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Joystiq hands-on: Sonic and the Black Knight (Wii)

Jem Alexander

Sonic continues his gimmicky journey into the current generation this March with Sonic and the Black Knight, the second in the "Sonic Storybook" series of games. In this series Sonic is pasted into a classic storybook environment -- Arabian Nights in Sonic and the Secret Rings and the Arthurian legends in Black Knight. "Pasted into" is definitely the right phrase, too. At times it's not clear why this is a Sonic game at all.

In case you haven't heard, Sonic now has a sword. Those spines on his back? Pretty pointless. Swinging that sword requires you to shake the Wiimote, which we're sure you're already aware, gets pretty tired after a while. Despite that, Black Knight isn't a terrible game. It's definitely an improvement over Secret Rings, though you'd expect that considering the two and a half year gap between the titles.

The horizontal Wiimote-only control system of Secret Rings has been replaced with the far superior Wiimote + Nunchuck system. As a result Sonic is no longer on rails and you can move him forwards and backwards as you please, though the levels have remained largely linear, with the exception of some arena-style duels. There are plenty of levels to explore, with incentives to go back to each of them and complete specific tasks and collect more followers.

These followers act as experience points in what seems to be a pretty deep RPG system. There are different proficiencies to learn, items that require identifying (though, for the most part, these seemed to do very little) and a knight ranking system. Sound like a Sonic game to you? Nor us.

Instead of picking up rings throughout the level you'll pick up yellow fairies, which will then be immediately converted into rings. Seems completely arbitrary to us, but maintains the feeling that the developers might've wanted to try something new, remembered they were called "Sonic Team" and shoehorned the blue hedgehog and his friends in at the last minute. That's probably not what happened, though. Probably.

Sonic's pals all make appearances under various Arthurian guises, with some being playable later in the game. There's also a multiplayer battle mode, though we didn't try it out. As you progress through the game you'll unlock more content for this mode, along with other bonus extras such as background music. So it looks like there'll be plenty to keep you busy.

We're not sure how many people buy Sonic games for the story, but in case you're one of them we'll suggest that you look elsewhere. Black Knight's target demographic is skewed towards the younger end of the spectrum and this is obvious from the story. Cutscenes range from Final Fantasy-esque FMVs (thought these seemed rare) to pretty ink-and-paint images, which fade between each other to give the impression of animation where there is none.

Sonic and the Black Knight
may feel at times like it's having a bit of an identity crisis but it looks like there's a pretty playable game once you get past the whole "why am I Sonic again?" thing. It looks reasonably pretty and the controls work fairly well, even despite waggle-to-attack. It may be worth picking up this March -- and don't worry, there's not a Werehog in sight.

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