After watching a few too many episodes of Game Grumps, I suddenly realised something that may irritate longstanding lovers of classic games out there. I’ve never played a Sonic game. Not a one. I’ve seen Let’s Plays of them, I know most the characters and know that damn catchy TV intro from Sonic X, but I’ve never played a Sonic game.
My classic game crimes don’t end there, having never played The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mario (outside of Mario Kart) or really any properly famous games from the Nintendo/Sega era. So I resolved myself to break this trend and finally play a Sonic game. So you may now be wondering: “Why the hell did you pick Sonic and the Black Knight? Why not the original Sonic the Hedgehog, or Sonic CD or, hell, Sonic Colors! That one finally gets Sonic right in 3D!” I would like to say that I picked a game at random so I could give an impartial view on a Sonic game without knowing anything about it’s critical reception, but the real reason is because Sonic and the Black Knight happens to be my brother’s copy… and the only Sonic game anyone in my family owns. But, after fishing out the Wii, I was quite excited to be playing my first ever Sonic game.
Sonic and the Black Knight starts off with the sorceress Merlina summoning Sonic to defend her from the evil forces of a corrupted King Arthur, with the scabbard of Excalibur corrupting him. Merlina then guides Sonic to a talking sword named Caliburn and is told to go to the Lady of the Lake, Nimue (who is just an alternate Amy). From her he learns he must defeat the Knights of the Round Table and collect their swords in order to defeat King Arthur.
To start things on a positive note, the game has quite good graphics, especially for a Wii game. The attention to detail and quality is incredibly high in the cut scenes, shifting from computer animated scenes to more stylised shorter scenes. It’s very appealing in a way that still holds up today, despite it having aged six years.
Even the in game animation is nothing to be sniffed at as having seen Sonic ‘06’s, which was released on consoles with better graphic processing, is actually nice to look at. Clearly the guys at Sonic Team put a lot of effort into animating this game and, honestly, it shows. There wasn’t a moment that I thought something looked phoned in or half-assed. Everything looked like it had some work put into it, almost as if Sonic Team were actively trying to make a good game.
But that, and perhaps a minor mention to the OK voice acting, this game has really nothing to offer. I was really prepared to be nice to Sonic, to convert to the Sonic fandom. I know it’s a difficult thing to do but I was willing to give Sonic a chance. First impressions count and, while this one didn’t zip towards me only to vomit on my shoes and speed away with my money, it came pretty damn close to doing so.
First of all we have got to talk about the gameplay. I have known Sonic as a character who has “gotta go fast” but Sonic and the Black Knight seems to have looked at this concept, thrown it in a bin, set it on fire, taken the ashes remaining, set them on fire and then thrown them off a cliff which then then set on fire. Every time you face an enemy it slows the pace of the game and breaks the flow which is made all the worse by the fact that, if you stop, Sonic takes an age to get up to speed.
But what also makes this stupid is that there are levels which (hang on I’m going to go bold here just to emphasise this point) demand (no that’s not enough) DEMAND (much better) that you stop to give peasants twenty rings. It’s explained in the plot but… why? It’s so stupid. Also if, once you’ve got up to speed and you miss some of the peasants, you can only jump backwards for a certain distance so if you’ve gone too far, too bad. Just hope you’ve not past too many needy peasants on your way and that there will be some up ahead.
But even with the getting to speed problem, it would have been OK if the combat was interesting, but it is downright boring. I know the Wiimote isn’t the most precise piece of technology for a hack and slash game, but when you can breeze past enemies by just vaguely waggling the control it drains the tiny reserves of fun that this game had little to spare of. If the game had been adventurous enough to go “Hey maybe if we make more complex enemies that need different ways to be defeated instead of the player mildly waggling an arm they’ll enjoy it more.” Maybe an employee did say that. Maybe the employee was ignored or fired or shot behind the mountain of Sonic money. I don’t know but it might have happened.
After they had taken care of that employee, they must have gone crazy with the copy/paste function as multiple levels are just the same but in slightly different settings. Your goal may be different and slight variations in how the level is presented, but the majority levels feel as if Sonic Team just used Control C and V.
Also, this game has Tails as a Blacksmith where you can add new items to yourself in order to change your fighting style. Now, I must say that this is completely pointless. Sorry Tails, I like your character, but the Blacksmith is just unnecessary. After seeing him the once and using him then, I never used him again. I never used any of the times to improve Sonic at all and still managed to get through the game with no real problems. That begs the question, if the game can be completed with almost no changes to Sonic’s base stats, what is the point of the Blacksmith? Answer: none.
And then we get to the mini bosses, being Knuckles, Shadow and Blaze as Knights of the Round Table. You would have thought that at last Sonic and the Black Knight would make up for its lacklustre enemies with decent boss fights. And you’d be so, so wrong. The principle of waggle to win holds strong that these battles aren’t even a challenge. Aside from Blaze who actually made an effort to attack Sonic, the bosses are very easy to defeat and just leave you with the thought “What was the point?”.
At this point you may be thinking “Chronicler you ignoramus! Why don’t you just increase the difficulty so you can feel the true challenge of a Sonic game?” And to you discourteous viewer I say “I would if I could!” I scoured the options menu for a chance to make the game harder to which the game seemed woefully unprepared. I just keep thinking, what if you wanted to make the game easier if you your young child couldn’t get past a boss? The game has essentially gone “Well too bad, either get better or get out!” Not having an option to increase and decrease difficulty just makes more people angry from both sides of the spectrum of gamers.
But then you finally get to battle the evil King Arthur in a battle that actually took a few attempts to beat. Not because of any difficulty, rather because of my impatience. You have to catch King Arthur up then attack only when the Wiimote appears on screen. This sounds easy but when any motion you make with the Wiimote thinks you are attacking and fails you, so you have to start again. It becomes not so much a challenge than a frustration.
But then you do it. You defeat King Arthur; recover his scabbard and the credits role. “Well that was underwhelming” was my first thought after this. But I beat the game at least. I’m sorry what’s that? I haven’t completed the game? I think you’ll find I got to the end credits so I have beaten the game. I’m sorry what do you mean the halfway credits? I’m serious; after you beat King Arthur you go through UNSKIPPABLE credits to only find there is more of the game. I even started writing my review before I found this out. It’s like Sonic Team saw a later series of Monty Python where they do the credits five minutes and thought that would be a good idea for the game.
So going back to the game you get a few extra missions before the actual final boss battle (who can be beaten with the same dodge, waggle, then waggle more frantically to win) where you can now play as Knuckles, Shadow and Blaze. But the problem with that is you already have the best character from the start, so why would you change character for only a few missions? Their inclusions feels really forced as, although they try to make it work in the plot, you can just play their missions with Sonic so they become pointless extras than valued characters.
Sonic and the Black Knight was probably not the game to start with to get me into Sonic. But what if it had been your first game? Shouldn’t all games at least try to draw in new fans to the franchise? In that regard, Sonic and the Black Knight has definitely failed and probably prevented prospective fans from converting to the Sonic fandom. I can now see why my brother said he did not remember anything about the game other than he didn’t complete it. No wonder, the game is too dire to be worth of memory.