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Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul

Retroactive Reviews: Sonic and the Black Knight

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me, hence the posting lull. I’ve got two more reviews on the horizon after this one, but it’s been a bit of a pain to find the time playing them. I’ll have to cut down on my freelancing a bit to better focus.

I’ve also placed an order for Demon’s Souls, which has gotten a large amount of praise online, and Killzone 2, which I can only assume is being played by nearly every PS3 owner out there.

And, I’ve also got another project on the horizon. One that, personally speaking, has me extremely excited. I’m not ready to talk about it though, but trust me…it’s good.

Concerning this latest review, I found that the best thing about this game was the inclusion of videos featuring Sonic fan-art from around the world. It was a rather touching trip through Sonic’s finest adventures. Sega may have included these drawings as a reward for fans, but what we really want is for them to get their act together again.

Sonic and the Black Knight

Score: 6.0/10

I still believe in Sonic the Hedgehog.

Right now, that statement sounds laughable, considering the last few years of releases ranging from mediocre to terrible, but I still hold onto the hope that one day Sonic Team and Sega will reproduce the magic felt during Sonic’s golden years on the Sega Genesis.

Until then, the fans (and Sonic himself) will have to continue enduring Sega’s crazy experiments to replicate that magic, with the hopes that one day the right combination will lead to gold instead of…well, crap.

This time, Sonic has been thrown into a medieval setting, where he must do battle with evil knights and dragons at breakneck speed while wielding a mystical sword. Ironically, watching Sonic using a sword does bring back childhood memories of pondering such a combination. After all, everything’s cooler with swords, right? Compared to riding a hoverboard, transforming into a Werehog, and making furry love to a realistic human princess, watching Sonic swinging a blade against demons and dark knights isn’t so bad a fit.

In Sonic and the Black Knight, the titular hedgehog finds himself spirited away to the storybook world of Camelot. The legendary King Arthur (legendary for earthlings, and apparently residents of Mobius as well) of legend is an evil knight in this world, wise wizard Merlin is a Zelda ripoff named Merlina, and the knights of the round table are alternate fantasy versions of Sonic’s friends and rivals. Stating that he’s “used to this sort of thing” by now (a comedic, or perhaps depressing nod), Sonic agrees to defend the realm with the help of Caliburn, a sarcastic but integral talking sword. The overall story is no deeper than a Saturday morning cartoon, but at least Sega realizes we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sega has also slowly begun to remember that Sonic games are all about the blistering speed. Mirroring the play style of Sonic and the Secret Rings, Black Knight features levels with a set path, where Sonic must hoof it from start to finish, jumping and grinding any obstacles in his way. As for the more adversarial obstacles, a simple homing attack won’t do the trick this time around, thus forcing…er, encouraging players to swing their wiimotes wildly to defeat enemies the old fashioned way. The motion controls are sufficient enough, although don’t expect the same fluidity found in previous blade wailing titles like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess or No More Heroes. It’s quite difficult to get Sonic to perform a specific sword maneuver, but fortunately this game isn’t tailored around the combat; at the speed Sonic is running, a few sword swipes are all that’s needed to clear the endless horde of monsters to advance forward. The key to high ranks and rewards is to never stop moving, and it’s this fast-paced style that almost replicates the fond moments of Sonic’s classic games.

I say “almost”, because while there’s a lot to like about Sonic and the Black Knight, it all comes to a screeching halt just before it reaches its second wind. Levels are sporadic in their length, with early missions taking less than a couple of minutes to complete, and not much more to completely master. The levels are also infrequent in their creativity; some areas are too straightforward and basic, while other areas deliver multiple paths and sudden shifts in structure to deliver a more exciting experience. The same can be said for the boss battles, which range from basic, ho-hum standoffs to more exciting chase sequences featuring quick time Wiimote movements. Even worse is the length of the game; it will take no more than a few hours to face off against King Arthur and roll the credits. While veteran Sonic players should immediately ascertain that the game doesn’t truly end from there, they may wish that it did.

After the plot takes a turn for the melodramatic, players will have to traverse a few more areas to face the final threat. These areas are much longer in length from the earlier fast tracks, but they are also twice as frustrating. The goal of many of these advanced stages is to reach the end before time runs out, and with twice as much terrain to speed through, the rampant increase of enemies and quick-death pitfalls lead to a mountain of frustration. Additional characters are unlocked along with a Blacksmith feature where new accessories can be forged from retrieved items, but these additions come far too late in the game to encourage further playthroughs.

Sonic and the Black Knight is a fun diversion for kids, and a glimmering star of hope for longtime fans, but it’s going to take a lot more experimentation to restore the greatness of the mascot who once stood toe to toe with Mario. Or, they could just go the Coca Cola route and just revert back to classic Sonic gameplay. Not everything needs to be in 3D, after all.


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This entry was posted on April 19, 2009 by in Retroactive Reviews and tagged .
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