Similarly to Sonic Advance 1 and 2 before it, Advance 3 is a fast-paced 2D platformer. The player controls one of five characters simultaneously with a second one as a sidekick; alternately, a second player joins and one controls each character. The two characters run and jump through a series of seven levels, destroying robots along the way. The player collects rings in levels and boss battles as a form of health: upon being hit by an enemy or harmful obstacle, the player's rings will scatter and can be recollected. If a character takes damage while carrying no rings, they lose a life. The team will also lose a life if they drown underwater, get crushed by a moving object, fall into a bottomless pit, or exceed an act's ten-minute limit. Losing a life will make the team start over from the beginning of the act or from the last passed checkpoint. If all lives are lost, the player receives a game over.
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