The release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars got us thinking about the plumber’s platforming rival from the days of the console wars. Sonic the Hedgehog’s jump into the third dimension may not have been as graceful as Mario’s, but over the years he’s amassed a large collection of 3D games, and despite a few notable low points, many of them offer excellent erinaceidae platforming.
To make sure SEGA’s hedgehog isn’t overshadowed as he approaches his 30th birthday, we asked Nintendo Life readers to rank every 3D Sonic game that has appeared on a Nintendo system. Our thanks to everyone who voted — you’ll find the ranking of the 14 candidates below.
Remember: the order below is updated in real time according the each game’s corresponding User Rating in the Nintendo Life game database. Even as you read this, it’s entirely possible to influence the ranking below. If you haven’t rated your favourites yet, simply click on the game you wish to rate and assign a score on the Game Page.
So, grab a chili dog and a companion from your ragtag bunch of sidekicks, and let’s check out the best (and worst) 3D Sonic games on Nintendo systems…
Publisher: SEGA / Developer: Big Red Button
Part of a cross-media rebrand for Sonic and the gang — now with added tape and neckwear — Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was a poe-faced, misguided attempt at a reboot that presented stretched out redesigns of the main characters and gave you a largely-vacant open world to explore. Its audio was passably entertaining, but a host of technical issues and questionable decisions made this a disappointment on every other level.
This isometric Game Gear title from Minato Giken had you exploring four maze-like levels for keys to open a goal gate and battling a boss at the end of three Acts. With uninspiring level design and slow, soupy movement, this is a ‘3D’ Sonic that removes the key ingredients of a Sonic game. Sonic Labyrinth is available for 3DS, but is only really for masochistic Sonic completionists.
Publisher: SEGA / Developer: SEGA Studio USA
The first Sonic game for Wii, this Arabian Nights-themed take on the 3D formula put Sonic centre stage as the only playable character. Sonic and the Secret Rings used the console’s unique controller in an on-rails adventure which looked lovely, but arguably failed to nail the hedgehog’s 2D appeal in the third dimension. Like many of Sonic’s 3D games, it has fun or interesting elements, but they don’t cohere into a satisfying whole.
Publisher: SEGA / Developer: Travellers Tales
As a technical showpiece for the ageing Genesis / Mega Drive, Traveller’s Tales Sonic 3D Blast (or Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island as it’s known in Europe) is an admirable stab at the Sonic formula in isometric 3D. The visuals capture the look of the hedgehog’s checkerboard Zones well enough, but its sluggish controls and overall reduced pace compared to the 2D classics reduce it to the status of intriguing curio.
Far from essential, then, but also not the bottom of the barrel.
“You know what Sonic needs? A sword — a talking one, if poss!” said nobody ever, except that one person in the meeting where they came up with Sonic and the Black Knight. This title continues the ‘Storybook’ series that began with Secret Rings and puts Sonic in an Arthurian adventure that introduced Wii-waggle sword fighting for good measure.
It’s about as good as that sounds, and while it’s not without moments of charm, the execution here just doesn’t cut it. We’re left with another mediocre-to-poor entry in Sonic’s 3D catalogue.
Publisher: SEGA / Developer: SEGA Studio USA
If you ever wondered what a Sonic game crossed with a third-person shooter would be like, Shadow the Hedgehog is your answer. This spin-off followed on from Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes and took the series on a ‘darker’, more ‘mature’ route. It’s arguably not as poor as its reputation suggests, although it suffers from much of the inelegance and poor level design of other lesser Sonic adventures. The attempt to produce a grittier version of Sonic comes off as hopelessly try-hard, but that approach has its fans — as does Shadow the Hedgehog.
Sonic Lost World has its share of mediocrity and questionable design, but is also has flashes of the old Sonic magic that have kept fans on a drip feed of hope for many years. While it has plenty of 2D stages, it’s also a handheld entry that dares to attempt ‘proper’ 3D, too, and it’s impressive considering the 3DS hardware.
Don’t get us wrong: the 3DS version is an extremely average experience overall, and we far prefer its Wii U bigger brother, but this is also far from the worst Sonic game you’ll ever play and it contains simple moments of platforming pleasure that are really rather good.
Combining Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic in a similar way to Sonic Generations, this was a less successful take on the formula. It’s a mixed bag of 3D, 2D and narrative that in many ways typifies the last two decades of Sonic games, with the player often feeling like a onlooker than a participant in the action. A younger audience may be more forgiving, but Sonic veterans have been here and done it all before.
Superficially, this is Sonic’s take on a Super Mario Galaxy-style adventure with cylindrical worlds and abstract delights. It’s a long way behind Nintendo’s masterpiece, but Sonic Lost World is still a clever, colourful platformer which offers flashes of genius and fun. You’ll just have to put up with plenty of frustration to get at the really good stuff.
It’s the Sonic X Werewolf crossover everyone was gagging for! Yes, Sonic Team insistence on disrupting Sonic’s flow with random gameplay elements from other genres continued with Sonic Unleashed, which turned everyone’s favourite speed freak into a lumbering lupine oaf when night fell. It has its moments — as most Sonic games do — but throw in Wii waggle for the lacklustre brawler bits, and the result is yet another patchy entry in the 3D Sonic canon.
Eschewing the more open approach of the Adventure games for more linear-style levels, Sonic Heroes gives you teams of characters to switch between including fan favourites Big the Cat, Rouge the Bat and Cream the rabbit alongside the classic trio of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. It did an admirable job of replicating the feeling of the 2D Sonic games in three dimensions, and while it’s not perfect, there’s a lot to like about Sonic Heroes.
Seeing the DX version of this on GameCube was, for many, extremely odd at the time as we couldn’t imagine seeing SEGA’s mascot on a Nintendo home console. The Dreamcast original wowed anybody old enough to remember seeing Sonic in proper 3D for the first time, so having it on GameCube was something special, and not a little strange.
Time hasn’t been as kind to Sonic Adventure as some games from the era, but there’s something about the promise of its opening stage which gives it a special place in our affections.
By far the best 3D Sonic game in our books, Sonic Colors managed to translate the classic 2D gameplay and introduce a gimmick that complimented rather than disrupted that gameplay. The Wisp power-ups gave Sonic new abilities which tied in beautifully to some strong level design and delivered the best Sonic experience we’ve ever had in three dimensions.
This enhanced version of the Dreamcast original might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it throws enough winning elements into the bag to outweigh its less-than-brilliant facets. With the multiplayer and the Chao Garden accompanying the main game, there’s certainly plenty to do. It won’t win over naysayers, but it’s hard to find a purer expression of ‘gotta go fast and-to-hell-with-the-consequences‘ than this. In many ways, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle is peak 3D Sonic — with everything that entails.
Surprised by the result? If you’re disappointed we didn’t include the non-Nintendo Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), just pop it in 15th place and you’re all good. Take that Ro-butt-nik!
Feel free to let us know your thoughts on the ranking above and share a comment about your personal favourite below.
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