Thanks to the success of the first two Sonic the Hedgehog titles, Sega had emerged as a true rival to Nintendo during the early 1990s. The company continued their run of success with a third game released 25 years ago, on February 2, 1994, simply called Sonic the Hedgehog 3.
Like the previous two games, Sonic 3 was a side-scrolling platformer in which players could control Sonic, Tails, or both of them (playing as both has Tails running behind Sonic independently, and also allows for a second player to join and play as Tails). The game is divided into six different zones that are accordingly divided into two acts each. Players collect rings as a health system; being hit while carrying rings will scatter them, and being hit with zero rings will cause the player to lose a life. Sonic and Tails can defeat enemies by jumping on top of them or by spinning into them.
In terms of the plot, the game picked up right where the previous entry left off. The nefarious Doctor Robotnik’s space station crash lands on Angel Island following Robotnik’s defeat at the hands of Sonic at the end of Sonic 2. On the island, Robotnik meets Knuckles the Echidna, who is the last member of an ancient tribe that protects the Master Emerald. Robotnik is able to trick Knuckles into working for him by convincing him that Sonic and Tails will come to try and steal the Master Emerald; meanwhile, Robotnik works to rebuild his space station. Eventually, Sonic meets and defeats Knuckles, eventually convincing him of his innocence, and defeats Robotnik once again.
One of the more interesting footnotes about Sonic 3 is the alleged involvement of Michael Jackson in the game’s soundtrack. Stories began surfacing in about 2005 regarding this; apparently, Jackson had been a fan of the series, and contributed to various musical tracks. However, his involvement was apparently terminated following the allegations of sexual abuse that had surfaced around the same time. By 2013, fans began noticing that certain tracks sounded suspiciously like Jackson’s songs, such as the credits theme sounding like “Stranger in Moscow.” Meanwhile, Sega executives have said that any resemblance is unintentional, and that Jackson was never involved (or that if he was, that the studio heads didn’t know).
Sonic 3 was positively received on release, with many critics noting various improvements on the previous game, such as the new special stages and the overall level design. The game would be expanded upon later in 1994, with the release of Sonic & Knuckles, which continued the story and allowed for players to control Knuckles for the first time.