For years I’ve been fooling myself thinking one of these days a solid Sonic adventure is finally going to be made. I keep trying out all these games, one after another, always with the hope to play the next best Mario-like platforming adventure. This time around, due to the medieval theme implied by the title, I even expected something somewhat similar to The Legend of Zelda games. Of course, the gameplay didn’t have much to do with Miyamoto’s famous franchise, and perhaps I should stop getting my hopes up with these Sonic games and just take them for what they are – a modern Sonic title.
Sonic and the Black Knight marks the return of the Sonic Storybook Series to the Nintendo Wii. If you played the first title, Sonic and the Secret Rings, you probably remember the game was very aesthetically appealing, but the gameplay mechanics left a lot to be desired, leaving the game almost unplayable. This time around, the visual appeal is back with a new medieval theme and plenty of swords and knights wearing shiny armor. However, in contrast with the first title of the series, this one actually provides with a somewhat enjoyable experience, even if the mechanics are still a bit rough around the edges.
The story told in Sonic and the Black Knight submerges players into the book of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The powerful Black Knight, a warrior who wields the scabbard of the legendary, mighty Excalibur sword, is set to spread terror throughout Camelot. There really isn’t a way to make him stop, unless a hero is able to defeat him with the help of the sacred (and talkative) sword named Caliburn. Merlina, the Wizard of Camelot, summons the long-awaited hero in hopes of defeating the villain and bringing peace back to their lands. The potential hero is none other than Sonic, but he first needs to polish his swashbuckling skills in order to stand a chance against the evil Black Knight.
This quest will take players through level after level of ring-collecting and sword fighting, but not without the typical fast-paced gameplay found in all Sonic games. Brawling at high speeds can be quite fun, but it’s also highly unsatisfying due to all the enemies left behind. Perhaps these speedy mechanics are what stops the franchise from succeeding in the modern era of gaming, but it’s also tough to get away from it, especially considering the fans weren’t too hot on the last attempt at playing Sonic at a normal pace, in the night levels of Sonic Unleashed.
Players are ranked in the story mode by completing the different goals in each mission while defeating as many enemies as possible and avoiding Camelot’s townspeople so they don’t get hurt. Doing this in the shortest amount of time possible also helps to obtain a better score and a bigger amount of unlockables. On some occasions, the missions will involve certain interactions with the villagers like giving them rings or saving them from a nearby danger. However, most of the time is spent just running and kicking some butt with your sword. Once in a while you’ll be presented with a boss fight, but I found most of these encounters too bland and definitely not challenging. Instead of facing brutal and fearsome monsters, these enemies are just somewhat bigger than Sonic, and their design is not particularly imaginative or scary.
The story mode shows a bit of an RPG influence by allowing players to unlock numerous objects that can be equipped on the character to increase his skills / performance. The better you do at each given level, the more stuff you’ll be able to identify and add to your Treasury log. In addition, you’ll also obtain new music, video clips of already-seen cutscenes, pictures and renders, battle modes, etc. In a way, some of the unlockables feel like Xbox Achievements or PS3 Trophies. That’s one thing the Wii doesn’t have yet, so I guess it’s nice to include proof of your accomplishments within the game itself.
There’s also a Battle mode where up to four players can compete to see who reaches the goal faster, who defeats more enemies, etc. You can’t play this online, but it will still make a fun party game for some players, especially if they’re Sonic fans. Players can choose between four characters from the Sonic franchise. These characters will also appear in the Story mode, but only as you advance through the story. However, they’ll play special roles within the Knights of the Round Table story, so only Sonic knows who they really are.
There is an “online” mode where you can complete missions and upload your scores in order to climb the ranks. Your scores will be compared against those of other players out there, but that’s about it. Considering there’s a lot more that can be done with the Wii’s wi-fi connection, I found this to be slightly disappointing. They should have let players participate in the same competitions provided in the Battle mode, but it just didn’t happen.
The controls are also disappointing. They involve a lot of controller-shaking, but they don’t offer the best results. Oftentimes you’ll be running at full speed while dispatching enemies left and right, but if you try to use the Z button in order to protect yourself from upcoming enemies, Sonic might stop completely, which breaks the flow. Luckily, the ability to target-attack by holding the B button (as long as you’ve saved up some Soul Surge juice) often makes up for it. You can even jump and then use the Soul Surge to finish up the enemy with a quick flick of the Wii Remote (while holding B).
Sonic can also climb walls or slide down them, grind on ropes, rails, and edges, and even ride wagons when the opportunity comes. It seems like fun things to do, but it mostly feels as if the game’s holding your hand all the time, so there’s no sense of challenge. Also, the boss battles are ridiculous. Your moves are very limited and the controls are inconsistent, which makes you feel powerless. Most of these fights are short enough that you end up winning anyways, but they’re no fun.
Without a doubt, the visuals are the best part of the game. Sonic and the Black Knight looks sharp, and the level design is beautiful. The medieval theme is very appealing and full of details, which you can really appreciate if you stop and take a look. The bright, 3D cutscenes are great, and I also enjoyed the 2D, hand drawn-style cutscenes. My only complaint in this department is the repetition of foes and villagers throughout the levels, which is something that shouldn’t happen in today’s video games. Basically, the enemies are knights and spiders, and they’re all fought the same way.
The voiceover work is typical of Sonic games. Most voices will sound familiar, and they’re fine for a Sonic game. However, they don’t really stand out. I think it’d be nice to add a touch of fantasy into the recipe, since it’s a game based on a storybook. The soundtrack is equally characteristic of Sonic games (repetitive J-Pop), and it doesn’t do a whole lot for the game. This doesn’t mean it’s not alright, but it’s just missing a spark of originality. Perhaps I’m just too used to hearing similar musical themes in every Sonic game.
In conclusion, this is just another so-so Sonic title. It has a decent Story mode and great visuals, plus it includes a Battle mode to compete against your friends. No online play is a downside, but overall, the game is really not that bad. It can be fun for a couple hours, but I guess that probably doesn’t justify the $50 expense unless you’re a Sonic fan. There’s a lot more that could have been done with Sonic and a sword, but then again, the Sonic Team insists in using the same fast-paced formula, so there we have it. I would just go for a rental, and if you’re ready for more, you can always take the plunge later.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
The visuals are very appealing on both cutscenes and actual gameplay. It’s nice to see how far the Wii can get if the developers pay enough attention to the look of the game. 2.8 Control
They work fine, but they’re not very engaging. The gameplay involves a lot of Wii Remote swinging and not many specific moves or strategy. Boss battles limit the controls and are not very fun. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The game includes Sonic’s typical voices and melodies, without much innovation. It needs that extra spark. 3.5
There are enough levels and missions included in the Story mode, and the Battle mode could be fun with friends. However, the game is not very challenging. The dullness and occasional frustration are tough to overcome.
3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.