What do you get when you cross King Arthur, a kingdom in peril, and a talking sword, with the world’s coolest blue dude? The answer is the second installment in the Sonic Storybook series: Sonic and the Black Knight.
There’s a lot to be said about this release, but let’s cut right to the chase. The idea of Sonic with a sword made many fans recoil in horror. “It’s Shadow the Hedgehog reborn, only worse!” some were saying. Others became nervous when SEGA announced that Sonic and the Black Knight was meant to target very young fans. What exactly did they mean?
Read on for answers!
Merlina, the king’s royal wizard, flees from the mad monarch with her life at stake. As the enemy’s forces close in on her, she calls for help in the form of an ancient chant, summoning a hero who is destined to save Camelot…!
Sonic falls from the sky one second later, slamming face-first into the ground. Yep, looks like our blue hero is destined to play the role of “chosen one” again. In order to save the kingdom and its people from the iron grip of the now-insane king, Sonic must take up the sacred sword Caliburn and defeat the three Knights of the Round Table in order to restore Camelot to its former glory.
Sonic always tries to bring home a “moral” in his games. Usually, these are “kid-targeted” morals, but they are morals all the same. In Sonic and the Black Knight two basics principles are taught: (1) there’s more to being a knight than just serving a king, and (2) no world lasts forever so we should enjoy the time we have now. Let me explain these:
Throughout the adventure, Sonic proves himself to be different than the strict, honor-or-death knights of the round table who believe they must be loyal to the king (whether evil or not) to ever amount to anything. Of course, Sonic arrives on the scene and eventually teaches these guys a few things about real honor, such as being merciful to a conquered foe.
The second “lesson” is that (in Sonic’s words), “Every world has its end. That’s why we’ve gotta live life to the fullest in the time that we have.” While there is a lot of truth to this statement, and we should–by all means–use our lives wisely and not waste them, there’s a bit of a twist to this that is worth noting for any Christian gamers. I’ll talk more about this in the Spiritual Content section.
Despite their open dislike for each other at the beginning of the game, Sonic and Caliburn eventually grow to respect each other and become good friends.
*SPOILER WARNING* After Sonic is given a mission by the Lady of the Lake (and only given a matter of time to complete the quest), he is interrupted by a crying child whose parents have been kidnapped by a great dragon. Sonic goes out of his way to help this child, even sacrificing the vital time he needs to complete his mission and failing it. However, when all seems lost, it is revealed that the crying child is really the Lady of the Lake in disguise and that Sonic has passed the “real” test–the test to “offer compassion to those in need.” *END OF SPOILERS*
As with all of the latest Sonic games, Sonic and the Black Knight isn’t lacking in spiritual content.” Though I didn’t find anything severe, there’s plenty to talk about.
First of all, I’ve got to mention the obvious fact that Merlina is a sorceress. However, Merlina never does anything that I would dub real “sorcery.” She never casts spells, never calls upon other powers, never does anything like that. In fact, she might as well be called something else. *SPOILER WARNING* It is worth noting, however, that Merlina eventually betrays Sonic and transforms into the “queen of the underworld” at the end of the game. *END OF SPOILERS*
Scattered around the beginning of the game are some very vague references about Excalibur being a sacred blade of immortality and King Arthur becoming the leader of the “underworld.” In reality though, this stuff doesn’t get any worse than the vague references. Sonic never journeys to the “underworld,” and the knights of this world have absolutely no demonic ties whatsoever. They look like normal, everyday knights who so happen to be bad guys.
Now, about the “twist” I mentioned up in the “Positive Content” section. Cover your eyes, kids, cause there be spoilers!
*SPOILER WARNING* At the end of the game, you find out that Merlina’s whole motive for seeking Sonic’s help was to use the power of Excalibur’s sheath to create a never-ending kingdom of beauty. Merlina can foresee the ruin of Camelot and the eventual end of her world; thus, her motivation. This all takes a wackier turn, however, when the idea of a “never-ending world” is mocked by Sonic and shown as a bad thing. To quote Sonic, “What good is a world that goes on forever? That sounds pretty lame! How can you call such a boring place ‘magnificent’?” As a Christian, I wasn’t sure if this was or wasn’t a bit of a poke at God and heaven being eternal. Perhaps it was done in complete ignorance and had no anti-Christian ideals behind it. All the same, I confess that I felt a bit offended. Parents of young gamers may want to have a brief discussion with the kiddos about what the Bible says of our “never-ending world.” At best, it’s a great discussion-starter. *END OF SPOILERS*
Cutscene Violence. All violence is censored nicely. Still, I’ll go ahead and mention some stuff. At the end of the game, Sonic takes a real beating. He is flung back onto the ground several times and pictured as being bruised and weakened. One thing definitely worth noting is that Knuckles (er… Gawain) comes a fraction away from committing suicide. After “failing” King Arthur, Knuckles raises his sword to himself, claiming, “Only death can remove this mark upon my honor!” Fortunately, Sonic stops him.
*SPOILER WARNING* At the end of the game, Caliburn is “killed” and pictured with his blade partly snapped off. He is revived quickly afterwards. *END OF SPOILERS*
Gameplay Violence. Gameplay violence consists of Sonic slashing through enemy knights (who are just suits of walking armor and not “real” people). I was a bit concerned when I saw purplish, blood-looking substance coming from the baddies as I attacked. ESRB, however, noted nothing about blood in their rating, so I suppose the purple stuff is just “underworld” material of some kind.
Language is your typical Sonic fare. “What the heck!?” is used a few times. Caliburn and Sonic often exchange insults such as “dull piece of rust,” “fool,” and “knave.” You’ll hear Sonic called a fool so many times, you’ll start thinking it’s his name.
Other Negative Content
One thing I absolutely despised about this game is the way that Sonic is portrayed. He’s very childish, as if he’s gone back to his Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog days. He’s blunt, rude, impatient, proud, and immature. How immature? When Merlina tells Sonic that King Arthur has unleashed the knights of the underworld, Sonic joyfully exclaims, “Sweet! It’ll be like Halloween all year long!”
Yeah, I rolled my eyes too…
There are several improvements in Sonic and the Black Knight’s gameplay… at least, compared to its prequel, Secret Rings. First of all, Sonic no longer moves constantly. The player is in complete control of the blue dude, and when they want him to stop, he stops. No tedious slowing down is necessary, and backing up is also much, much easier. Another improvement is that the player no longer has to swing the Wiimote forward in order to perform the homing attack (which was very likely to fail you at a vital point in Secret Rings).
However, for all of these improvements, Sonic in the Black Knight has poor gameplay primarily due to one thing–the excessive sword-swinging. Swinging Caliburn around is pretty tedious and usually fails to protect Sonic when you really need it to the most. Often, I found myself surrounded by a group of enemy knights, aimlessly swinging my Wiimote remote and trying to get Sonic to fight while my rings rapidly depleted. Fighting also reduces Sonic’s constant running momentum and thus becomes a bother. Players will probably find themselves trying to dash clean over the heads of enemy groups, rather than fight them for sake of the bad swordplay.
Did I mention that there are no rings in this game? Yep, it’s the first Sonic game in years that doesn’t have a single ring in it. You collect fairies instead, you see.
The levels in Sonic and the Black Knight are also quite short–much shorter than those in other Sonic titles. However, many of the boss battles pose a real challenge, particularly the second fight with King Arthur. It took me about twenty tries… Yeah, yeah, I confess.
As with all Sonic games, the replay value is pretty good, as you must play through several levels multiple times to get to all the extra artwork, movies, tips, tricks, music, and hidden stages.
Once again, SEGA has done wonders with their graphics. Full CGI sequences are beautifully done, though they aren’t as gorgeous as those in Sonic the Hedgehog or Sonic Unleashed. The comic book-styled cutscenes have returned as a carry-over from Sonic and the Secret Rings. This time around, they possess a little more color to go with the medieval setting of the story, however.
Cutscenes aside, the gameplay graphics are also pretty nice and quite similar to Sonic and the Secret Rings. They have a bit of a milder color-tone than the majority of Sonic games, which gives the levels an almost hazy look.
Along with the King Arthur theme comes Celtic-styled music (or some, at least). Like its predecessor, Secret Rings, the music in Black Knight is somewhat of a cross between up-beat techno and medieval classical. The levels tend to have a fast-paced track paired to them, but the cutscenes maintain some gorgeous scores that really set the mood of the story.
Some of the best tracks include a beautiful piano solo called “Merlina’s Theme,” and a re-imagined, violin-led version of “It Doesn’t Matter” from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle.
The general voice acting is good–much better than some of the 4Kids voice casts’ earlier attempts. Sonic shows a lot of feeling when he talks (even though he is pretty obnoxious) and Caliburn and Merlina (both new faces to the Sonic games) both make valiant efforts and are arguably the best of the cast. The dialogue itself is targeted at a much younger audience, and it’s pretty corny a lot of the time, which is disappointing.
I didn’t notice any glitches in Sonic and the Black Knight.
Sonic and the Black Knight was the first Sonic video game that I just couldn’t sink my teeth into. For me, it was one of those one-time, play-it-through games, but nothing more than that. The storyline was bland, despite the twist at the end, and the characters seemed pretty shallow (particularly our immature blue hero). Ultimately, I found it disappointing. I wanted to like this game–I really did–but I just couldn’t.
While younger gamers will probably enjoy the kiddish antics of Sonic and the Black Knight, older gamers will find it a let-down. If you feel that you still want to play Black Knight because you’re a die-hard fan, make sure you get it for under $10.00. With its current (understandable) low sales price, that shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish.
The Bottom Line
While younger gamers will probably enjoy the kiddish antics of Sonic and the Black Knight, older gamers will find it a let-down.