This is the story of something that happened in Sonic 3D, a game I played when I was quite young. I was never sure if it really happened, or if I had in fact imagined the whole thing, but recently I was given reason to believe that not only did this experience definitely happen to me, but that I wasn't the only one who, so I decided to share this with all of you.
When I was about ten or eleven years old, I was an avid console gamer. I owned a Super Nintendo and a friend of mine had a Sega Mega Drive. We had no bias towards one or the other, in fact the console war had always seemed petty and ridiculous to us, and we used to trade consoles for a few weeks at a time. We even used to joke that Mario and Sonic would someday appear side by side in games together just to annoy others, those whom we considered clueless immature fanboys. You can imagine my amusement, then, when this actually happened, but I digress.
This friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, had purchased Sonic 3D for the Mega Drive. We didn't think that much of the game. The controls weren't very good, the level designs were more annoying than challenging, the way the floor was always chequered got on our damn nerves, and the collision detection just seemed very off. Despite this, when we did another of our temporary console trades, I decided I'd try playing the game through anyway. Typical of any Sonic game at the time, I thought the soundtrack was excellent despite the game's other shortcomings, and if anything I mostly just played the game for its music.
Then it occurred to me. Sonic & Knuckles, which famously had an extra cartridge slot in the top, was backwards-compatible with some of the earlier Sonic games, allowing the player to control Knuckles when they normally couldn't. I had a brainwave: what if it were somehow forwards-compatible with Sonic 3D? Was there some secret to unlock by connecting them? I was no programming expert at this tender age of eleven, so I easily allowed myself to believe it was possible. I plugged Sonic 3D into Sonic & Knuckles and turned on the game.
To my surprise, I was indeed not shown the "No way? No way!" screen that came up for any other incompatible game. After the Sega chorus and logo cleared from the screen though, I would find myself disappointed: Sonic & Knuckles just started up normally as if no game were plugged in the top. I shut the game back off and went back to playing Sonic 3D. I didn't think a right lot of the game but I was still motivated by the simple fact that I hadn't beaten it, and back then I had the willpower to play through and finish any game, no matter how poor I thought it was.
So the game started up. I started to play as normal, skipping the opening exposition about Robotnik capturing the Flickies, and started in the Green Grove Zone. I grabbed some rings and broke into the secret area I was now familiar with from my earlier plays, grabbed the gold shield that was in there, jumped in the cannon and was sent to where Knuckles was standing as he always was, waiting for me to hand him fifty rings to enter his bonus stage. I walked up to him and I handed them over.
The bonus stage started. Effortlessly I passed the first two checkpoints, at which point the game then told me: GET 150 RINGS. I already had 155, which I thought was quite funny. I had always been a bit disappointed with how they'd tried to do some kind of improved version of the Sonic 2 bonus stage but ultimately made it look poorly rendered and way too easy: even as a child I could see it wasn't very good. I cruised through, not really trying. But then I got close to the end, and the game told me: 13 TO GO. Strange, I thought. By this point, I had well over two-hundred rings. Why would I still have thirteen to go? I shrugged this off and carried on collecting rings, but the game kept insisting: 13 TO GO. And yet, I reached the Chaos Emerald at the end and Sonic collected it. He flew off the screen, the usual score tally appeared and then it was back to the main game.
There I was, standing next to Knuckles, and I began to run off to finish the level. Oddly enough, however, Knuckles moved from his spot and began to follow me. Cool, I thought, maybe if he had the animation frames for this, he might've been unlockable as a playable character after all. His wall-climbing skills and punching might've made him a far more suitable character for an isometric game such as this. I pressed on, killed a Badnik and collected the first Flicky from it. Then things turned weird. Knuckles extended a hand and grabbed the bird that was flying around Sonic.
I'm not sure what happened to that bird. Knuckles grabbed it, and then it was gone. I had no time to think about it as Knuckles extended his hand again, this time towards Sonic. I had a bad feeling that Knuckles might be turning against Sonic for some reason so I tried to run away, but then Knuckles appeared to unclench his fist and open out his hand, and his fingers seemed to separate... and extend. His fingers actually appeared to be stretching, growing to an unnatural length. I figured this was something worth avoiding and continued commanding Sonic to flee, but the tendril-like fingers caught up to him in no time and wrapped around his ankle. Sonic lost his balance and fell over (but didn't lose any rings, oddly enough) and the Chaos Emerald I'd collected on the bonus stage popped out of Sonic and tumbled to the floor. Knuckles... no, Fingers, as I will now call him after the most peculiar feat I saw him do, then let Sonic go and moved his absurdly long fingers to collect the Chaos Emerald that Sonic had dropped. They dragged the Emerald over to where Fingers was standing, like some kind of white retractable garden rake. He raised the Emerald into the air and it began to float, orbiting his body. He didn't move from this position. He just stared blankly at Sonic, the gem floating around him.
Sonic got to his feet quickly, and so I decided to run him through the level, hoping that Fingers wouldn't pursue me, either on foot or with his extending fingers. Much to my relief, he didn't, and after a while I found Tails. Knowing the drill by now, I handed him my rings and entered his bonus stage. This one had nothing unusual about it. It didn't even insist that I still had thirteen rings left to collect at the end, and so Sonic grabbed the Chaos Emerald and once again was teleported out. The game brought us back to Green Grove Zone, but Tails was not where he should have been. Instead, there was Fingers the Echidna, waiting for me again. Once again he attempted to extend his long fingers to grab Sonic but I was prepared for him this time and spin-dashed out of the way. I rounded a corner but somehow found Fingers already waiting. Before I could react, he grabbed Sonic by the throat. His long fingers wrapped around the hedgehog's neck like a silken noose, and soon Sonic was being lifted into the air, being choked by Fingers. Sonic struggled and squirmed, trying to break himself free, but Fingers was too strong for him. The drowning jingle began to play, and in a few moments Sonic fell to the ground, motionless. Dead.
I saw his life counter go down by 1. The screen faded to black, but instead of starting me in Green Grove again, a different level loaded up. Sonic, apparently unscathed, was standing on this beautiful pale blue-green floor, crystalline in appearance. The walls looked like dark purple ionic pillars. That was when I noticed the music: Hidden Palace from Sonic & Knuckles. This was an isometric recreation of the Hidden Palace Zone! I was too confused and nervous about what had been happening to appreciate it though, so I decided to start exploring. There were some rings beside Sonic's starting position. Believing they might protect Sonic from what was coming, I collected them. Then, heading north-east, I noticed a mural on the wall. I thought back to the one in Sonic & Knuckles, the one that appeared to show some kind of prophecy of Super Sonic flying through space and rescuing the Master Emerald, but on close examination I realised it was something different: a blue, spiky figure, presumably representing Sonic, prostrating before a silver-tentacled creature.
A prophecy of Sonic being defeated, no doubt.
With that, Fingers ran into the scene, the seven Chaos Emeralds floating around him. He leapt into the air, threw out his limbs, opened his mouth wide... and then came a flash of light. His fur had turned silver, his spines had become longer, and those fingers of his encircled him almost like a protective barrier.
This must've been what the silver-tentacled creature on the mural represented: Super Fingers.
He floated towards Sonic and I decided to make him move away, waiting to see what Super Fingers would do. It was in vain, of course, as Super Fingers quickly threw his whip-like fingers at Sonic, picking him up and shaking him like a pepper pot. Sonic lost his rings, but Fingers didn't loosen his grip. As soon as Sonic stopped flashing, Fingers slammed him to the ground hard and he exploded in a shower of blue spikes, and I even noticed one of his red shoes flying outward toward the screen. Then, despite having lives left, the next thing I saw was the game over screen.
I found myself staring at the floor, wondering what on Earth had just happened. There was nothing I could've done though, so I decided to take a break. I turned off the console and went to the kitchen to get a cup of tea. Not really concentrating on what was going on, distracted by my thoughts on what I had just seen: Fingers the Echidna tripping Sonic's ankle, Super Fingers smashing Sonic into the floor with such force that his body exploded. I wandered into the kitchen where I was immediately handed a cup of tea by someone. Without really looking up, I murmured "cheers" and took the cup. I took a sip and out of the corner of my eye noticed that whoever had handed me that cup wasn't anyone I recognized: a red figure with white-gloved hands. In shock I lowered my cup and spat out my drink, where I saw Fingers, standing motionless in my kitchen, staring at me blankly, almost as if to be waiting for me to hand over some rings to take on his bonus stage. Shocked, I looked up at the ceiling, and looked down again, but suddenly, Fingers was not there. Was he here in the real world, toying with me as well?! I glanced around desperately, suddenly in a cold sweat...
...and woke up, sitting on my couch, with a Mega Drive controller in my hand, my TV in front of me, switched off. So that was a dream? How much of it? It all felt so vivid. I went back over my memory of this "dream". The cup of tea... walking into the kitchen... turning off the console... playing Sonic 3D and being ended by Super Fingers... but I wasn't sure where reality had ended and my dream had begun. Deciding there was no point dwelling on this, I turned the Mega Drive back on, once again intending to tackle Sonic 3D. The usual Sega logo appeared, I saw the heavily compressed FMV where Sonic runs alongside some Flickies and then punches the screen and I started the game again.
The usual tune played, but the opening story wasn't the one I had seen before. I was presented with a still image of a CG render, complete with the limited Mega Drive colour depth, of a frightened, terrified Sonic being chased by an enraged Fingers, his fingers extending in Sonic's direction, with text that said something along the lines of "This is Sonic the Hedgehog. He is a menace to Floating Island and must be stopped at all costs." I blinked a few times, then turned away from the screen, thinking that if I looked again it would be back to normal. No such luck. Still there, was Fingers, chasing a frightened Sonic. I pushed the C button to advance to the next frame. This time there was a still image of a frustrated Fingers holding Sonic by the ankle, with a look of helplessness on face. It was much as Fingers had before when he stole a Chaos Emerald from me. There was text again, something like: "Sonic plans to steal the Chaos Emeralds and harness their power to destroy our home. It is up to us, the Guardians of Floating Island, to ensure that he does not succeed." I shook my head in disbelief and pushed the C button again, wondering what could be next. Not the smartest decision I ever made: I was presented with an image of Fingers lifting Sonic by the throat and choking him as I'd seen him do before. Fingers' face was full of malice and hatred, his eyes narrowed, his teeth gritted. Sonic had tears streaming from his eyes, you could almost see in his face: "Please don't kill me!" There was text again. "He is determined, desperate and extremely dangerous. Stop him at all costs! Kill him if you have to!"
I pushed the C button one last time and found myself being taken straight to that Hidden Palace-like level from before. Knowing exactly what was coming, I gathered a few rings, ran to the north-east and got ready for my encounter with Super Fingers. I knew I probably stood no chance, but I was determined to see if there was some way of beating this strange enemy. My determination proved useless, and as Fingers made himself known and transformed into Super Fingers, the inevitability of Sonic's defeat was all too apparent as Super Fingers once again lifted him like a rag-doll and obliterated him. The screen faded to black.
Then, to my complete shock, the Green Grove music started playing. The game colourfully announced Green Grove Zone Act 1, and there was Sonic, standing at the beginning of the level with his usual starting amount of lives. Wondering if I had been dreaming again, I pinched my arm a few times but nothing happened. Nope, I was playing Sonic 3D, here in the real world, as though nothing was wrong. With a feeling of incredulity, I began to play through the level, and dared to once again present fifty rings to Knuckles to see if all this would repeat itself. I played through the insultingly easy bonus stage, reached the second checkpoint with well over the amount of rings it wanted me to try and reach, and when I neared the end, there was no "13 TO GO" notice. The game accepted I had enough rings, Sonic grabbed the Chaos Emerald and everything was back to normal. Knuckles didn't follow me when I left, and within a few minutes I was finding myself not even thinking about what I'd just seen, spending the next hour or so swearing at the game as one normally would when playing Sonic 3D.
After losing my final life against the boss in Gene Gadget Zone, quite far into the game I reckoned, I turned off the console and went for a walk. Without the game to concentrate on, I remembered again as I strolled: Fingers the Echidna. Why did it show up? Might I be able to get it to appear again? Could I somehow find a way to defeat it?
I cut my walk short and hurried home, and tried what I'd done before: I plugged Sonic 3D into Sonic & Knuckles, and then unplugged it all and played Sonic 3D normally, but none of those strange things happened. Knuckles' bonus level played out as usual and I didn't see anything strange. Did I dream it after all? Perhaps I was going crazy? The next day in school, I asked around my friends. I was never one known for compulsive lying or tall tales, but still they were quick to decide I made the whole thing up.
Either way, I never saw Fingers the Echidna again, but whenever my mind wandered, I'd remember him and his long fingers reaching out to grab the helpless hedgehog and torment him. Possible ways to defeat him would come to me in my dreams: I'd be playing the game, facing Super Fingers again, seeming to make progress, but then I'd wake up and realise it had all been for naught. I kept trying what I'd done that seemed to have made him appear the first time, booting up Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 3D plugged in, and each time Sonic & Knuckles started up normally I'd have that little hope that Fingers was going to appear next time I ran Sonic 3D... but it was not to be. Fingers the Echidna was burned into my memory, and only there would I ever meet it, trying in vain to find ways to track it down and defeat it, only for victory to be snatched from my grasp by reality itself.
You may be wondering why I kept this to myself for so many years, why I didn't bother to share this with any of you. Well you see, it recently hit me: there are others out there who have seen Fingers the Echidna. Early in 2013 - awfully symbolic if you remember the oddity of that ring tally in the bonus stage - someone dropped us a subtle hint: they released a fan-film of Sonic the Hedgehog. You remember the one, with Sonic's furry spikes and the multiple cameos from internet "celebrities"? Think back to the very final scene where Sonic runs through a modern-looking render of the Green Hill Zone, and we see Knuckles observing him. No, not Knuckles. Fingers. He clearly had those horrifying prehensile fingers. I'm sure they were trying to tell us something, telling us all to come forward and share our experiences of Fingers the Echidna. So this is our chance, everyone. Those of you who saw Fingers the Echidna, but weren't sure if you did, and who weren't believed by your peers, speak up now! We can expose this freak occurrence, and who knows? Maybe someone out there even knows how to defeat it. You know who you are!