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The second entry in what Sega is dubbing the "Sonic Storybook Series," March 2009's Sonic and the Black Knight for the Nintendo Wii follows the mediocre-at-best Sonic and the Secret Rings. This game, however, scraps its predecessor's Arabian Knights theme and Wiimote-only tilt-style controls for an Arthurian setting, a nunchuck-assisted control scheme, and a heavy reliance on sword play. The results are far better than one might have initially anticipated.
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As was the case in Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight starts with a damsel in distress summoning a hero and Sonic arriving to answer the call. This time around, it is the wizard Merlina who is being pursued by the evil Black Knight and his forces. Desperately, she calls forth the blue hedgehog--who arrives quite comically by falling through the sky, complete with his lunch (a pair of chili dogs) in tow. That scene should give fans a good idea of what to expect, story wise, as the game features a rather serious plot mixed with Sonic's typical laid-back, comedic attitude towards the events that transpire.
His mission is to stop the Black Knight, aka King Arthur, who was granted immortality by the scabbard of Excalibur, but has also been corrupted by it and transformed into his current menacing form. Along the way, Sonic will encounter several other characters from his universe, all in the roles of various Arthurian-era figures ranging from blacksmiths to knights in the service of the king. As a fan of the Arthurian legends, I appreciate the interesting re-imagining of these stories Sega presents here, although there are times when Sonic himself seems to clash with the world and the people around him.
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I was simply blown away by the enjoyable gameplay and the solid controls featured in Sonic and the Black Knight. Unlike Sonic Unleashed, which alternated between speed and combat, the latest entry in the Sonic Storybook Series combines the two. What this means is that the player needs to balance running through levels at high speed using the nunchuck control stick while also needing to slash enemies and obstacles with the Wiimote. Here's the thing, though--it's really, really fun. I came into this game with low expectations and found myself instantly hooked by the way it plays. The fast paced action is immensely addictive, and the boss fights are inventive and enjoyable. For example, an early battle against the Black Knight himself requires you to first chase him down, then parry his attacks in order to succeed. Thrilling encounters like these bring back fond memories of the boss fights in Sonic Adventure 2.
To make the whole package even more attractive, there is a lot of depth here as well, including multiplayer battle modes, an online worldwide ranking mode, and a ton of different collectible items and titles to earn. Sonic earns new titles and abilities through the story-based Adventure mode, plus you can unlock other characters as you advance. You can find treasures in different levels, and based on your performance afterwards, you earn points to identify them. Some can even be equipped at the blacksmith's shop to help you out. Also, your performance in each level earns you a number of followers, and the amount of followers you have impacts your title. Of course, you can also earn negative levels too, which is another neat twist. Case in point, during one level I was "awarded" the Despised One emblem because I may have accidentally slaughtered three or four innocent civilians while trying to protect them. Oops.
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Graphics and Sound
Sonic and the Black Knight looks great, in my opinion. It is bright and colorful, the characters are large and detailed, the environments look good and it sports a unique visual style due to the Arthurian setting. Some story scenes are told using a unique, hand-drawn, intentionally blurry look that isn't bad, and definitely earns points for its uniqueness. The familiar Sonic cast returns for voice work, joined by a fantastic supporting cast--especially Merlina, whose accent fits nicely with the game's atmosphere, and Caliburn . The soundtrack wasn't too bad either, and there are a few outstanding songs in the game that, quite frankly, felt like they belonged in an epic RPG and not a Sonic game. Then again, this isn't exactly your typical Sonic game.
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Sonic and the Black Knight was a pleasant surprise, and I was so tempted to give this game the full five stars, but I just can't. The core presentation here is quite good, and the gameplay is simply excellent. However, there's this disconnect between the Arthurian elements of the game and the Sonic universe that bothers me to some degree. There are times when the Sonic elements feel forced, leading me to wonder if this wouldn't have been something truly great had it been an original IP. That's a minor gripe here, though, because this is an incredibly enjoyable title that absolutely has me hooked. Sonic and the Black Knight is an exceptional title, one that all Wii owners need to check out for themselves.