I remember in the late 90s, one common feeling surrounding the Saturn was that it failed because Sega never put a 3D Sonic on there. N64 had Mario to prove what it could do, the Playstation had Crash (and eventually everything in the universe), what did the Saturn have? Also there as a feeling like Sega was “just holding out” or something. I’m starting to get why the magazines of the era felt that way, because there are actually 5 instances of 3D Sonic on Saturn!
You all know what Christmas Nights is - it was the free disc-based DLC-like that Sega sent out across the world for xmas 1996. It had several unique Nights levels and did different stuff depending on whether you played on xmas, new year’s eve, april fool’s, valentine’s day, etc. I played through a bunch of this recently and time-based differences sure are nice! Anyway as you play through it you an unlock presents - and one of them allows you to run around the world as Sonic - you never turn into Nights, but you can run and jump as Sonic instead of Elliot or Clara. Sonic looks real weird here, but this was the first Sonic Team 3D sonic ever I guess?
Sonic 3D blast
Sonic is in 3D here in the special stages, which are similar to Sonic 2’s special stages, but full 3D. I guess this was the first 3D sonic - and first playable sonic period - on the saturn, since this came out November 1996, a month before Christmas Nights? (The first game with sonic in it is Gale Racer I think… he’s a little plush dangling down from your rear view mirror)
Obviously this is the big one - a full on 3D racing game for the Saturn, with Sonic and a bunch of his pals. This was Traveller’s Tales again, but Hirokazu Yasuhara designed all the tracks and stuff. And there are a lot of neat hangout spaces in this game! Shame you can’t spend time hanging out in them without losing. If you haven’t seen the Gamehut videos about making Sonic R, you definitely should.
This is the one where Sonic runs around in a 3D world, completing minor challenges and unlocking game content, going to the movie theater, etc. It’s kind of great I think! There’s even a final quest and ending scene. I really think they could’ve pushed this a bit more and just made a proper game out of it.
But yeah, when you put that all together, it’s no wonder folks were frustrated. You had Sega and its associates constantly teasing this stuff. The Sonic 2 stages felt good and looked good. Sonic Jam and Nights had you roaming around in a 3D world, as did Sonic R, though you had a track to follow by and large. It feels like most of the elements were there, they just didn’t pull the trigger. I guess there were two attempts made at STI, Sonic Saturn: https://www.unseen64.net/2009/04/20/sonic-saturn-saturn-prototype/
and Sonic Xtreme: https://www.unseen64.net/2008/04/10/sonic-xtreme-saturn/
both of which look pretty clueless (though I like that Xtreme tried something). And then there’s the Sonic the Fighters characters in Fighters Megamix, though none of them are Sonic!
Ultimately for a console with “no 3D Sonic games” there was a lot of 3D Sonic on Saturn! In hindsight I now get why people were kind of upset about it.