So: you've released your third major console architecture into the video games market with much fanfare and hullabaloo, only failed to include a launch title starring your company mascot. Clearly the situation needs to be rectified with an instant classic of a title, a brand new adventure for your character showing off everything they were famous for before, but now in glorious 3D thanks to your wünderkind's power.
That would be the sane and logical move. Certainly it recently worked for Nintendo, with Super Mario Galaxy a return to form after the not-quite spectacular Sunshine which preceded it. The Wii, in no danger of losing sales momentum any time soon, got its Mario game and continued to sell into the stratosphere. All was good and merry in the world.
Sonic 3D, then. Which, depending on who you ask, is either Sonic 3D: Blast or Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island. (Spook!) This was to be the Saturn's leading title, the first proper Sonic game in the almost two years since its lackluster launch in 1994. While in Japan the Saturn (bizarrely, given Sega's previous track record) sold well, elsewhere the dual-CPU machine was taking a battering from the newly established Sony PlayStation and an angered Nintendo hoping to regain their crown. Sonic worked before, when the fledgling Mega Drive/Genesis saw the blue hedgehog make his debut and went on to sell millions.
So it should sadly come as no surprise when the distinctly non-Sonic Sonic 3D completely failed to revitalise the Saturn.
It's usually a bad start when a game whose eponymous lead character, famed for his speed, jogs in a leisurely manner in the pre-rendered opening FMV - a video where traditionally lots of money is spent making the characters look at their very best. This lack of pace is a running theme throughout the game, with Sonic ambling along at a relaxed sort of speed. Forget everything you remember about blitzing through levels in less than a minute, the character shooting off the right-hand side of the screen at breakneck pace: this makes the sluggish PAL version of Sonic 1 look like it's in fast-forward.
Actually controlling the game proves to be surprisingly different from its 2D predecessors. Sonic on the Mega Drive was famed for its tight, precise controls - you tap jump, and Sonic jumps, you tap down and he curls up - but here everything feels almost unbearably unresponsive. Trying to turn corners is an exercise in frustration as you either over- or under-steer, or just charge straight into the wall. Jump is imprecise, and at no point while playing did I ever feel as if I had any idea where Sonic would land having pressed the jump button. On more than one occasion I tried to jump onto an enemy I was stood right next to, only for my jump to - no! But yes! - veer completely off course. The fact that they don't introduce jumping puzzles until the second zone should set off alarm bells, but here it makes you want to ask why they even bothered putting them in at all as it soon devolves into farcical gymnastics trying to leap from one platform to another. I won't even mention my annoyance at trying to reliably attack the very first boss.
Even the title is a misnomer. The game plays from an isometric perspective, with the terrain and actors all pre-rendered sprites. In other words, the same technique used to give Donkey Kong Country its amazing-for-a-16-bit graphics is here used to provide almost the entirety of Sonic 3D's. While the stages are technically 3D in that Sonic can move throughout all three dimensions, the graphics themselves simply aren't. Ever felt had? Luckily, the Saturn version ever-so-slightly redeems itself in this regard with its Special Stage, a full 3D downhill half-pipe more than slightly reminiscent of Sonic 2. (The Mega Drive version is frankly embarrassing: a 2D stroll along a bridge. No, really.)
Indeed, at times it feels as if the only real difficulty comes from the controls. In each area, Sonic needs to rescue five of the titular Flickies, intradimensional birds that Dr. Robotnik thinks will help him find the Chaos Emeralds. These are trapped inside robots, so naturally Sonic has to do the decent thing and free them by blowing them up. This is pretty par for the course for Sonic games; however, due to there being only five Flickies, this sets a limit of... five enemies. Hnng. (Each full act is expanded by having multiple sections within it; however, each still has only five robots in it, and one can only access the next section by clearing the current.)
It's not looking good for Sonic 3D. There are some good points, however. The sound and music are of their usual high standard, with rings making the traditional sound and the music inoffensive, if not quite as memorable as before. Certainly in the Mega Drive version, some themes from older titles have been reused in their entirety - the end-of-level jingle is a direct lift from Sonic 3. The pre-rendered graphics, while not actually 3D, do look stunning even on the Mega Drive; annoyingly for Saturn owners, however, only a few extra ground textures and fog effects really differentiate the 16- and 32-bit versions, Special Stage notwithstanding.
Now, I can't call Sonic 3D a 'bad' game. It's playable, despite the poor controls, and given an afternoon you could probably beat it. There aren't any game-breaking bugs. But it's just not a good game, either. You couldn't choose it over any of the previous games in the series, and those that followed it - the Sonic Adventure series on the Dreamcast - were significantly better. It's just not a worthy Sonic title, which is probably its damning flaw. 6/10, must try harder.