Soapbox: An Ode To Marble Garden, Sonic The Hedgehog 3’s Best Zone

Soapbox: An Ode To Marble Garden, Sonic The Hedgehog 3’s Best Zone

Sonic 3 - Marble Garden 1
Image: Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Ollie sings the praises of the game’s third zone, Marble Garden…

I used to own a Sega Mega Drive when I was younger (well, truth be told, it was my brother’s, but when he upgraded to a PS1, the Mega Drive was passed down to me), and although I played several classics like Flashback, Probotector, and the hilarious Ren and Stimpy: Stimpy’s Invention, I always went back to Sonic the Hedgehog 3.

I owned Sonic 2 as well, of course (and I think I had the original, too), but to me, its Hirokazu Yasuhara-directed sequel felt infinitely more accomplished across the board and, as a seven-year-old at the time, I only wanted to play the very latest games. If it was newer, it was better, right? Thankfully, I’ve become a bit more sophisticated in more recent years when it comes to video game analysis, though I will always maintain that Sonic 3 is the absolute pinnacle of Sega’s flagship franchise.

Sonic 3 - Marble Garden 2
Image: Nintendo Life / Sega

That said, I don’t think it gets off to the very best of starts. The first zone, Angel Island, is a perfectly fine opening stage that I think does a good job of distinguishing itself from the copy/paste job of Sonic 2’s Emerald Hill. Otherwise, I don’t find it particularly memorable bar the strangely apocalyptic encounter with the Fire Breath Badnik. On the flip side, the second zone, Hydrocity, is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Sure, it’s not as egregious as some of the franchise’s most frustrating water levels, but it’s still a water level, and that’s quite enough for me.

For me, Sonic 3 doesn’t truly begin until you reach the third zone, Marble Garden. This is where the game transcends Sonic 2 to become the very best of the franchise. It’s just perfect. Now, I know there are going to be a few of you rolling your eyes right about now, because yes, those spinning top platforms can be a bit frustrating, and yes, the fake-out spike enemies are a right nuisance, but for me, this is what makes Marble Zone stand out so much. It’s just a boatload of nonsense, and it’s great fun!

Sonic 3 - Marble Garden 3
Image: Nintendo Life / Sega

It also happens to be one of the most visually pleasing levels in the game. The bright green grass gently fading into the parallax-scrolling background is genuinely stunning, and this is only augmented further by the gorgeous ancient architecture and various flora dotted about the environment. It’s the kind of cheery, carefree sort of level that you’d expect to find right at the beginning of a Sonic game, but putting it third allows for some truly devious obstacles to juxtapose the otherwise jaunty tone, not to mention the absurd sense of verticality with the multiple steep slopes and underground segments.

Not only that, but Act 1 in particular features what I deem to be one of the greatest music tracks in Sonic’s history. Yes, I know the original version of Carnival Night Zone is an absolute banger, but Marble Garden just about edges it thanks to its irresistible beat. Seriously, just press play on the YouTube video down below and try to get through the whole thing without at least tapping your foot to the beat. You can’t.

So in short, Marble Garden Zone is, in my opinion, probably the greatest of Sonic’s 2D levels, or at least one of the greatest. The visuals, the gameplay, and the music all add up to an unforgettable experience, and we sincerely hope that Sonic Team gives Green Hill Zone a bit of a break and shows Marble Garden a bit more love in the future.

So what do you make of Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s Marble Garden Zone? Does it rank amongst your favourite Sonic levels? Let your opinion be known by voting in the poll and leaving a comment.

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