Not too long ago Echidna64 posted an idea for a new series of articles: Much like the Marvel What if? Series what would happen if us Retrojunkers invented scenarios where things went a little different than in our timeline. Then I came across this quote on another forum:
"Sonic 3 & Knuckles is overlooked by just about everyone who isn't a Sonic fan. The general games player still views Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles as two separate games and is unaware of how much extra content the combined version has. If any Sonic game deserves a HD remake it's Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Give it a less clunky title and assuming things don't get ballsed up people would finally realise that it's the Sonic equivalent of Super Mario World."-Crazy Penguin, resident of the Green Hill Zone forums.
This got me thinking: What if Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles actually were released as one game back then? Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles had to be split up because of the sheer size of the game. It would have been too costly an endeavour to release it on one cartridge, plus Sega would miss the Christmas sales. But what if that didn't happen?
What if Sonic 3 & Knuckles had been released the way it was intended, as one game?
What would the effect have been on the gaming industry in the 90s? Read on and thou shall find out.
The events described in this article are pure fiction and are not in any way related to how things truly happened in our world. For sake of understanding let's just call this universe Earth-2 while our world is Earth-1. Oh and one more thing, some of the events that are going to be described can get rather technical so I've decided to use footnotes to make things more clear or to explain some of the intricacies. All of the footnotes are at the bottom of the article. Get it? Now let's do the time warp!
The year is 1994 and the fourth generation console war is in full bloom. Nintendo versus Sega, Mario versus Sonic. The grounds were equally divided and something drastic and daring needed to be done in order to tip the scales in someone's favour. Development of Sonic 3 was nearing completion. However, the game had gotten so big that the big heads at Sega were thinking about splitting the game in two halves, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. This decision was met with much criticism in Sonic Team:
"We had just started out with this tremendous and epic storyline and Sonic 3 was the perfect finish to this. To split it into two pieces would take away that power of the climax and it was something I as a developer refused to give in to."-Yuji Naka, head of Sonic Team.
After much bickering Sonic Team finally got his way. Sonic 3 would be delayed and miss the important Christmas season sales. On top of that, production of the game would be more expensive because of the sheer size of the game.
"I remember the countless arguments concerning Sonic 3. What Naka was prepared to do was a dangerous and risky move and could very well have been the end of Sega. In the end it was his adamant nature which convinced us to move on and take a gamble. He was convinced that the higher price of manufacturing would prove a symbol of dedication towards his beloved character, and that the fanbase would recognise that dedication. In the end, he was right."-Hajime Satomi, CEO director of Sega
Sonic 3 was released in 1994 and it was one of the biggest games ever created. Sega had taken a big risk with this giant of a videogame, and it paid off. Featuring over 20 huge levels, a new character, a save feature and a plethora of secrets, Sonic 3 became a commercial and critical success insuring Sega's number 1 position in the console wars.
Now it was time for a new generation.
The decision to publish Sonic 3 in its entirety proved to be a successful if not risky decision for Sega. Now Sega felt it was time to repeat this strategy but first they had to tie up their loose ends. Development of the Genesis add-on the 32X was cancelled and all resources were redirected into their new 32-bit 3D console, dubbed the Sega Saturn. A console capable of handling full 3D graphics and featuring a new 360 degree analogue controller(1). All it needed was a new Sonic game to be sold along with the console (a strategy that proved successful in selling the Sega Genesis). That game turned out to be Sonic Extreme(2). A fully 3D Sonic game, gamers doubted if Sonic could make the jump into the 3D realm but those doubts were bypassed as soon as the game was released. The Sega Saturn was the first console to use CDs instead of cartridges cutting the prices of videogames, which gave the Sega Saturn a serious edge on the competition.
On the other side of the console wars new things were brewing as well. Nintendo's Super Nintendo proved to be just as successful as the Sega Genesis and the Big N felt it was time for a worthy successor. Working in partnership with Sony Nintendo developed and released their new console in 1996, the Dolphin 64(3). Boasting 64-bit 3D graphics and following the CD-format of the Sega Saturn, the Dolphin64 proved to be a worthy contestant in the Next-Gen console wars. Classics like Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Gaiden(4) (consisting of two stories depicting the fates of Hyrule and Termina) boosted sales as an all new fight between Sega and Nintendo brewed on.
In the meantime Sonic Team split up due to artistic differences. One half of Sonic Team wanted to focus on an all new reinvention of Sonic, whilst the other half wanted to start off fresh with a new character. In the meantime a spin-off, called Knuckles Chaotix, was released for the Sega Saturn. A game, primarily made by Sega of America, that released mixed opinions at best. Sonic Team decided it was time to put their favourite hog on indefinite hiatus. The last reported activity of Sonic Team was a small teaser picture featuring a purple jester(5).
Over at the House of N Nintendo felt that they needed to one-up Sega. The collaboration with Sony resulting in the Dolphin64 had been successful but not successful enough to overthrow Sega as market leader. The decision was made to hastily produce the next generation console, titled the Dolphin128. However, differences between Sony and Nintendo forced them to split up. Nintendo announced development of their new 128-bit console, titled the Gamecube, scheduled to be released in 1999 and in a bold and surprising move Sony announced their own 128-bit console, the Playstation, scheduled to be released in 2000.
Meanwhile Sega decided it was time for them to announce their new 128-bit console. The Sega Dreamcast, to be released in 2000. They issued a press-statement unveiling their new console together with two mascot characters(6). The first Sonic Adventure trailer was shown and a new character by the name of NiGHTS, one half of Sonic Team focused on Sonic Adventure and the other half on NiGHTS Journey into Dreams, with Yuji Naka, Yuji Uekawa and Naoto Oshima(7) supervising both projects.
Nintendo was the first to release their next-gen console: the Nintendo Gamecube, a powerful console yet rushed into existence as Nintendo wanted to have the first next-gen console on the market. As a result the Gamecube started of slow with spin-of titles such as Luigi's Mansion. Nintendo had one ace up their sleeve though. Second-party support for the Gamecube was high with Square-Enix's Final Fantasy and surprise-hit Kingdom Hearts series and Rare's Banjo-Kazooie series(now reaching the third chapter, Banjo Threeie)(8).
When the Playstation debuted its biggest asset was the fact that it was a multimedia player and console all in one. It could play DVDs (the newest format in video-storage) and data-CDs. The only disadvantage was the high price-tag on the Playstation, a whopping 599 US dollars(9). The Playstation was criticized at first but later attracted gamers with the high level of third party support. The Playstation's extensive and still growing library was its biggest asset and helped boost sales.
The biggest surprise was the release of the Dreamcast by Sega two months after the release of the Playstation. To help boost sales Sega decided to make limited edition Dreamcasts available to the public featuring Sonic the Hedgehog (which was bundled along with Sonic Adventure) and another one featuring the new character NiGHTS (bundled with NiGHTS into Dreams). Both release games were a critical success and sales of the Dreamcast skyrocketed but Sega had one more ace up their sleeve. Looking for a way to revolutionize online gaming Sega had found an unlikely partner in Microsoft, who had been yearning to enter the console market for years. Together Sega and Microsoft began development on "Dreamcast Live", (10) an all-online community where gamers could play games with and against each other for a small fee. Dreamcast Live debuted in 2002 bundled together with the game Halo: Combat Evolved.(11) The introduction of online gaming proved to be a huge success for Sega and Microsoft as sales of the Dreamcast Live shot through the roof.
In the end all three next-gen consoles were successful enough to keep going. The Gamecube became a cult-favourite because of its high quality first and second party titles. The Playstation's massive library helped keep sales high (and the fact that the Playstation was so easy to pirate had something to do with it too) and the Dreamcast had high-quality games such as Sonic Adventure 2, Shenmue and Halo 2 and its massive online community. Microsoft and Sega decided to work together on their next generation console originally titled the Dreamcast 256, however they soon decided to change the name to Dreamcast 360. Sony had gained a massive fanbase in casual gaming and decided to develop the Playstation 2. Fit with a motion detecting remote controller, the Playstation 2 revolutionised gaming by adding a new layer of interaction. They eventually decided to call the Playstation 2 the Pii (as a reference to the never-ending mathematical pi, and the two "ii" resembling the number 2). Nintendo, with its newfound cult-status, decided to cater to the hardcore gamers. Naming their new console the Nintendo Revolution(12) Nintendo was the first to enter the HD-market in videogames as they took graphics to a new level.
And that's it! The bizarre story of how one seemingly harmless change in history can alter a lot of things (Great Scott!). It would have been funny if any of this would have really happened, but the end result was still pretty similar to our universe, which is what I was aiming for. Hope you liked it, now it's time to go back...
BACK TO REALITY!
Handy dandy footnotes:
1)True fact: Sega was actually the first to introduce the analogue control stick instead of Nintendo however it never really caught on until the Nintendo 64.
2)In our world Sonic Extreme was a game planned for the Saturn to be in full 3D, yet was never released and stayed in development hell.
3)Nintendo and Sony originally planned to collaborate on a cd-console together but decided to part ways due to differences. The Dolphin was the tentative name for the Nintendo Gamecube.
4)Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask were originally supposed to be one game but the developers feared that it would be too long so they split it into two separate games.
5)The mystery jester was of course NiGHTS, the cult-classic released for the Sega Saturn.
6)This really happened. The press-conference recorded the crowd screaming the name Sonic, which was actually used in the climax of Sonic Adventure.
7)The backbone of Sonic Team and the original creators of Sonic.
8)In our world these second parties were lost to Sony and Microsoft but since the original Playstation and X-Box hadn't been released in Earth-2 yet Nintendo still worked together with these game-developers.
9)Which was the actual price of the PS3.
10)In our world obviously known as X-Box Live.
11)In our world the highly successful X-Box title.
12)The development name for the Nintendo Wii