I basicaly feel the same way as you about this one and I miss the small pieces of story S3&K had, it made the game more mature and interesting. Like the Death egg plug intoo the volcano in the background of the Lava Reef level (which is my favorite of all <3)
Replaying with Tails right now, it's cool to see that the game keeps the previous special stage you already made (some of them are really tough ^^ )
Also I was looking for 2d maps of the megadrive games and I found this jewel :
You have all maps from S1, 2, 3&K and CD and I already lost several hours just looking at them :D. You also have all the musics !!
=> Here for S3 : http://www.soniczone0.com/games/sonic3/downloads/
I would love to find the same for the master system version