Sonic & Knuckles Review
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On 02/17/2010 at 06:03 AM by Jason Ross
Whether you're new to the Classic Genesis Sonic games, or want to learn how Sonic & Knuckles have adapted to fit the Virtual Console, you'll want to read this review.
Gamers who've enjoyed New Super Mario Bros. or other new 2D platformers should look into downloading Sonic & Knuckles.
For those who are familiar with Sonic & Knuckles, and wish to read about the game's implementation of lock-on through the virtual console, please click here.
Sonic & Knuckles is one of the more interesting Genesis Sonic titles of the four classic Sonic the Hedgehog games. The last in the line of legacy titles, alone, it also feels as though it's the most incomplete, regressing away from a few ideas implemented in Sonic 3.
Gameplay consists of momentum-based platforming, similar to previous iterations of the series: Sonic and Knuckles run in a direction to build up speed, which is often necessary to jump across large gaps, scale hills, or even just to maneuver around enemies. The ultimate goal is to pilot Sonic or Knuckles from point "A" on the left side of the stage to point "B," which ultimately ends somewhere to the right. Generally, "Acts," the game's name for stages, are grouped by twos and collectively called "Zones". Each zone has a unique theme, consisting of related hazards, enemies, and platforms. Typically, each first act concludes with a mini-boss, and each second act ends with a confrontation with Robotnik or the EggRobo, depending on which character was selected at the beginning of the game.
Each of the game's six main zones are surprisingly unique, while maintaining a convention signature to the Sonic series. Methods and objects like loops, springs, and boosters are distributed masterfully, and better yet, are varied in such a way each new zone grows into a new world to adventure through. Some zones have an open feel, and contain large loops and clear plains for a smooth running experience. Others are more tight, and closed in, but manage to maintain a feeling of exploration, while driving the player to progress forward.
While at first it feels as though there's little difference in stage progression with either character, in later stages, branching pathways grow more obvious, with more locations requiring a specific character's unique abilities to reach. The pathways through the final zones are vastly different, and Sonic's story is actually a zone and a few stages longer than Knuckles, with both concluding with separate bosses. It may be difficult to discern from the brief in-game cutscenes, but Sonic's story takes place first, and hints towards how Knuckles's story begins.
Both characters essentially play the same. Sonic and Knuckles both run quickly, and build up their moment, allowing the observation of an aesthetic sense of speed. Both can crouch and do a spin dash, allowing the two a quick way to launch away or attack an enemy head on. When either jumps, they spin into a ball, and use their bodies to batter against vulnerable enemies. Rings are collected throughout the stages, and are a unique method through the series as an alternative to health bars or power-ups. If Sonic or Knuckles are hit, they jump back from the stun, and lose all the rings held at the time. If no rings are held, Sonic or Knuckles will die, and be forced back to an earlier checkpoint in the stage. Fortunately, the scattered rings remain on screen for a few moments, but if Sonic or Knuckles aren't quick to recollect the rings, they will drop off the screen or vanish. This system is something unique all Sonic titles bring to the genre, allowing the player a true chance to make mistakes without too harsh a punishment, and contributes to a sense of liberty the game expresses.
Similarities aside, the two characters have their differences, which surprisingly offers original experiences. Sonic's gameplay is straightforward: He has a higher jump than Knuckles, and can utilize extra spin attack range or shield-based attacks with the second press the jump button. Sonic's gameplay feels more risky and open when compared to Knuckles. On the other hand, Knuckles jumps a little lower than Sonic, and instead of special shield-based attacks, Knuckles can glide into enemies and over wide gaps. Should he glide into a wall, more often than not, Knuckles is free to scale it. Knuckles tends to feel a little slower, and requires a little bit more thought in order to deal with some enemies. In addition, while most bosses share the same characteristics for both characters, Robotnik, Sonic's foe, has slightly less difficult attack patterns, while the EggRobo, Knuckles's nemesis, is generally programmed to play more difficult. Despite the differences in how they play, it might be best to consider the two characters as difficulty settings, with Sonic being an easier character to choose than Knuckles.
In addition to the basic gameplay, there are two types of bonus stages within the game. The first generates from check-points and awards the player bonus rings, and sometimes shields, too. The second type of bonus stage rewards the player with Chaos Emeralds upon completion, one of the series's traditional plot devices. The latter type of bonus stage is accessed via a giant ring, which is often hidden in invisible pathways inside walls, encouraging the player to explore each world act to a more thorough extent, and invites multiple playthroughs of the game. For extra fun, if the player collects all seven Chaos Emeralds in a single playthrough, Sonic and Knuckles can collect 50 rings, then activate a "Super" form which grants them invulnerability, quicker acceleration, and a higher max speed.
All that said, the game frustratingly excludes some features utilized in other iterations of the series. Sonic and Knuckles can't both be controlled at the same time, a situation dissimilar to Sonic and Tails in both Sonic 2 and Sonic 3, removing all traces of a co-op experience. Rather than utilizing a save battery, one must complete a character's story in a single attempt, without the option switching to the other's campaign, a step back from Sonic 3. As always, Virtual Console allows the player to suspend play, and return whenever he or she chooses, by simply choosing to bring up the Home Menu, and choosing to return to the Wii Menu, but this option doesn't quite negate the usefulness of a built-in save feature.
Additionally, some aspects of Sonic & Knuckles are relatively archaic compared to today's platforming conventions. Like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, when Sonic or Knuckles run out of lives, they are allowed to continue, but unlike NSMBWii, continues are finite, and must be earned by reaching a higher score and performing well in bonus stages. Once the player loses all continues, he or she must start over from the beginning, and lose all progress made in earlier attempts. Fortunately, for players not skilled enough to make it through the game in one attempt, there are cheat codes widely available on the internet to open up a stage select.
Overall, Sonic & Knuckles is a great momentum-based platformer, and an excellent alternative to other 2D platformers, like those of the Super Mario Bros. franchise. Overlooking the flaws that involve a lack of a save system and a finite number of continues, most competent gamers who have success with other 2D platformers should enjoy the game, finding it to be a pleasant experience in the beginning, with a steady learning curve through to the end. It offers a bit of replayability through two separate, but similar characters, and extended value for fans that have purchased other Genesis Sonic titles on the Virtual Console. Taking all of this into perspective, considering the 800 point price tag, I would recommend Sonic 3 to anyone new to Sonic's Genesis titles. The two games play very similarly, but Sonic 3 contains a save system, more stages, and a two player co-op option, as well.
About Lock-on Emulation
In the event that other Genesis Sonic titles have been purchased via the Virtual Console, Sonic and Knuckles instantly becomes a great value, due to emulation of the lock-on technology the original cartridge contained. In this case, each prior Genesis Sonic title offers unlocked content contained in the Sonic and Knuckles download: The original Sonic the Hedgehog allows access to hundreds, if not thousands, of bonus stages like those used to earn Chaos Emeralds in the game. If Sonic & Knuckles detects the Virtual Console license for Sonic 2, gamers can play "Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2," which brings Knuckles's glide, wall-climb, and lower jump to Sonic 2, removing all controllable traces of Sonic and Tails. Should the gamer own the license to Sonic 3 on the Virtual Console, access to Sonic 3 and Knuckles is unlocked, which is essentially a synthesization of both games, connecting the stories from both games together, allowing the player to save in every zone, as well as allowing access to both Knuckles in Sonic 3's zones and Tails in Sonic & Knuckles zones.
Still, the method the Virtual Console utilizes in their lock-on emulation leaves a little to be desired: The Sonic, Sonic 2, and Sonic 3 data utilized in the lock-on emulation is all found within the download for Sonic & Knuckles, and all accessed within the same channel. Unfortunately, the only lock-on title involved capable of holding a save is Sonic 3 and Knuckles, and while it's possible to record a 12-digit code to maintain any progress made in the bonus games unlocked by Sonic 1, Knuckles in Sonic 2 can't be saved except via the typical virtual console "Suspended Play" method. Switching back to Sonic & Knuckles or to one of its built-in lock-on titles requires a reset of the game, so it isn't possible to maintain a Virtual Console suspend in one lock-on game while another is played. Additionally, since the Sonic 3 utilized by the lock-on technology is bundled with Sonic & Knuckles, any existing Sonic 3 saves are not carried over into Sonic 3 and Knuckles, regrettable information for any Sonic fans hoping to utilize completed Sonic 3 files in Sonic 3 and Knuckles.
Players can open up the lock-on menu by simply starting up the Sonic & Knuckles channel and pressing the "-" button. Switching from game to game is extremely simple from there.