Video game preservation websites Hidden Palace and The Cutting Room Floor have uncovered another blast from the past. This time, it's an early Sonic 3 prototype for the Sega Mega Drive. This marks one of the first prototypes that have been found for this game.
The history of a hedgehog
The Hidden Palace post announcing the Sonic 3 prototype goes into a deep dive into the 1994 game's history. Originally, Sonic 3 was planned to be an isometric 3D game similar to Sonic 3D Blast. To pull off what the game needed to do, Sega Technical Institute was going to use the Sega Virtua Processor, which was being developed for a Virtua Racing port at the time. However, the SVP was delayed around June 1993, forcing all progress on Sonic 3 to be scrapped. Even worse, a planned promotion with McDonald's planned for February gave the game a hard release date that was quickly approaching. In the end, the team decided to make a direct sequel to Sonic 2 in terms of gameplay.
Some might know that Sonic 3 is actually made up of two games, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and the "expansion" Sonic & Knuckles. The two seperate cartridges featured "lock-on" technology that allowed players to combine the games and play what was essentially the full version. The reason for this is because of time constraints. Despite having outside contract work done for the game (including a song by Michael Jackson under the direction of Brad Buxer,) it was apparent the team couldn't accomplish all their goals in time. It was decided to split the game into two projects. Sonic 3 Part 1 as it was called would finish development in November 20, 1993, and be released in February of 1994. The second half, which would be titled Sonic & Knuckles, finished development June 19, 1994, and release October that year.
Sonic 3's development problems (which SEGA publicly blamed on "programming difficulties") along with the leaks that happened during the development of Sonic 2 led SEGA to take strict measures as to how the game was shown. Because of this, one of the only extensive early previews of Sonic 3 came from the first (January '94) issue of SEGA Magazine (UK,) first sold on December 10, 1993. This magazine, which was officially backed by Sega of Europe, came with a companion magazine that gave a history of the Sonic franchise as well as an extensive preview of Sonic 3. The preview used the version of the game Hidden Palace and The Cutting Room Floor give us today.
The Sonic 3 prototype comes from only a few weeks before the final build's completion, but it has some pretty impressive differences. Some of this simply are some gameplay features, such as Sonic having the ability to quickly drop from the air and dash forward. Others come from the fact that some of the features from Sonic & Knuckles can still be seen in here. You can play Flying Battery zone in this prototype, complete with bosses.
You can download the Sonic 3 prototype from Hidden Palace here.
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