LOCKED AND LOADED!['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles SEGA’s locked-on: Sonic & Knuckles.]

More Than Just Blast Processing

Last week was Sonic the Hedgehog’s 15th Birthday. You all knew that though, right? Well, I guess that makes it late for a party, but let’s have one anyways! The original Sonic the Hedgehog was released for the Genesis in June 1991; its star was to be the mascot for the new Sega, and he ascended to the status of pop icon. Since I’ve already talked about how one of the initial designs for Sonic ended up, and I assume that most of you already know the original game with passionate familiarity (if not the original will be released for the GBA later this year), I’m skipping ahead a bit.

In the winter of 1994, no longer a child, I was purchasing my own games, but money was pretty tight. I heavily debated which game would be worth the most for my money. I was bombarded with television advertisements for a game that promised to give me not only one game, but also allow you to attach other game cartridges which would expand their play as well: Sonic & Knuckles. Initially I was going to hold off for Christmas and hope to get it from a loving family member, but I caved in—I must be weak against advertising or have a soft spot for midgets.

The O.G. Logo? Who can say? Where is Tails? What is an echidna? These questions answered next week!Locked On

Back then, I was not as knowledgeable in games, so I didn’t know what went into the creation of Sonic & Knuckles. I just knew that I could play as that flying ... what was he? Oh yeah, an echidna. Initially, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was to be twice as long as it was when released. To get a game out on schedule, the second half of Sonic 3 was cut out, and the first half was polished into a final product. The other half was then completed and also turned into a standalone game, Sonic & Knuckles, released with lock-on technology. The top of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge would lift open and you could then “lock-on” the Sonic 3 cartridge on top to create the complete game.

When the two games were combined, and upon completion of Sonic 3, you move right into the levels on the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge. The rivals become friends and team up to stop the real enemy: Dr. Robotnik. As further evidence, the stage select shows inaccessible levels in Sonic 3 that were later included in S&K, and if you look at the sound test you can even listen to music from those levels. With the two games locked together, the vision is finally completed and many new things can be found, including mini-games, more bosses, side stories, more saves, additional music, changed icons, new forms, and more emeralds.

Don't touch the red jems... balls... err, spheres
Blue Bonus

As I said, the lock-on technology promised more than just one game; you could now also play as Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (which was bundled in with many Genesis systems and is probably one of the most common games for the system). Unlike Sonic 3, however, Sonic 2 was not initially designed for use with the red spiky-haired mammal. This makes many parts more difficult, if not exceptionally frustrating. Still, the ability to completely explore every inch of a game that I thought I knew inside out made up for this.

Curious as I was, and even though it was not mentioned anywhere, I figured I would attempt to play Sonic the Hedgehog 1 using lock-on technology. It didn’t work, but I was treated to one of the mini-games from Sonic & Knuckles: the blue-sphere game. Sonic 1 will allow you to play though all 134,217,728 possible random combinations of the blue-sphere game if you have the mental capacity to do so. Experimenting with other games leads only to single blue-sphere levels.

The only negative thing about Sonic & Knuckles was that it was the first purchase of a Genesis game I made which had a cardboard box. Sonic and Knuckles gave me much more than any game had previously offered from a single purchase, and because of this, no Sonic game released since has been anywhere near as important to me. Hopefully Sonic Team can deliver sometime in the future, but so far they have been largely unsuccessful.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: As you might remember us recently reporting, Turner's GameTap service for PC just added officially licensed versions of Sega's Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic 2, and Sonic 3 with the lock-on technology, if you want to see what MattW is talking about in this column without digging out your Genesis. UPDATE: Commenter JohnH points out: "Sonic Mega Collection has included games that account for all the "lock-on" configurations, including using Sonic 1 to play Blue Sphere, so that's probably the best way to experience them, since Mega Collection is the same price as two months of Gametap.' Good man!)

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]