Sonic the Hedgehog is Sega’s pride and joy. The Hedgehog is old enough to have his turn speeding into the third-dimension. Sonic hasn’t always found his footing when making that shift, but there have been plenty of games that range from decent to incredibly fun. In this list we’re ranking the 8 best 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games.
8. Sonic Unleashed
Sonic Unleashed heralds the “Boost” era of 3D Sonic. The game was a much needed change of direction for the Blue Blur following the miserable performance of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Sonic Unleashed explores a day and night system. During the day, Sonic speeds along action stages. The nighttime stages, however, debut Sonic the Werehog. In his Werehog form, Sonic exchanges speed for hack and slash gameplay that gets repetitive fast.
The nighttime stages could really drag, but it’s the daytime stages that keep us coming back. Odd that the fun factor in Sonic Unleashed is literally night and day. The game consoles of the time had a hard time processing the speed of the Hedgehog Engine. You owe it to yourself to play the daytime stages on either fan ports or the Xbox Series X. The stages run much better and Sonic’s speed in Sonic Unleashed is fully realized.
7. Sonic 3D Blast
Sonic’s foray into the 3D realm begins as far back as the Sega Genesis/Master System with Sonic 3D Blast. It’s arguable if the game is really considered 3D but the term is in the game’s title so it gets a pass. Sega drew inspiration from Donkey Kong Country for its pre-rendered graphics, and the isometric perspective is owed to Super Mario RPG. As you can imagine for its time, Sonic 3D Blast is not going to control like your typical Sonic game.
It could have been a stiff mess but Sonic 3D Blast controls decently well for the direction the series went in. Rather than head for the goal, Sonic must gather Flickies to open up additional parts of the zones he explores. The special stages aren’t too thrilling. Finally, the soundtrack of the Genesis/Master System Sonic 3D Blast doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s a solid composition you need to listen to. Some tracks show up in Sonic Adventure.
Sonic Heroes would be the first game in the main series that would be released for multiple consoles. This Sonic game has an interesting premise that was initially explored in Knuckles’ Chaotix. That’s the ability for the characters to team up in groups of three and utilize their unique strengths. The action stages function around the abilities of speed, flight, and power. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles embody these abilities, respectively, as do the members of Team Dark, Team Rose, and Team Chaotix. That’s 12 playable characters total.
Gameplay fundamentals will also differ slightly between each team, even though you play the same action stages over. Team Sonic is a balanced experience, Team Dark acts as the game’s hard mode, and Team Rose is easy mode. Team Chaotix has a more unique feature in that players are required to fulfill a specific objective within the action stage to complete it. Unsurprisingly, Sonic Heroes features a fantastic soundtrack.
5. Sonic Frontiers
Sonic Frontiers is the latest released 3D Sonic game on this list and the first to explore the possibilities of the open-world genre. This Sonic game is not without its flaws, among them sprawling lands with texture pop-in, a tedious level-up system, and the homing attack not always connecting with the intended target. Additionally, the combat system may be a step above Sonic Unleashed, but it’s still far too simple and easily repetitive.
Still, Sonic Frontiers hints towards a promising future that Sonic Team can refine on for future 3D Sonic games. Open world Sonic works and it’s a fertile playing ground as it is. To its credit, you can sink hours into Sonic Frontiers just running around the world to explore obstacles, solve puzzles, or just race around the map as fast as you can. We’re not complaining about the free DLC either. The scope of Sonic Frontiers makes it a top 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game.
4. Sonic Adventure
The Sega Dreamcast launched alongside what is arguably Sonic’s most daring leap into 3D platforming. Sure, it’s not the best game on this list but of all 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games, Sonic Adventure is the most impactful one. The game boasts a lineup of six playable characters and each differs in terms of gameplay. Big the Cat, though, his action stages depart heavily from every other playable character. Sure, the lip-syncing on the voice overs is also not the greatest.
The hub worlds, though not as big as they seemed in 1999, are genuinely fun to explore to uncover entrances to the action stages. The action stages are the real meat of Sonic Adventure. Some stages have spotty collision detection but there’s a lot of variety to overlook these minor issues. The music is simply excellent, with some of Jun Senoue and Crush 40’s best work. Sonic Adventure also debuted the fan-favorite Chao Garden, where players can raise and compete in activities with the lovable creatures.
Sonic Colors did what Sonic Unleashed wasn’t able to and that’s take the great concepts of the daytime stages and focus solely on that gameplay direction. Gone is the hack and slash gameplay of Sonic the Werehog to make way for speedy platforming. The game’s boss fights are not altogether challenging and winning these exchanges tends to get repetitive. The competitive multiplayer mode is ultimately forgettable. The crux of Sonic Colors, and most enjoyment, stems from the various planetoids Sonic can explore. Each planet has numerous acts and challenges to overcome and keeps the replay value coming.
This Sonic game marks the introduction of the Wisps. These spectral buddies to Sonic imbue him with augmented abilities. Depending on the respective Wisp Sonic comes in contact with, these abilities range from drilling through the stage, speeding skyward like a rocket, and gliding along a path of rings as a laser beam, destroying enemies in the beam’s path. Sonic Colors is a top 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game and its Remastered port worth picking up.
2. Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic’s first adventure on the Sega Dreamcast showed promise. With Sonic Adventure 2, the game sought to improve on what came beforehand and Sonic Team delivered a most memorable project. Sonic Adventure 2 trades hub worlds in favor of linear storytelling. By splitting the game’s campaigns in two, Hero and Dark, this drives down the monotony of exploring the same reused action stages. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are caught in a struggle with their foils, Dr. Eggman, and newcomers, Shadow the Hedgehog, and Rouge the Bat, respectively.
Sonic Adventure 2 was unable to solve the recurring problem of the panning camera. It still feels to get caught or drag on some invisible object. Still, this glaring issue pales in comparison to the scope of this adventure. The game is colorful, challenging, fun, has excellent music (Escape From the City, anyone?), and keeps the entertainment coming years later. Sonic Adventure 2 is easily one of the best 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games you can play.
What can you say about Sonic Generations other than what it stands for, and that’s to celebrate the legacy of Sonic the Hedgehog. In retrospect, you could say what Sonic Mania did for 2D Sonic, Generations did for 3D and 2D Sonic. Sonic Generations is a delightful pairings of Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic gameplay. In fact, you play as the iterations of Sonic during the Genesis/Mega Drive days and the Dreamcast era onwards.
Classic era stages are given a modern reimagining. Yet, it’s just as awesome to see Classic Sonic dash through the more recent Sonic games. It’s this harmonious shift between the 2D and 3D planes that feels so balanced. The added detail to its presentation, its music, and nods to the history of the series makes it an instant classic. To put it succinctly, with a Sonic spin on it, Sonic Unleashed crawled, so Sonic Colors could walk, in order for Sonic Generations to run. And then Sonic Forces came out, but we’ll save it for the next list. Sonic Generations is undoubtedly the best 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game to date.