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Throwback Review- Sonic and the Black Knight: Early 10’s Mobile Runner

Welcome to the second and final installment in the Sonic Storybook series, in which Sonic, for whatever reason, appears within a fictional world and the story is retold with Sonic characters. As you can tell from the page image, this is the infamous “Sonic with a sword” game, but that’s not where my issues with the game come forth. I went in hoping for a sort of wacky charm, fully prepared to come out defending this game, and I left unsure whether to feel more upset that I wasted $10 or three hours on the game.

Unlike Sonic and the Secret Rings (don’t worry, I’ll get to that one later), Sonic and the Black Knight isn’t based off a particular book, but rather the concept of Arthurian legend. This is already pretty dumb, because we already have a relatively modern telling of Arthurian Legend in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. According to the wiki, it’s supposed to be Le Morte d’Arthur, but the game deviates far too much to justify that. The game starts and Sonic ends up in Camelot, summoned by Merlina, granddaughter of Merlin, apparently. She explains that the titular “Black Knight” was King Arthur, who was made immortal by the scabbard of Excalibur and corrupted by its powers— okay, what the hell?

First of all, there’s no “scabbard of Excalibur”. It can be kept in a scabbard, sure, but there’s no magical scabbard to accompany it. Second of all, who’s ever heard of a magic scabbard? Sure, there’s all sorts of enchanted weapons and armor in fantasy lit, but a magic scabbard? Third, Excalibur itself isn’t a magical sword. It has no powers whatsoever. The anvil it’s drawn from is more magical than it, only allowing the sword to be drawn by a descendant of William the Conquerer. The power you’ll get by drawing the sword is the right to rule England, but that’s not given by the sword, it’s given by the birthright you have whether you’ve drawn the sword or not. Regardless, it doesn’t make you immortal.

After that, Sonic gets Caliburn, a talking sword who exists to be the snarky, sarcastic counterpart to our sarcastic protagonist. Before we can go fight King Arthur, we have to sharpen Caliburn’s blade. Honestly, I think we can just make Arthur listen to Caliburn for a while, and the final boss fight will take care of itself. It’s worth mentioning that the Blacksmith is played by Tails, which makes more sense than literally anything else here, story- or gameplay-wise.

images courtesy of IGDB

Oh yeah, this is a video game, let’s talk about that for a minute. Sonic and the Black Knight is a wii game that uses the wii remote, a lot. You remember how in Skyward Sword, when you swung the controller, Link’s sword would at least try to move in the same direction? Well, you can forget all of that, because in Sonic and the Black Knight it functions exactly the same as a button press. Instead of pressing A or B or C or Z or taking the game out of your console and desperately begging GameStop to take it back, you just furiously shake the Wii Remote to execute your single attack. I’m not sure whether I’m bored or exhausted.

Moving on, Merlina takes Sonic to see Nimue, the lady of the lake. You know, the magical water spirit who put Merlyn in a coma for seven hundred years. She’s a good guy now. She’s played by Amy Rose, and why she isn’t Guinevere is beyond me. Before you get there, though, you’re stopped by Shadow I mean Lancelot. This is fair enough, the greatest knight of the round table being played by the ultimate life form, but why is he the first boss?

The Sonic series has always had boss battles that are pretty hit-or-miss for me, usually missing, but these are among the worst. The boss fights are essentially two dimensional, but not like the classic games. Every arena is a ring, so you can essentially walk infinitely in one direction. You can also jump to attack from the air, and… that’s it. You can’t go left or right. All you can do is furiously swing the wii remote around and hope you win.

The normal stages are like this too. Left or right movement is extremely limited in most stages, if they’re there at all, and for the most part all you’re doing is holding forward and occasionally jumping. Anyone remember Temple Run, that 2011 mobile runner? Well, that mobile phone app gave you more horizontal movement, the ability to choose alternate paths, better controls, keeps you engaged longer, and I’m pretty sure you can actually go faster. For free.

Knuckles prepares for the Unova Pokemon Musical

Soon enough we see Knuckles as Sir Gawain. Gawain and the rest of the Orkney clan are well known for their fundamental disagreement with Arthur’s policies of chivalry and general fondness for stirring up strife within the round table. Sounds like it would be perfect for Shadow, the darker and edgier counterpart to Sonic who’s more inclined to use power to get his way. Unfortunately, it seems like Sonic team pulled a bunch of names out of a hat— actually, I’ll get to my casting issues later, let’s move on.

When King Arthur rose to power, England was in pieces and society was generally terrible. His main goal was to spread the ideals of chivalry throughout the land, directly eliminating the “might makes right” mindset that plagued medieval Europe, which caused much of the strife with the aforementioned Orkney clan. Instead of making this an integral part of the plot, Sonic Team did what they do best and phoned it in. Sonic can complete “acts of chivalry” throughout levels, which will allow him to gain followers, which improves your rank, which helps you with… hell if I know. If you could completely ignore them, I’d probably just leave it at that, but there are whole levels devoted to them, so I here comes a paragraph-long rant.

In several levels, you have to find townspeople in need and give them rings. If you reach the end of the level without donating the set amount of rings, you lose and have to do it all over again. So you have to find rings, not get hit and lose them, find a townsperson who needs them, complete a god damned quick time event, and do it all over again until you meet the goal. Every townsperson will accept exactly twenty rings as well, no more, no less, so if you only have fifteen, well fuck you, go find more. Not only can beggars be choosers, but we’ll actively make you bend to their will! Keep in mind that rings do still function as your life, so if you’ve got twenty rings before being forced to donate them, you’re now running on empty. One hit from a stupid, stupid trap hidden in the ground that you could neither see nor easily avoid, and fuck you, start over.

Eventually, we see Sir Percival, played by Blaze the Cat of all people. After possibly the most annoying fight in the game, not because of any kind of fair difficulty, mind you, but because of your extremely limited movement and the fact that the waggle controls have caused some severe muscle strain. Defeat… them, and take their sword. We’ve been taking their swords, by the way, because we need some macguffin to chase after and we’ve been fighting the knights anyway.

After finding all the swords, you pursue and defeat King Arthur. Before you put the wii remote away and go see a doctor to fix up your wrist, however, it’s time for the true final boss. Merlina reveals that the black knight was actually conjured by Merlin, who I guess is a bad guy now. She reveals that she’s aware of Camelot’s impending fall and believes she can make it last forever, which is one of the few actual connections this game has to Arthurian legend. After she beats Sonic up a little bit, the power of the other knights’ swords turn Caliburn into the true Excalibur, and turn Sonic into Excalibur Sonic so they can defeat the dark queen.

Okay, this is actually kind of cool. Picture courtesy of Sonic Wikia.

So the Black Knight wasn’t actually Arthur, and his Excalibur wasn’t actually Excalibur. That makes everything okay, right? No! Excalibur still isn’t a magical sword! It still doesn’t have the right to make Sonic the king unless William the Conquerer’s line somehow produced a hedgehog!

There’s a multiplayer mode as well, but understandably I couldn’t get anyone to play it with me. It features Silver as Sir Gallahad, who, by the way, is the son of Lancelot, so the less said about that, the better.

Here’s what should’ve happened: Sonic appears in Camelot just as King Arthur’s grail quest is picking up. Naturally, Sonic joins the hunt, and the quest should be a series of speed levels through various medieval locations, the last few being the temple where the grail is hidden If Sonic does end up fighting the other knights, they should be on friendly duels if they happen to cross paths while hunting for the grail. Shadow should be Sir Gawain, for aforementioned reasons, freeing up the slot of Lancelot to be taken by Sonic. Sonic is, for the most part, undefeatable, so naturally he should take the role of “Camelot’s greatest knight”, not the rival who he beats every time they fight. Silver and Knuckles should appear as either rivals you duel or allies that assist you through levels.

Throughout the game, we’ll hear of another faction of Knights who oppose the ideologies of King Arthur and the round table, who will function as the actual in-game bosses. They will be fought on a wide, circular arena with full movement capabilities. The final boss before reaching the grail will be Sir Eggman, who was leading his knights on a similar grail hunt to King Arthur’s and intentionally trying to stop the knights of the round table. After finding the grail, however, it returns Sonic and friends to their original world, much like how the knights who successfully found the grail never returned.

Alternatively, Sonic Team simply could have not made Sonic and the Black Knight, saving us all a lot of headache. Just pick up Temple Run again, you’ll have a lot more fun.

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  1. […] competent. That isn’t to say it’s incompetent, it’s certainly leagues ahead of Sonic and the Black Knight and roughly on par with Generations, but it doesn’t manage to break the trend of […]

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