Here Ye! Here Ye! Prepare yourselves to be transported to an age of chivalry, dragons, and legends. No, it's not a new Everquest game, it's Sega's second game in their Sonic Storybook series. Sonic and the Black Knight throws together some fast-paced old school Sonic action with the hack-n-slash gameplay of Gauntlet. "Hack-n-slash?" you might wonder, "I thought this was a Sonic game". Though you might have an aversion to slicing and dicing, you are going to need to use the sword.
The story takes place in King Arthur times. Unfortunately, King Arthur himself has turned evil and is hunting Merlina--whom you might guess from the name is a female wizard. King Arthur is terrorizing Camelot because Excalibur's scabbard is possessed and has taken over the goodness of King Arthur. One day, Merlina is surrounded by King Arthur's minions. She summons a savior from another world and lo and behold,it's Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic must travel the lands of Camelot defeating familiar foes with the help of his trusty sidekick-sword, Caliburn. Ultimately, he must battle King Arthur and attempt to exorcise the sword so that King Arthur the Hero can return and rule Camelot with a benign hand.
The most disappointing part of The Black Knight was the overall length: You don't need much of it. If you want to zip through the levels and complete the most basic goals, then you can beat the game in about an hour, and that's including the time it takes to watch the introduction movie and the cut scenes. Each level has a certain goal that must be met like giving villagers 80 coins, or defeating 50 enemies (called Rampage), or simply reaching the end of the level. Some of the goals, like "Seek Out Caliburn," don't really require you to do anything but race through the level. Although a few of the levels may require more than one try because either the instructions are unclear, or the tutorial associated with the level flashes by too quickly, there just isn't much in terms of difficulty or challenge present throughout the game.
Now, for Sonic die-hards, there is ring collection and speed. You also have an opportunity to find items which you can "identify" after you finish a level, which can be found in treasure chests or obtained from the villagers themselves. Talking to a villager, however, creates a "time event." Remember Shenmue when you had to press a certain button or sequence in order to succeed or fail? It's the same premise here with the villagers. Once you engage a person, you just follow the on screen instructions, which amount to nothing more than pressing A or B or moving the analog stick in different directions. This is how you obtain items and give coins. While the game is relatively short, collecting every single item in the game requires spending another hour in Camelot.
Though short and straightforward, once you finish a level, you are award points, a star rating from one to five, and followers. Followers are your medieval groupies who help you rise through the ranks to knighthood. You start off as a Knave, but the more followers you acquire, the more you increase your Middle Ages Rep. And on the tough streets of Camelot, you're going to need a high rep, and fast, if you want to defeat some familiar faces like Shadow and Knuckles.
Building rep and completing the levels requires a good control scheme and is critical for such a fast-paced game. In Sonic and the Black Knight, there are both good and boring control aspects. Some Sonic goodness comes from the fact that he is responsive when it's time to move left and right, as well as jumping. Moving Sonic through Camelot from point A to B is the boring part: it requires literally going in a straight line. You basically move forward, and only occasionally is it necessary to move Sonic left or right, or jump and scale a wall. Essentially, while there are jump, guard, and Soul Surge controls, much of the focus is on keeping Sonic heading in the right direction.
The Soul Surge options, on the other hand, have lots of promise, but because of its limited use, Soul Surge just doesn't surge. As you race through the level, you have a chance to collect red fairies. These increase your Soul Surge bar. When you have over 20% on your bar, then you can activate this beat-down delivering feature. What Soul Surge does is create one-hit, focused attacks on the enemy. When one enemy is defeated, then Sonic automatically goes to the next one. This continues until the gauge is empty or you cancel it. Soul Surge can be done on the ground and in the air. This feature was cool in the beginning, but quickly loses its luster as the game progresses.
Attacks don't only come from ferry induced stamina, as Sonic can also make use of a sword. Don't get too excited. Sonic with a sword sounds neater than chocolate covered steak, but trying to use the sword in a practical manner is futile. Swinging the Wii remote once whips your sword while swinging it multiple times creates some combos, but you have no control over which way the sword arcs. Any level with enemies only requires a Hack-n-Slash mentality--and lots of waggling.
A redeeming quality of the Sonic and the Black Knight is the graphics. The introduction movie runs about seven minutes and is computer animated, rivaling some animated movies. Besides, watching Sonic act concerned about his two hot dogs is just precious.
After the animated movie, the cut scenes are more cartoonish and anime-like. Even if you are not a fan of anime, you still will be impressed with the cut-and-dry method of presenting the rest of the story.
The in-game graphics are crisp and colorful. You get a good sense of size, especially on the levels where giant trolls are pulling huge wheeled structures. Sonic and the Black Knight is presented in superb and lush graphics; you may forget the other lackluster parts of the game.
Not much can be said about the sound. Most of the background music sounds like it was ripped right from a 2-D version of Sonic, but there are some fun moments. Like the rap song during the level in town, or even the soft ballad that plays at the beginning of the game. Sonic in a minstrel outfit? It could happen.
After a while, you'll want to leave Sonic in Camelot and partake in two, three, and four-player action. The games in multiplayer get unlocked as you play the single-player portion. The games are nothing spectacular: play games like killing the most enemies, reaching the goal first, and collecting the most rings. A Mario Party it is not. There is a small online factor where you post your times and scores to the Sonic Scoreboard and see where you rank, but overall, multiplayer just doesn't deliver.
Thompson's Two Cents
The game is fun for the hour you'll spend beating it. Just in that time alone, you should be able to collect over half of the items, but playing through the levels again to get the rest just seems unnecessarily repetitive. There's no online multiplayer and really no challenge at all to the game, except in mastering Soul Surge. The graphics may be some of the best yet on the Wii, but that's not enough to keep those casual Wii gamers interested. Hardcore Sonic lovers need only apply.