Review: Sonic 3D Blast (Saturn)

Sonic 3D Blast was released for the Sega Saturn on November 20, 1996. The game was ported to the Saturn in 7 weeks, as a last minute effort by Sega to have a Sonic game out by Christmas after Sonic X-treme was cancelled. So, is Sonic's first Saturn outing any good? The game takes you through 7 unique locales including:

  • Green Grove Zone: The classic first level in a Sonic game, with lots of trees and waterfalls.
  • Rusty Ruin Zone: This zone takes you through ancient ruins, featuring the best music in the game, as well as the best boss.
  • Spring Stadium Zone: Should be called spring tedious zone, the classic "casino" zone with lots of springs and bumpers
  • Diamond Dust Zone: Every game needs a winter themed zone, Diamond Dust fills that void.
  • Volcano Valley Zone: This unique zone features lots of lava and fire
  • Gene Gadget Zone: This high tech zone is also a staple in Sonic games, with lots of spikes and other things to kill Sonic
  • Panic Puppet Zone: The developers were clearly running out of Zone names... the most difficult zone and leads you to the final showdown with Dr. Robotnic.

Following in Sonic tradition, each zone has 2 main acts. The third act is a boss battle with Dr. Robotnic.

Sonic 3D Blast features an isometric view point utilizing sprites to simulate a 3D environment. Graphically speaking it's better than average. The levels themselves are oozing with colors and a tremendous amount of detail. A few stages even showcase convincing weather effects, such as rain, snow, and fog. Sonic 3D blast was released a few months after Nintendo's revolutionary Mario 64. I can imagine Saturn gamers being disappointed that their mascot title was a two dimensional port of an average at best Genesis game. Still, looking at it 13 years later, Sonic 3D blast is a good looking 2D game.

Also worth mentioning are the excellent enemies. All of the enemies are well animated and feature a lot of detail. They have the same pre-rendered 3D look of the levels, but really stand out and look terrific. Sonic himself looks well enough, if not a tad too shiny.

The main game play element of Sonic 3D blast is collecting Flickies, cute little animal creatures, to progress through the levels. You must search the level and destroy 5 of Dr. Robotnic's robots to release the Flickies, and then walk near the creature to collect it. It will then follow you around until you, or it, are hit by an enemy or other obstacle. If hit, you must chase the Flicky down and recollect it. After collecting 5, you must bring them to a warp ring. You can then progress to the next part of the act. The early acts have 10 Flickies to collect, and later acts are divided into three parts, requiring 15 Flickies.

This is where Sonic 3D Blast starts to fall apart. Past Sonic game's placed the emphasis on speed. Sonic 3D Blast places the emphasis on exploring. You cannot progress through the level without finding the 5 enemies and capturing Flickies. This slows game play down to a crawl, with some levels taking me as long as 10 minutes to complete! The controls are also incredibly slippery, making precise movements difficult. Some enemies also fly, and combined with the isometric viewpoint, make hitting an enemy in the air troublesome.

However the worst part of the game is the jumping. Walking is difficult in Sonic 3D Blast. Jumping over a lava pit onto a small moving platform is damn near impossible. While there are only a few areas on the game that require precise jumping, they are enough to ruin the already underwhelming experience. I do recommend using the Saturn's 3D Control Pad when playing. The analog stick makes walking at 45 degree angles much easier than the standard d-pad.

There is a bright spot to the game play, and that is the boss battles. The open arenas lend them self well to the slippery controls and let Sonic run at full speed. Dr. Robotnic features his usual egg mobile with add-ons to try and destroy the blue blur, and each is satisfying to learn the attack patterns and defeat.

The Saturn version of Sonic 3D Blast did receive an exclusive bonus game though. After collecting 50 rings, you need to find Tails or Knuckles to be whisked away to a bonus game in attempt to earn a Chaos Emerald. The bonus game mimicks the half-pipe bonus game in Sonic 2 for the Sega Genesis, only it's rendered completely in 3D. Sadly, the slippery controls carry over from the main game making collecting rings harder than it should be. It's nice to see Sonic rendered with polygons though.

However, the real bight spot to Sonic 3D Blast is the outstanding soundtrack. Produced by Richard Jacques (who also did Sonic R's soundtrack), each of the 7 levels features it's own track the suits the level design brilliantly. From the smooth melodies of the first couple of levels, the harsh music for the volcano level, to the techno sounds in Dr. Robotnic's levels, the music never disappoints, and really saves the game from being a complete let down.

Sonic 3D Blast does manage to capture the spirit of Sonic and the universe he presides in. The levels follow the typical pattern in Sonic games, with breathtaking outdoor environments. All of the sound effects are here is well, including the jumping noise, the chime when you collect a ring, as well as the "Sonic got through Act 1" jingle. I still find myself torn. If the game didn't feature Sonic I probably wouldn't have played it. At the same time, if it wasn't a Sonic game, I would have found the pace more acceptable.

Overall, Sonic 3D blast is a below average game with slick visuals that have aged well, and a soundtrack that alone is worth the price of entry. The 3D Control Pad helps the game play department immensely, and makes controlling Sonic tolerable. Still, Sonic 3D Blast is neither 3D, nor a blast. For fans only.

Graphics 7/10 - I'll take sharp sprites over muddy textures polygons any day
Sound 9/10 - Not as good as Sonic CD, but close
Game Play 4/10 - Slow, boring, and slippery
Overall 5/10 - The excellent soundtrack saves this underwhelming platformer