Since the release of Sonic Adventure 2 in 2001, Sonic the Hedgehog has been in a coma. His 3D outings have generated limited success on the consoles while his portable endeavors have garnered rave reviews because they mastered the formula the Sega Genesis made famous. After reading about Sonic and the Black Knight (SBK) in Nintendo Power last year, I eagerly anticipated its release, hoping that it would mark the removal of the anthropomorphic blue blur from life support.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day time levels in Sonic Unleashed, so I speculated that SBK would attempt to match that speed while incorporating swordplay. I was wrong. Thanks to terrible controls, bad gameplay, crappy music, and atrocious multi-player, I pronounce the time of death on March 3, at 12:01am (PST).
SBK is the second game in the storybook series. This series incorporates Sonic into popular stories, this one being King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Sonic is dropped into the world, and after some terrible dialog; you set out to defeat a corrupted King Arthur. The Sonic universe is loosely connected to the story through the characters. Merlina, Calibrun, and King Arthur are both new characters (for the Sonic Universe) and everyone else is played by familiar faces: Amy, Tails, Shadow, Knuckles, and Blaze. The game doesn’t really follow the story of King Arthur, but instead, lets Sonic and his development team in so that they may ruin it as they please. The game’s plot is abysmal, and its only redeeming quality is its brevity, it’s four hours long. It is obvious that it was geared toward the younger generation…but so is Mario’s, and his gameplay makes up for that.
I am dedicated this paragraph to the good in SBK, so I am sorry if it is brief. SBK is an aesthetically pleasing game with big detailed environments show off what the Wii can do. It also utilizes a unique and enjoyable plot delivery system. Instead of using regular old cinematics, the game’s story plays out across a motion comic book with full voice acting. The voice work is decent but the dialog is so bad that appreciating what the actors did is difficult. The game’s unique style when telling the story and having some of the best graphics on the Wii make for an enjoyable experience when watching it or looking at screenshots. Playing the game is a different story.
SBK is broken up into multiple zones with a multitude of stages. Each level uses a behind the back camera, (a few switch to the side) and Sonic must race to the goal while slashing bad guys. The levels have different requirements for victory: defeat so many enemies, don’t get hit, defeat said boss, and…reach the goal. There is a little variety in what your mission is, but accomplishing each mission is done the same way. Hold up on the nunchuk and shake the Wii remote. SBK requires the player to swing the remote to slash the sword but it doesn’t detect particular motions. So instead of trying to mimic the actions of the blade, the player just shakes it back and forth. With about 100 enemies per stage, the combat is mindless and boils down to running and shaking or running, stopping, and shaking. There is a soul surge meter that charges up an attack, but it’s just a slower, more accurate attack, that still requires thoughtless shaking.
About halfway through the single player the ability to select from the three bosses attempts to liven up the gameplay. However, they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, the crux of the gameplay, and they are slower than Sonic. I used each of them once, hoping that I was only dreaming and their inclusion actually ment something. To top that off, there is noticeable lag. So instead of controlled bouts of mindless shaking, the player must shake the remote back and forth constantly to make sure their attacks are going through. It felt like I was shaking a jar of salsa for hours.
Furthermore, while you are running forward and gaining speed, moving to the left and right feels stiff. Getting red (soul surge meter) or gold fairies (rings) is difficult because you can’t react at slow or high speeds. If you do miss the item, going back for it is even harder. Sonic can’t turn around, he only backpedals. You have to jump backward a few times to get back to the item and then maneuver your way over to it. The camera never moves so when you do this, every enemy that you missed is now obscured and you will more than likely lose rings as you backtrack. It doesn’t feel like the enemies (all six types of them) and level designs are working against you, but the entire game itself (controls, story, gameplay, sound) is trying to keep you from enjoying it.
Completing each stage gives you stars, I.D. points, and followers. Each level has a max number of followers you are allowed to earn through repeatedly beating that level, and depending on how well you do during the level determines how many followers you get. These followers act like experience, and after gathering so many, whichever fighting style you are using levels up, or you earn a new title. These fighting styles let Sonic focus on speed, swordplay, or balance. The problem with them is that it doesn’t matter which you pick, there isn’t a notable difference. The I.D. points let you identify a certain number of items after each level but these are mostly collectibles. You can equip certain items, but they’re useless. Some give you extra points to help boost your score at the end, others protect you from poison and panic (neither of which I saw at all), or you can identify items easier. The items are also tradable across the wi-fi network with your friends. It adds replay to the game but the problem is that you have to play through the game multiple times to collect all of the items. There are also unlockable videos and concept art, but like the items, they require you to play more than once. Oh yeah, the stars. The game keeps a total of how many you have earned, giving one through five depending on how well you do in a level, but I was unable to figure any other use they had.
If you can’t handle the single player mode, SBK sports a multi-player battle mode as well . Here players can battle it out under a specific “battle rule.” You can play as some of the other characters here, but the it suffers the same control problems as the single player, as well as being tacked on. The “battle rules” are lame and the character selection is limited. What I did like is that you can take your scores from certain levels and put them online. The level selection wa as limited as everything else, but it is a groundwork for future, hopefully successful, Sonic games. Imagine a good 3D Sonic game where you can post your personal best for your favorite level online or race shadows of other players. We can only hope.
To top off the bad controls, monotonous gameplay, and awful multi-player, the sound is atrocious. The opening song sounds like an amateur rock band’s feeble attempt to make it big and the gameplay music is forgettable. Slashing and clashing sounds from swinging your sword and blocking sound off at times and your sword (since it talks) gives you tons of hints that border on infuriating rather than helpful. The sound effects are a garbled mess that someone mixed together in their garage. The only redeeming quality of the music is the tune that plays while you are in the main menu. It is the only thing that fits into the medieval canvas that Sonic has been so hastily painted onto.
I say hastily because this game feels rushed. It looks like the development team spent more time working on the game’s looks. The controls don’t function well, the gameplay is uninteresting, there is roughly six different enemies to battle, and the music (like almost everything else) is messy. I appreciate Sega’s attempt (again) to revitalize the blue blur, but his problem isn’t in variety, it’s in quality. Sonic is like the Megaman series. Both heroes have experienced success in the 2D market but haven’t hit their stride in 3D. Mario and Zelda were able to make the jump because their original gameplay mechanics, along with new ones, were transferable to the third dimension. Sonic and Megaman’s transition has been difficult, (Sonic Adventure 2 was great and I enjoyed Megaman Legends) because developers keep adding new things without first mastering the old. The Megaman series finally got the hint and, taking it a step further, made a brand new 2D 8bit game that is one of the best in the series by reestablishing that made Megaman great. Sonic needs this too. Sonic Rush, for the Nintendo DS, is an awesome platformer that proves that the old school Sonic formula is successful. I would love to see Sega develop a new, 16bit 2D platformer, an entire game using the daytime levels from Sonic Unleashed, or keep him on the portables. Take a look at Tim Turi’s “How to save Sonic the Hedgehog” article for an in-depth look at what I am talking about. Until then, Sega should give him some rest before they ruin what is left of his credibility.
Detailed environments with a stylish storytelling system make for one of the best looking games on the Wii.
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Atrocious controls, repetitive missions, horrible writing, and terrible multiplayer will keep even the masochists at bay
The voice acting is decent for once but the mind numbing soundtrack outwieghs any benefit.
Not only is the game difficult to play once, getting all of the collectibles requires playing it over and over again.
It's one of the best looking games on the Wii, but fails at everything else.