Sonic wields a sword poorly in this short and speedy game.
Following my review of Sonic Unleashed last fall, I had no hope for the Sonic franchise. However, after having some favorable impressions with the hedgehog's latest game, Sonic & and the Black Knight, my expectations for the follow-up to Sonic & the Secret Rings grew. Now, after playing through Black Knight, I am let down once again.
Still, Sonic & the Black Knight isn't a terrible game by any means. It provides brief bursts of fun, and the bite-sized missions work in its favor. The problem with Black Knight is that the story mode of the game is no more than four hours long. Another problem with the game is that the big new gameplay addition, the sword, is unresponsive and frustrating to use.
The game is the latest in the Sonic storybook series Secret Rings started, and is framed in the world of King Arthur and Camelot. In this version, King Arthur is a bad man known as the Black Knight. Along with his Knights of the Round Table, who resemble series characters Shadow, Knuckles, and Blaze, the villainous king is destroying the world. Sonic is summoned to Camelot by Merlina, Merlin's granddaughter, to save the day. Aside from a twist later in the game, that's about all the story there is.
Sonic is controlled by the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and for the most part, the controls are great. Jumping is fine as usual, blocking with your sword is easy, and the Soul Surge attack, which is sort of like an ultra-powerful homing attack, fits nicely into the formula. However, Sonic's shiny new sword, which talks and has a bubbly personality, is controlled by motion controls and sucks. There is a slight delay due to buggy responsiveness after every hit, which opens you up to attacks way too often. After dealing with this frustrating battle mechanic for a while, I found myself ignoring every enemy that I didn't need to defeat to complete the mission.
The game's twelve worlds contain various missions that are all relatively short, which adds to the brevity of the game in general. Every mission has a set goal. Most of the story missions don't evolve past racing to the finish or defeating a boss, but some of the missions outside of the story are quite interesting. One of them has you racing through a bustling town while trying to not hit civilians. Sadly, some of these optional missions are also terrible, such as the ones where you have to collect and give rings to civilians by stopping dead in your tracks and doing timed button presses.
While everything about Black Knight is Camelot themed, there are a few bonus missions that hearken back to traditional 3D Sonic levels. These Legacy missions give Sonic back his homing attack and replace the fairies and fruit found in the other missions with good old-fashioned rings. While they are few and far between, they are some of the best missions in the game.
There is also a decent upgrade system for Sonic. You're given a rating between one and five stars for your performance in each mission. Every star you gain counts towards a level-up, which upgrades your skills (speed, strength etc.). Eventually you gain access to two additional play styles: an offense-focused one and a defense-focused one. These are also upgraded by completing missions and getting stars. There isn't a whole lot of variation between the three, but it is a nice touch.
These different player types are also used by the Knights of the Round Table, who eventually join you in some missions. The characters are fundamentally the same, but they all have different nuances that benefit them. For example, Knuckles can glide, Shadow is faster, and Blaze's aerial attack has a longer range. Unlike Sonic, the three Knights can also wield different weapons, depending on what weapon-building items (metals and such) you collect in levels.
The game's online functionality comes into play with the collectable items, most just for collection’s sake, littered throughout. Players can discover items in missions and gain them by completing certain tasks. They can be traded online and used to build items that the knights can equip for stat bonuses. Players can also upload their best scores to an online leaderboard.
Along with some other characters, all the playable characters can be used in the arena-style multiplayer. Players can choose between either a fight to the death or a race to see who can kill more enemies. There isn't too much variety or depth to be found in this multiplayer, though, since the arenas are all very similar and there are not too many enemy types.
As stated before, Sonic & the Black Knight is not a terrible game. However, it isn't anything too special, either. For every interesting mission, there is an equally lackluster one. The platforming is satisfying, but the sword combat is awful. This is a game of checks and balances, and in the end, it's just another mediocre Sonic game.