Friday, April 17, 2009

Sonic and The Black Knight

So I happened to have busted my mouse around a week ago and had to leave for the store to get a new one. The problem with this is that I am what you would call a -sale whore-, in that if I see a sale on something I like, even if I currently should be spending the money, I buy it. This disease led me to purchasing both the Sonic Mega Collection and Sonic and The Black Knight, but you know what the biggest surprise was? They were both good, nay they were both enjoyable! I mean we could all guess that the first would be enjoyable because it is Sonic in its quote unquote "golden years", but a current Sonic game, let alone the most recent of them, being good? Unfathomable you say, but I say it is true!

This is even harder to say because, as you could have guessed, I had played the very first Sonic off the mega collection no longer then ten minutes before popping in Sonic and the Black Knight. This led to the first realization (one that comes to an even greater shock to me because I haven't played a Sonic game since Sonic Adventure DX for the Gamecube), the Sonic Team aren't half bad at animation. The entrance captivated me from the very start and just about to the end as well (with a few hiccups provided by rather average, but overall acceptable voice acting.) After that stellar animation it seems that they decided to budget their time to focus more on the gameplay then providing the same stellar animation, the latter switching to a stop motion comic style, but the game seems better for it since this type of cut-scene seems to know it can't last too long on its own and quickly makes with the explaining before shooing away.

Secondly, lets talk about the voice acting. While nothing great in both the script and in the voice actors themselves, it does manage to at least keep you from becoming derailed while speeding through the game. Though I admit that it can be a tad wooden at times, I can also say that I've seen far, far worse. Though besides that there isn't much else to say about it, probably to the games dismay, since it doesn't really supply that many memorable lines or impressive speeches.

Lets go to the story. Oh you remember that whole thing with King Arthur and the Round Table? The part about a noble king who leads a group of valorous knights on the quest for good? No, no you don't, shut up. All of that never happened and is all a lie according to Sonic and The Black Knight. Instead King Arthur was actually an evil prick who can easily be corrupted by the thought of immortality, up to the point that he goes on a complete killing spree of his beloved kingdom. So yeah, the story for this new installation is sort of far-fetched, but to be honest it simply seems to be there to justify the levels you travel through over anything else. Trust me when I say that it gets even more confusing after you beat the first part of it. Sadly, I think Sonic Team needs to invest in some new writers because I've come across fan fiction that had better stories then this. You can skip over it though so all is well (mind you it was very good fan-fiction).

Now lets get to the meat and potatoes, the level design. I suppose you could think of this like....Well remember that one arcade game where you got into the life raft and would paddle in the various directions you wanted to go? Think of it like that, but with now you have the ability to jump and swing a sword that, to my utter surprise, is actually normal size. (Since we all know that most swords tend to be a tad over-compensatory (I'm looking at you Square Enix), So basically the game is like the rail-cart level of Super Mario RPG repeated with incremental difficulty increases and enemies that are definitely -not- ripping of the Twilight from Legend of Zelda. They just have the ability to spawn from the sky or ground, spawn in vast numbers, are covered in a mixture of blacks and other dark colors, oh and they don't talk...Actually it seems that everyone besides the main characters in this game talk in various "meeps" like Beaker. They never explain this either, but I guess they wanted us to figure that they were short on time (I mean hell they released this five or so months after Unleashed).

I seem to have drifted off, what was I talking about? Oh yes, the levels! This is where most will get a rather nostalgic tingling in their tummies since it plays out a lot like the classic games in a sense. You run across a rather straight forward path that, at various points, allows you to split off and travel in various different routes. You have to avoid or confront various enemies and traps (many of which you can do in mid-stride,) and you collect rings.....Well no actually you collect fairies...Which is even stranger because the sword sidekick (Did I mention the sword sidekick? Well this is a review not a synopsis), tells you that these fairies will give you rings. Why aren't they just rings? I mean true they give you five rings a fairy, but that leaves the levels rather bare except for various enemies and traps....That portion of the game I never really will understand. Anyway, you also get to run through a sign at the end of the level, well I like it..I've noticed that most other reviewers talk about the controls being unresponsive, but I never noticed that. Maybe I was too busy drooling over myself in fanboy glee, but they seemed to work quite well in all honesty. I actually only remember one point I got stuck on and that was because I had to fight with enemies that shove you back with their shields while my back was against a collasped bridge (On that note, Sonic Team you guys are assholes), The last portion is that you get rated at the end of the level, but I'm sure we all are familiar with this by now.

A quick note, the level selection screen is also quite rudimentary, which is too its benefit. You select and area, select a level, select if you want to customize your character before departure, and you go. The only prerequisite to playing the next level is that you beat the previous one. Levels that are unlocked are announced so you don't have to go searching through all the areas either. This is where they kept it simple and I thank them for that.

Lets talk about the final portion, the enemies. I do lie though, because unlike the Twilight, who have a rich and detailed backstory behind them these guys are demonic minions from the underworld that seem to enjoy being evil bastards to Sonic and innocent civilians...That's about all we get to know. Luckily you see a better amount of detail in the types of enemies. As the levels progress, new enemies are presented with simply a small hint blabbered by your sword buddy, short and sweet. These enemies are easily identifiable due to their weapons having a rather bright color scheme compared to the enemies themselves. I believe I counted around ten to twelve different enemy types throughout the game, ranging from your basic sword swinger, to pikemen, to axe swingers, to oversized giants that block your way until you kill them (fucker..). They also supply you with a small variety of long range opponents too, but luckily you can jump over them most the time. While not incredibly exciting you can say that they do keep it interesting.

Boss battles are quite different from the normal fray, most put you on a circular track up against a slower, but usually more powerful boss. Though quite basic, the bosses do require you to learn their movements and attacks before going in. Swinging your sword recklessly will only get you past Shadow...Lancelot. Oh right, you fight the members of the Round Table who are actually Sonic characters with their names changed (clever). I say it's clever because I think we've had enough new characters in this little universe, for now at least. This is also one of the weirdest parts due to, well let me go into more detail. Near the beginning of the game you fight up against Aurthur for the first time. They go through great detail teaching you to swing in time with Arthur to deflect his attack and leave him open for a counter-attack. I go into my first real boss battle with this mindset. I'll go in, wait for the signal, and attack. It never happens though, the only time you ever use this method is when going up against Arthur again, and you only do this one other time! Why would you teach me this mechanic if I'm only going to be using it one other time. I think it would have been better suited to be put at a tutorial right before the final battle with Arthur, but that's just me.

Overall, what can you say about Sonic and The Black Knight? It has the right formula, needs work, but overall it's fun. The pure sensation of speed is there and that is probably what kept me playing to the end. The decent variations of levels, special challenges, and the skip button also play massive points in the games favor. Should you buy it? Not sure, but I do think that this game has gotten a rather unfair stigma attached to it. It's fun, it isn't a technical masterpiece, but it's fun, lets leave it at that. I liked it, that's about all I can say.

Yours truly,
Squeaks

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