"One thing I was pleased to find is that even though you can unlock familiar characters with their own styles of play, it's quite possible to speed through the whole game as Sonic. There are no more stops by fishing holes to find Froggie, no blind leaps as a heavy robot. Even when you're searching for hidden fairies, you're doing so with an emphasis on speed. Sonic and the Black Knight has the length to match and exceed nearly any Sonic the Hedgehog game you'd care to name and it does so with very little in the way of filler."
Have you ever heard the phrase "couldn't see the forest for the trees"? I'll assume that you have. It's pretty popular and also one that I rather like. There are a lot of people who go through life worrying about little details while ignoring the big picture. The expression fits for a lot of situations, people and things, with the trees and forest being swapped out to serve each individual circumstance. Take Sonic and the Black Knight, for example. It's a meaty adventure starring Sonic the Hedgehog, but people seem unwilling to look at it that way. They're too busy getting hung up over the fact that "Oh no, there's a sword in the game." They say 'sword,' I say 'trees.'
Let's talk about the sword for a minute, though. The setup behind the game is that one day Sonic was eating some hot dogs when suddenly he got pulled into a vortex. Before he knew what to think, he found himself falling through the air and landing on the ground in a spiny blue heap. There, a sorceress asked that he please dispatch of a dark knight and his minions. Sonic complied, the damsel was saved and now the heroic mammal has embarked on a quest to rid medieval Camelot of the dark menace posed by its rogue ruler, the nefarious King Arthur.
Sonic doesn't remember the story going quite like that, and neither will any well-read players, but that's okay. It works. As a nifty side bonus, it also explains why Sonic is carrying around a huge sword!
Once we've made our peace with the sword's existence, something that should take all of three seconds upon actually playing through any stage in the game, then there's still the concern that it will fundamentally change how Sonic plays. There's actually no reason to stress, though; more than you'd think, perhaps even more than you'd dare hope, Sonic and the Black Knight is a return to Sonic the Hedgehog games as we remember them. It's pretty, it's fast and--far more than the prophets of Sonic doom would have you believe--it's fun. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that it has no issues.
The primary issue is a short campaign. When you select the 'Adventure' mode from the main menu, it's quite possible that the ensuing quests won't take you more than 4 or 5 hours to complete. However, that's true only if you avoid all of the extra content. In a curious design decision, the developers made the bulk of the experience entirely optional. In some ways this works in the game's favor by keeping things short and to the point, but it also makes it possible for the incredibly stupid player to moan about how the game is inexcusably short, all without playing 70% of it. There really are people who do such things with their time. Pity them.
Of course, the person who actually sticks around to play the whole game is in for quite the experience. There are nearly 90 missions in total and several of the most interesting ones are only accessible once the final credits have rolled. These take you back to the same locations you've already visited, but there often are fundamental changes that make things interesting. You'd be surprised what a difference it makes when you are asked to complete a run through an area with only 8 sword strokes, or when you have to keep a combo of rings flowing from the start of a stage to its finish or whatever else the developers throw at the surprised player.
One thing I was pleased to find is that even though you can unlock familiar characters with their own styles of play, it's quite possible to speed through the whole game as Sonic. There are no more stops by fishing holes to find Froggie, no blind leaps as a heavy robot. Even when you're searching for hidden fairies, you're doing so with an emphasis on speed. Sonic and the Black Knight has the length to match and exceed nearly any Sonic the Hedgehog game you'd care to name and it does so with very little in the way of filler.
One criticism I have heard leveled toward this game is that it slows things down too frequently when the time comes to engage in combat. However, I had little difficulty keeping things moving at an exhilarating pace as I worked through Sonic and the Black Knight. If I came upon a group of soldiers and skidded to a halt to fight them all, it meant I was doing something wrong. Why stop to exchange dull blows with armored buffoons when a quick swipe of the Wii Remote sent me hurtling toward them like a furry cannon ball? Why would I ever dream of a slow-paced duel when I could launch myself into the air, then plummet toward them with blade whirling and watch them fall apart like Humpty-Dumpty?
Combat in Sonic and the Black Knight isn't a plague on the franchise at all. If anything, it's closer to the old Sonic mechanics than we've seen in a long while. Even the Soul Surge meter--a bar that fills up with energy as you collect red fairies throughout the stages or get the better of your opponents--allows you to slow time and then fly through your toughest opponents in a blue blaze. It's tremendously satisfying.
There's also a lot of good to be said about the visual style, which stands proud among some of the finest looking games available on the system (Super Mario Galaxy and de Blob, I'm looking at you). There are frequent water effects that look downright beautiful, but the real strengths contribute to the less obvious moments of beauty. When Sonic is racing through a foreboding forest and the shadows and dense grass conspire to send chills down your spine, you'll know that the artists have done something special. When you're riding a chunk of rock across a bubbling lake of lava or leaping to avoid shockwaves as a dragon slams his giant maw against the earth, you won't be pausing to think how amazing it is that the Wii can handle this sort of stuff; you'll be busy feeling immersed.
So, why don't I give Sonic and the Black Knight a higher rating if I think it's so dang peachy? Mostly, it comes down to the faults I've already mentioned. As beautiful as they may be, some of the stages do get tiresome before you're through with them. The main adventure's brevity also means that gamers thirsty for an involving tale of chivalry and hedgehogs will find surprisingly little substance. The unlockable characters and the challenges for completing stages at different levels of proficiency also can feel at times like features that were included just to make the game longer, not necessarily better. Put those few issues aside, though, and the final package is definitely worth a look. If you can see past the sword, that is...
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 10, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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