to time constraints and the prohibitively expensive manufacturing costs of a cartridge with more memory, Sega split the game in half, with Sonic & Knuckles as the second part of the Sonic 3 story.

According to Roger Hector, vice president and general manager of Sega Technical Institute, the lock-on technology was conceived two and a half years before the release of Sonic & Knuckles, between the releases of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Early development screenshots suggest Knuckles was planned to be playable in the first Sonic the Hedgehog via Sonic & Knuckles’ lock-on technology, but this feature was removed prior to release.

Sonic & Knuckles was met with positive reviews. Critics were impressed with the lock-on technology, although criticizing its similarity to its predecessor. It has since been rereleased in various compilations and on digital platforms such as Xbox Live Arcade, Virtual Console, and Steam.   (wiki)


Since Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 were developed initially as a single title, their gameplay is similar: both are 2D side-scrolling platformers with similar level design, graphics, and game mechanics. However, in Sonic & Knuckles, unlike in Sonic 3, the player chooses either Sonic or Knuckles at the title screen, Miles “Tails” Prower is not available to select, and the player cannot control two characters together. There is also no multiplayer mode or save feature.

The player character moves through six levels, each divided into two acts. The first act of each level ends with a miniboss fight with one of Dr. Robotnik‘s robots, while the second ends with a regular boss fight with Robotnik (or EggRobo in Knuckles’ campaign). Sonic and Knuckles traverse levels differently: Sonic can jump slightly higher, is faster and can use the insta-shield ability which makes him invincible for a split-second, whereas Knuckles can glide, break obstacles and climb most walls. The levels also include cutscenes that differ based on the character selected, as Sonic and Knuckles are rivals for most of the game.

The game contains two types of bonus stages accessed by passing a checkpoint with at least 20 rings. The first type has Sonic or Knuckles orbit floating, glowing spheres, jetting off each one when a button is pressed, while a fence of light approaches from the bottom and will remove the player from the stage if touched. Collecting 50 rings in this stage earns the player a continue. The second type involves bouncing around a room with a slot machine in its center with the intention of winning extra lives and power-ups.

Special Stages are entered by finding giant rings hidden in secret passageways: the player is placed in a 3D environment and must turn all of a number of blue spheres red by running through them, but must avoid all red spheres, including formerly blue ones. Yellow spheres bounce the player long distances. Completing a Special Stage earns the player a Chaos Emerald; collecting all seven Emeralds allows the player to turn into Super Sonic or Super Knuckles, more powerful versions of the characters.   (wiki)

Lock-on technology

Sonic & Knuckles features “lock-on technology” that allows players to open the hatch on the cartridge and insert a second cartridge. When Sonic 3 is inserted, the player can play through both games as one, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This features several changes to the games, such as slightly altered level layouts, the ability to play through Sonic 3 levels as Knuckles or Sonic & Knuckles levels as Tails, and the ability to save progress in Sonic & Knuckles levels. Additionally, combining the cartridges is the only way to collect “Super Emeralds”, earned by accessing Special Stages in the Sonic & Knuckles levels after collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds from Sonic 3. When all Super Emeralds have been collected, Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails can transform into Hyper Sonic, Hyper Knuckles, and Super Tails respectively, each with unique abilities. Inserting Sonic 2 unlocks Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, wherein the player can play Sonic 2 using Knuckles’ abilities.

If the player attaches any other cartridge, a screen with Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Robotnik stating “No Way” is displayed. From here, the player can also access a minigame based on Sonic 3’s and Sonic & Knuckles’s Chaos Emerald Special Stages. The attached cartridge determines the Special Stage layout. If the player attaches the original Sonic the Hedgehog or Sonic Compilation, the “No Way” screen appears, but the player is able to access all of the possible variations of Special Stages, each with a unique level number and corresponding password. This game is named Blue Sphere in Sonic Mega Collection.  (wiki)


Critics praised Sonic & Knuckles, despite its similarity to its predecessor. The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly named it their “Game of the Month”. They lauded the lock-on technology and remarked that despite that being “more of the same, it still is an exceptional game.” A reviewer of GamePro, who gave it a perfect score, commented that the ability to play as Knuckles makes it essentially two games on a single cartridge, the game is more challenging than Sonic 3, and the ability to hook the cartridge up to Sonic 2 and 3 makes those games “worth playing again.”

Critics praised the lock-on technology the game offered. Lucas Thomas of IGN said it was “a great game on its own”, but the lock-on feature completely revamped the overall experience. Dan Whitehead of Eurogamer preferred Sonic & Knuckles to Sonic 3, stating that he could not fully appreciate its predecessor without its “companion piece”. Sega Power‘s review praised the game’s harder difficulty in comparison to its predecessor and the new expansion of levels, admitting that the expansion would not have been possible had Sonic 3 been a single game. Sega Magazine‘s review similarly praised the lock-on technology and the new innovation the unique cartridge offered, adding that Sonic & Knuckles’ hidden stages and bosses would strongly add to the replay value of the combined title.

Reviewing the Virtual Console release, Nintendo Life writer James Newton praised its support for the old lock-on feature of the original release, claiming that the game does not truly shine without having purchased Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and 3 to activate this feature. Thomas praised the game for “impressive visuals that pushed the Genesis to its limits” and for the value added in the content unlocked with the lock-on technology.

The Genesis version sold 1.24 million copies in the United States.


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