A Fading Classic:First of all I'd like to give shout outs to Mcginnis03 and DaKingofCheckerZ for their contributions without them this list wouldn't be as fleshed out as it is.
Today, Sonic Fans find themselves asking one simple question: Where is Sonic 3 & Knuckles? It’s not on mobile, PC, Switch, Xbox One, PS4, or even the Genesis Mini.
What’s going on? Why is Sonic 3 & Knuckles just suddenly gone?
Well you see, when Sega brought Michael in they also brought in Bobby Brooks.
Well it turns out Bobby Brooks wanted to be paid royalties and threatened legal action against Sega.
Because of this, the first half of Sonic 3 & Knuckles is stuck in legal limbo with no easy answer on how to get it out or how to preserve it.
Due to this I decided to make a list of every way I know to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles the list will contain official and unofficial means and our recommended ways of playing.
Original Sega Genesis/Nomad (1994):
- You get the full S3K Experience and You get access to Sonic & Knuckles Specific Content (Games are playable together,separate, and can be used with S2 and 1)
- Rom for all combos can be ripped or UPMEM can be ripped, this is special for a later way to play.
- Portable on the Sega Nomad.
- Due to Rushed Development, the game has lots of bugs, glitches, and sprite inconsistencies.
- Cartridges can deteriorate over time, this can cause Lock-On to fail and Potential loss of SRAM Saves.
- Prototype content can’t be restored.
- This method lacks portability unless used with a Sega Nomad.
- Even with a Nomad it’s just barely portable.
- The original Carts can be difficult to find both in working order and in box, however Sonic 3 is generally cheap costing around 6-9 US Dollars for Sonic 3
- Sonic & Knuckles is more expensive however costing 12-20 US Dollars.
Sonic Jam (1997)
- You get the full S3K experience, and all Sonic & Knuckles specific content is included.
- All new Easy and Normal Modes are available for new players including level layout changes and level skips.
- Other Sonic titles are available to play as well.
- Has an extra “Sonic World” mode which would go on to be Sonic Adventure later on.
- All bugs, glitches, and sprite inconsistencies are still present.
- Nothing from the 1103 Proto is seen here.
- As a result only Michael’s tracks are played in the game.
- The Sega Saturn still uses a save battery, meaning if that battery dies, you can’t save your game.
- The Game is rather costly asking for 70 US Dollars provided you own a Saturn.
Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997):
- You get the full S3K experience.
- 1103 Proto tracks used in MIDI format..
- Active mod support through the Mod Loader.
- Thanks to this Michael Jackson’s tracks, and the Drop Dash from 1103 have been restored though both mods and Sega PC reloaded.
- A Sonic 3’s level select was simplified to the S3K level select code.
- This version is included in 4 bundle packs, and is easy to come by.
- Very inexpensive, usually costs around 5-10 US Dollars.
- All bugs/glitches and sprite inconsistencies of the original persist
- Sound effects are heavily compressed sounding lower quality compared to the Genesis version.
- The 1103 tracks were made for the Genesis and weren’t converted to MIDI very well, so they don’t sound that great.
- There is a mod to restore them back to how they sounded in the 1103 Prototype however.
- Not all Sonic & Knuckles specific content is available. (Blue Spheres is there, but Knuckles in Sonic 2 isn’t present.
- Since the game was designed for early PCs it will not run on modern OSes at a reasonable frame rate without editing the "S3K.ini" file in the Windows directory to frame cap it.
- Sega PC Reloaded and the Mod Loader fix this issue. Sega PC Reloaded also makes the game run at higher resolutions and windowed fullscreen and the Mod Loader natively allows for palette options to make it more like the Genesis original.
Sonic Mega Collection, Plus, and Ports (2002-2005):
- You get the full S3K experience, and all Sonic & Knuckles specific content is available.
- Other Sonic titles are available to play.
- Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles’s manual is included in-game.
- This compilation is not hard to find being on PC, Xbox/360, Gamecube, and PS2, and usually costs around 10-20 US Dollars.
- The Games have to be unlocked first, so S3K can’t be played out of box.
- Since the games are direct ports of the Genesis versions none of the content from the S&K Collection/Prototypes are here.
- All bugs/glitches from the original game are present, as well as sprite inconsistencies.
Virtual Console (2007/2009)
- You get the full S3K experience, and Sonic & Knuckles specific content is available.
- Both games were rather cheap back in the day asking for 800 Points each so both together cost 1,600 points or 16 US Dollars.
- All bugs/glitches and Sprite inconsistencies persist.
- No Prototype Features are in this port.
- Due to the fact the Wii Shop Channel was shut down just last year, the games can’t be purchased, this means you have to own all the classic games already to play.
- If you’ve backed up your legally purchased copies however, then you should be able to reinstall on another wii, but only through homebrew which is a legal grey area.
Sonic Classic Collection (2010):
- Despite the game advertising 4 Games in 1, the Sonic & Knuckles Lock-On games are included.
- As a result not only do you get the full S3K experience you also get the Sonic & Knuckles exclusive content.
- To this day this is technically the only official, actually portable version of S3K.
- Manuals are not included but the Japanese Sonic 3 Promo Artwork is.
- All bugs/glitches, and sprite inconsistencies are still present in this port.
- No Prototype content is included in this release.
- It runs rather poorly on the original DS, as this is one of the few “DSi Enhanced” games. It’s recommended you play on a DSI as the quality of emulation is improved.
- Since the DS is on the more modern side of the spectrum this game is costly, with an asking price of up to 30 US Dollars.
Steam Release / Mega Drive Classic Collection Volume 3 / Gold Edition (2010-2011)
- You get to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
- The Steam release is often included in sales such as the Sonic Humble Bundle.
- By default the Steam release is pretty cheap, netting only 5 U.S. Dollars.
- Owning the Steam release grants you access to Angel Island Revisited.
- Mods can be applied to the Steam version if done through IPS patches or the Sega Classics Hub.
- Through modding Prototype content can be restored.
- All versions are able to run flawlessly on modern OSes.
- You only get to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles so all Sonic and Knuckles specific content is Locked off to the average user.
- This version alone does not have Prototype content by default.
- Without Mods or Angel Island Revisited, all Bugs/Glitches and Sprite Inconsistencies are present.
- The Mega Drive Classic Collection version isn't easy to come by, and can have some costly asking prices.
Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009):
- Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are Playable.
- Other Sonic games are playable.
- All Bugs/Sprite Inconsistencies persist.
- Sonic 3 is unstable alone, so it’s actually more buggy.
- No Prototype Content in this release.
- The ability to Lock-On has been removed meaning you can only play Sonic 3 or Sonic & Knuckles alone.
- Due to this, Sonic & Knuckles Specific Content is Locked off.
AtGames Sega Genesis Classic (2013):
- You get the full S3K experience as long as you own the carts, and Sonic & Knuckles Specific Content is available.
- It comes with games other than S3K including Sonic 1 and 2.
- The Sound Emulation is horrendous compared to the original Sega Genesis, none of the music in any of the games sound like they should link to an example here.
- The Emulation is known to be a tad choppy, causing both regular and Input Lag.
- ROM Hacks such as Sonic 3 Complete cannot be played unless the system is hacked or a reproduction is inserted, even then the sound is butchered.
- It also falls short due to it using the Sonic 3 & Knuckles carts thus meaning unless playing a Sonic 3 Complete reproduction no 1103 proto songs, only Michael Jackson’s tracks can be heard.
Sega Genesis Portable (2014):
- Sonic & Knuckles is included.
- The System is ROM powered thus a Sonic 3 & Knuckles ROM needs to be provided to it.
- Another means of playing S3K portably.
- Due to its use of ROMs, Sonic 3 Complete can be played on it.
- All Sonic and Knuckles lock on games are playable if the ROMs are supplied.
- All Bugs,Glitches, and Sprite Inconsistencies persist (Unless Sonic 3 Complete is played on it.)
- Prototype Content not present unless using Sonic 3 Complete or patching it in.
- Sonic 3 is not included, and SRAM saves are not supported, so S3K is only playable in “No Save” mode.
- Also due to its use of ROMs, depending on how the ROMs are obtained it can be illegal to play on.
- The directional pad and buttons feel cheap, aren't very comfortable to use, and Terrible sound emulation..
- The resolution is stretched from 320×224 to 320×240 and makes some 1 pixel rows into 2 pixels, resulting in a distorted image.
Sonic 3 Complete (2009-2013):
- You get the full S3K Experience, and Content Lost in Lock-On restored.
- Prototype Features Included (Music, Original Zone Order ,etc.)
- Most Bugs, Glitches, and Sprite Inconsistencies were fixed.
- Content from Sonic 1,2, and CD (1991,1992,1993,2013); Sonic Jam’s Easy and Normal Difficulties added!
- New Launch Base Cutscene that transitions from Sonic 3 to Sonic & Knuckles.
- It’s Hardware Compatible (Can be played on a real Genesis)
- Sonic 3 Complete is a ROM Hack so it’s Illegal to play.
- There are legal ways to play it though, reproduction carts exist and it’s available through IPS patches and Sega Genesis Classics Hub.
- While it fixes a majority of bugs, some still persist from the original.
- Sonic 3 Complete only has the games bundled in Sonic & Knuckles Collection.
- Besides Music, and original zone order no other prototype features exist in this port.
- Sonic 3 Complete is no longer being updated, and as such the game won’t be getting new features.
- The Prototype/SKC tracks included are fan remakes of the MIDI versions, and as a result sound different to the prototype versions, as this was released before it was available.
Sonic 3 Angel Island Revisited (2018):
- Gives you the full S3K experience.
- Sonic 3 AIR rebuilds the Sonic 3 & Knuckles ROM (Steam) with its Oxygen Engine
- This makes it completely Legal, and expands the game from 4:3 to 16:9 Aspect Ratio.
- Angel Island Revisited adopts a few changes from Sonic 3 Complete such as Big Arm Restoration.
- Various Gameplay tweaks to enhance the experience.
- Unlockable Secrets and Achievements added.
- Blue Sphere Available, and New Time Attack mode added
- This port has extensive modding capabilities, such as music/sound modding, sprite modding, script modding, and rawdata modding.
- AIR adds many QoL features, such as smoothed flicker effects, native controller support, music choices (1103 Soundtrack), infinite time, et cetera.
- AIR is still actively being developed, with plans for a Linux & Android port; an in-game mod menu was added in support of these ports, for example.
- AIR is playable natively on Win7+ & macOS, only requiring a valid S3&K ROM to play
- Unless mods are applied, the graphical inconsistencies and bugs from the original persist.
- Sonic 3 AIR is prone to visual, auditory, and even functional glitches not in S3K.
- Some features from Sonic 3 Complete haven’t been adopted in Vanilla Sonic 3 AIR, but can be restored through various mods on GameBanana.
- Lack of a Boss Rush mode, there is a mod for it but still.
- You get the full S3K Experience and all Sonic & Knuckles specific content is available
- Proto Content can be restored through Soft Patching
- Save States, Rewind, and Fast Forward features.
- Controller Support + Configuration.
- Available for a wide range of systems and portable consoles, including MS Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, Wii, 3DS, PSP, Vita, etc.
- This by extension makes Sonic 3 & Knuckles portable.
- Due to some emulators’ support for Soft Patching, some ROM Hacks can be applied through IPS patches such as Sonic 3 Complete.
- Some Emulators have a Debug mode which allows for VDP and Call Stack viewing and editing.
- Emulators such as RetroArch come built with multimedia features and Online versions.
- This means if set up correctly you can stream S3K to websites like Twitch and YouTube without external software.
- This also means you only need the ROM to play. (Online Emulator)
- This method of play is illegal, there are parts of it you can legalize, but it’s still legally wrong even if it’s not morally.
- Many emulators suffer from input delay & emulation bugs/quirks.
- Emulation is not accurate to hardware, this depends on user settings, and usually has no ill effects.
SSega/Vizzed/Archive.org & Online Ways to Play (1997-Present):
- You get the full S3K Experience and Sonic & Knuckles specific content is available.
- Other Sonic games can be played.
- Immediate access through a web browser without downloads.
- They include pages for Cheat Codes such as Debug Mode and Level Select.
- These Sites have recently adapted to HTML5 to stream the games.
- Illegal way to play and No Prototype features available.
- Not every website supports controllers.
- Emulation quality is poor, and lags depending on the browser you use or the computer you run it on.
- High chance of getting a computer virus, Ads on the site may lead to adware.
- These websites used to use Adobe Flash Player which is no longer supported in most browsers due to security threats.
- Unlike emulators, this method only supports Desktop users, meaning it doesn’t host many platforms.
- Also unlike emulators, ROM Hacks are considered separate games so ROM Hacks like Sonic 3 Complete or Sonic 3C Delta are illegally played.
- It’s debatable if the website had permission from the creators for the hacks to be hosted.
- Sonic 3 Complete isn’t customizable through this method.
- This means customizer features like S1 Sprites can’t be used.
- Cannot keep a SRAM save file.
Genesis Flash Carts (90s-Present):
- Able to play the full Sonic 3 and Knuckles experience if the ROM is provided.
- Allows for ROM hacks to be played on real hardware, such as Sonic 3 Complete and Sonic 3C Delta.
- Due to these carts being more recently produced, they are less prone to deterioration.
- Allows for all Sonic and Knuckles lock on games if the ROMs are provided.
- Some flash carts may even have a setup for “Lock-on” installed.
- Some carts come with Game Genie/Pro Action Replay functionality.
- Save states are possible (if the cart purchased allows for it).
- You have to provide a copy of the S3K ROM from Steam.
- Same goes with the other lock on games (Unless Lock-On is bundled)
- Not all hacks will work on hardware, as some were tested in an inaccurate emulator. (Sonic 3 Pro Survivor for example).
- Could be pricey, as including both the cartridge itself, (micro) SD card (if it doesn’t come with one), and the console + controllers (if you don’t already have one) could cost a lot of money.
RetroN 3, 5, and Clone Consoles (2014):
- Since clone consoles require you to own the carts, this is a legal way to play.
- It also has emulation features like Soft Patching meaning ROM Hacks like Sonic 3 Complete are playable.
- On top of that, 1103 content can be restored through an IPS Patch. Knuckles in Sonic 1 can be restored as well.
- Allows for flash cart usage.
- Comes built in with Game Genie and Pro Action Replay functionality, however you will need an SD card to get the codes from the website.
- Gives you the full S3K experience and Sonic & Knuckles specific content is accessible.
- Allows for a wide range of controllers to be used.
- When the RetroN 5 was first released, there was a bug in S3K where the game could crash and restart once AIZ was set on fire. Footage of this can be seen here.
- The controllers bundled with the console aren't the best; are cheaply made and more prone to breaking. The charging port is an example of this.
- Game can only be played in 4:3 or Stretched 16:9.
- Emulation could be inaccurate and lead to problems not seen with hardware, such as the trick where you use Sonic 2 to access Sonic 3’s Level Select no longer working.
- There is an update that if skipped cannot be installed and will break the 2nd player’s controller ports on the console, causing them to no longer function.
- The RetroN 5’s cartridge ports made NES and Genesis carts difficult to remove, and could lead to damage of the cartridge and system.