[As originally posted on Backwards Compatible.]
Sonic has been getting a lot of flak recently for, well, being in shit games. After the debacles of Sonic 2006 and Sonic: Unleashed, many feared that the days of good Sonic games were behind us. When Sonic and The Black Knight was first announced, no one really cared about it, because it was a change of form. “Sonic with swords,” I’d hear, “That sounds like shit!” And while the prospect of a Sonic game based in the legend of King Arthur might not be appealing to most, it actually surprised me.
Let me get this out of the way: Sonic and The Black Knight is exactly what you’d expect. Yes, it’s got all the god-awful characters you hate making stupid, contrived returns. Yes, the gameplay is as shallow as a kiddie pool. Yes, the story is boring. And, yes, Sonic Team has, once again, shoveled another foot o’ dirt onto the grave that is the Sonic the Hedgehog legacy. But, with all that said, I did manage to squeeze some fun out of this title, and many Sonic die-hards might, too.
The story, for those that care (yes, I know none of you care, but still…), is this: In some sort of alternate-reality King Arthur tale, the all-powerful sword-remover had become drunk with an evil power, all stemming from the scabbard of Excalibur (yeah, not the sword itself). We begin with the royal court wizard Melina running away from King Arthur as he hunts her down for some reason. So, thinking the only way to get out of this situation is with magic, Melina summons help from another world, a champion to come and save her. Unfortunately, that champion happens to be Sonic, who comes dropping out of a hole in the sky, with (amazingly enough) 2 chili-dogs. This is a great nod to the Sonic of old, since I can’t remember the last time a game has referenced the love between this hedgehog and his hot dogs (if ever). From here, the story gets ridiculous, involving Amy as The Lady of The Lake, Shadow and Knuckles as Sir Gawain and Lancelot, and a talking sword. Yeah, that’s enough about that.
On to the gameplay, which can only be described as truly mediocre. I seriously mean that; I can’t say one bad or good thing about it. Controls consist of A to jump, Nunchuck for movement, and B to activate a simple “bullet time” mode that lets you attack enemies quicker. The Wiimote is used to slash, but, then, that’s nothing new. Just waggle to attack, basically. Not much else. Well, aside from all this, there’s a nice little shield button, but nothing too special. Basically, it’s the same Wii action game you played many times over.
The game also sees fit to jam itself full of completely unnecessary RPG-like elements that have no place in a Sonic game. At the end of each level, you get a handful of items that you need to identify. Some of the items can be equipped to enhance many of Sonic’s abilities, while most are…completely useless. Seriously, 80% of the items you identify just go up on a collection screen, with no use at all, other than to trade online with friends like some sort of shitty trading card game. Also, the items that you can equip can protect you from status ailments you’ll never get! For instance, playing through the entire game, I never once got poisoned, but, I had 3 different items to protect me from poison effects. It’s just a lot of useless crap.
Kill this enemy for a book that doesn't do shit!
Graphically, this is one of the more beautiful Wii games I’ve seen in a while. The stages are presented in the wonderful post-PS2, pre-360 graphics that only a Wii can produce. Enemies have a cool flair to them, wind and grass take on some cool effects, and the character models are pretty nice. I actually enjoy the look of the Knights of The Round-style Shadow, Knuckles, and Blaze. Also, you may have heard that the game has no real cutscenes, which is partially true. The opening cut-scene and end-scene are the only CGI scenes in the game, while the rest of the story is told in a rather neat-looking old-timey storyboard fashion.
Sound is what you’d expect, since basically every Sonic soundtrack has been a rehash of the Sonic Adventure 2 soundtrack. That shitty kind of rock that should’ve stayed in 1998, know what I mean? There’s also pretty cool orchestral bits here and there (the mission select screen music is particularly nice), but nothing to write home about. As far as dialogue, well, Shakespeare this ain’t. For instance, when being insulted by his own talking sword (seriously, it’s name’s Caliburn, and it’s the only character that speaks with an accent), Sonic retorts by saying it’s got “a smart mouth for a sword”, and it’s basically just an “oversized letter opener”. Also, when asked who he serves, our blue hedgehog friend comes back with the rousing “I have no master other than the wind that blows free!” Yeah, honestly, it might be best to play this game muted while you constantly hum the Green Hill Zone music.
Level design is, for the most part, horrendous. Levels are broken down into individual missions you can complete whenever you feel like it, with no real rhythm to them. Most missions make sense (make it to the end of a level, kill 50 enemies, ets.), but then, for no real reason, you’re given tasks like “give the townspeople 100 rings”, which involves a stupid mini-game you’ve gotta perform while rushing through a level like normal, or “reflect light onto a dark crystal”, which completely ruins any sense of speed as you stop to do these mundane tasks. Missions like that are shit, and have no place in the game. Also, some of these levels can be completed in 20 seconds flat. Seriously, there will be times while playing this that I’ll jump, slash a few times, and the level will be over.
My favorite levels are when, rather than play bits and pieces of a level, you play the whole thing in one big 5-minute speed-and-slash-fest. This is where the game truly feels like a Sonic game, giving you the sense of speed you’ve been looking for, and allowing you to see the whole level at once. Also, there were some neat little touches here and there I appreciated. During cutscenes with Sonic’s talking sword, whenever the sword would make a movement, the Wiimote would rumble, adding a little touch that gave that character a little more life. Sonic fans can actually find a lot of neat little tricks lie this throughout the game, and I appreciated that.
Ah, grinding. How I love you so.
Add-ons include making your own crest (which means nothing), earning badges (which mean nothing), and getting to earn online rankings for some levels (which…yeah, you get the point). Multiplayer has a few different modes if you wish to involve an unfortunate friend. Modes include split-screen one-on-one battles, races, or kill-fests, where you need to eliminate more enemies than your opponent. New characters can be unlocked as you finish missions, but, honestly, who wants to play as Blaze?
Basically, Sonic and the Black Knight proves exactly what’s wrong with the franchise: there’s WAY, WAY too much unnecessary shit piled into it. The best times in Sonic: Unleashed were when the game felt like a Sonic game, not a shitty God of War knock-off that didn’t need to be there. The best times I had playing this game were when I was speeding through the gorgeous levels, hacking and slashing with no regard for anything around me, and pulling off sweet moves. Never once did I find enjoyment out of the side-quests, item collecting, multiplayer, or other multitude of things the game has to find a niche for. Yes, I actually liked this game, even with its odd setting (which I actually liked) and its tacked-on swordplay (which at least wasn’t gunplay). But, I’m not sure I can recommend it to anyone who isn’t a Sonic die-hard.