Sonic and the Black Knight
13th Mar 2009 | 11:01
With every successive release, Sega find ever more creative ways to disappoint fans of Sonic The Hedgehog. From role-playing to firearms to Big the bloody Cat, it seems they've come to the conclusion that a 3D version of Mega Drive-era Sonic (what we actually want) is out of the question and have instead leapt on every random idea they can think of, in the desperate hope that something will stick. Last time he was a 'werehog'; this time they've dumped him in Arthurian legend and given him an incredibly annoying talking sword.
Back in black
The setting might be radically different from what we're used to, but all the Sonic 'favourites' are here. Shadow, Knuckles and Blaze are medieval knights, Amy is the Lady Of The Lake and Tails has finally got himself a trade - he's a blacksmith, turning any junk Sonic collects into weapons. Sonic enters this cutesy, animal-based take on Ye Olden Days after a summoning spell drops him from the sky, and he's immediately as punchable as ever, juggling chilli dogs, yapping excitedly and generally being a showboating jerk.
Taking the running-into-the-screen thing that Sonic And The Secret Rings did so well and chucking a bit of melee combat into the mix, Black Knight is actually a promising idea, regardless of the leftfield setting. But while Rings relied on tilt control and worked a treat, Black Knight's traditional analogue movement is a bit awkward and, as a result, it can be maddeningly frustrating keeping the spiky blue fella on track.
Speed is cumulative and if you don't manage to dodge or destroy obstacles in time you'll find yourself slowing to a crawl. A fair enough punishment in a Sonic game, but most of the times you crash won't be your fault; it's the stupid controls that are to blame. It's also a bit weird how the game insists on making you stop every so often to donate rings to a villager or wall-hug your way around a lava pit. It's totally at odds with the rest of the action and, more importantly, it's just not Sonic.
Combat, too, proves to be an annoying distraction from the run-faster-grab-the-rings core. It's not duelling or anything remotely similar; it's shaking the remote at random until everything drops dead and you're hopefully still in one piece. It's possible to block and take a slightly more tactical approach, but the game doesn't exactly encourage you, prioritising speed over combat and then punishing you for not battling more carefully.
There's an almost unwelcome variety to the stages. What we want are unadulterated racing levels; what we get are racing levels, combat-heavy levels, pay-the-villagers levels and all manner of other things that aren't very fun. The occasional boss battles are initially impressive and it's here where the swordplay at least looks entertaining, even if you're not really doing that much. Annoyingly, the margin of error is so small during these Quick Time Event-heavy sections that only Johnny Reflex will be able to complete them without swearing like a trooper, the rest of us uttering more profanities per minute than 50 Cent and the entire cast of Deadwood combined.
At least you won't have to suffer these frustrations for very long. After about four hours we found ourselves staring at the credits, having just defeated a famous character from Final Fantasy - seriously, it gets a bit weird at the end. A good chunk of our playtime consisted of retries of some of the more frustrating later stages, so if you prove to be a Sonic savant you could probably finish it in under three hours. How's that for value for money?
Curiously, there's a fake ending2 at around the two-hour mark, which we suspect will fool a lot of people into thinking the game is even shorter. Optional missions and guff such as weapon crafting and item collection do extend the experience a bit, but when these have little or no impact on the action, going to all that extra effort feels a little futile.
As usual, this isn't the 3D Sonic game we wanted, but we've pretty much given up hope on that front. It's amusing seeing the bizarre depths to which the Sonic licence will descend,3 but you've got to feel sorry for anyone who buys this clumsy, barely playable tat. Sonic, hang your spiky head in shame.