Review by Emptyeye
"Or: Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Book II"
Every now and then a company comes up with an idea that it thinks is ingenious, or at least an idea that it thinks will make it lots of money. Computer game companies are prime examples, as they release bare-bones games to tons of hype, then slowly come out with ''expansion packs'' that you're forced to buy in order to get the full gaming experience. Microsoft, with its philosophy of releasing new Windows versions every few years that don't really fix what's wrong with the prior version, would be another example.
Video game companies are no exception. One day, during the development of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, someone hit on the idea of ''Lock-On Technology''. What this technology is, is simply one game ''piggy backing'' onto another game. The piggy backed game would gain new features by being locked on to the host game, as it were. And thus, Sonic and Knuckles was born.
Released in 1994, Sonic and Knuckles received far less hype than either of the 2 previous Genesis Sonic games, Sonic 2 and 3. Its main selling point, in fact, was its Lock-On capabilities, which could unlock new zones in Sonic 3, and a new character, Knuckles the Echidna, in Sonic 2. Essentially, Sonic and Knuckles was marketed not so much as a game, but as an expansion pack for Sonic 2 and 3.
Not that this description was inaccurate. When you locked Sonic 3 onto the game, you were treated to what was basically the second half of Sonic 3. You accessed this after beating Sonic 3 proper, at which point you went onto the Sonic & Knuckles part of the game. As mentioned earlier, this was the main reason for the existence of Sonic 3, and Sega presumed that it would also help sell copies of Sonic 2, now that one had the bonus of playing as Knuckles in that game.
You see, by itself, Sonic and Knuckles isn't much. The story is even less developed than in prior games--Dr. Robotnik, the token villain of the Sonic the Hedgehog world, has once again stolen the Chaos Emeralds, which protect Sonic and his furry animal friends. Sonic (Or Knuckles, making his debut as a playable character) has to go through various zones to defeat Robotnik and get the Emeralds back. You accomplish this in the same manner as almost any other Genesis Sonic game--that is to say, you run really fast through a side-scrolling environment, dashing your way around loop-the-loops, corkscrews, pipes, and everything else in your surroundings. It sounds like every other Sonic game to date, right?
Well, not entirely. Helping Sonic and Knuckles's cause is that fact that Sonic Team, the developers, were at the top of their game here. In short, the game includes a bunch of new elements that should've made it into Sonic 3 proper. Particularly, the mini-boss designs are top-notch, as sometimes simply jumping into them won't cut it. You'll have to find other, more inventive ways of defeating them, perhaps by using your surroundings. There are also other flashes of brilliance; For instance, one level has you scrambling to find light switches to scare away ghosts before they come after you with a vengeance. It's little touches and designs like these that make the game truly stand up on its own.
Another thing that helps the game out is that Sonic and Knuckles give two unique ways to play through the game, even moreso than in Sonic 3. In fact, one zone gives the two characters completely different levels, so what you learned playing through the zone with Sonic, for instance, won't help you at all when you try to beat the game with Knuckles.
This fact helps out the game's replay value considerably, as you'll actually want to beat the game with both characters to see everything the game has to offer. Sadly though, the game doesn't offer a whole lot on its own. Sonic's game is only full 6 Zones long--7 if you grab all the Chaos Emeralds--while Knuckles is given a pathetic 4 Zones (That's only 8 levels) before his final battle. The game's length is one of the two things that makes Sonic and Knuckles scream to the player, ''I AM NOT A FULL GAME, BUT AN EXPANSION PACK DESIGNED TO SCREW YOU OUT OF YOUR MONEY!''
The other suggestion of the above claim? The method with which you get the Chaos Emeralds. While each of the first three games had methods that were radically different from one another, Sonic and Knuckles chooses to simply recycle the method used in Sonic 3--you find giant golden rings hidden in the levels, and then have to GET BLUE SPHERES before touching a red one, which will end your opportunity for the Emerald. It's fun, certainly, but not revolutionary like you would expect from a new Sonic release.
Yet for all its problems, Sonic and Knuckles gets control, one of the most important elements of the series, just about flawless. Running, jumping, and Spin Dashing, where you crouch, build up speed, and suddenly take off, all come off without a hitch. If you die, it'll be all your fault for not seeing whatever it was--being hit by an enemy, falling into lava, or being crushed between a platform and ceiling, to name a few--that brought you to your doom.
The presentation of Sonic and Knuckles is also strong. Graphically, you travel through a variety of environments, ranging from green hills, to scorching deserts, to lava-filled caves. Some of the Zones even change their appearance from Act 1 to Act 2, in particular the Lava Reef Zone. There is also a nice amount of animation in both the heroes and the enemies, and even Dr. Robotnik has two faces--one looks like a robotic mask, while his other face is the red beard we've grown to know and love. The music in the game is also impressive, with each theme generally fitting the Zone it plays in. The sound effects are nothing new to veteran Sonic gamers--the ''ching!'' of rings, the ''doonk!'' as you hit enemies, and the sound as you jump, while remaining unchanged since the first Sonic game, all do their job, and do it well.
Sonic and Knuckles is not a bad game in and of itself. However, it's also not a complete game in and of itself, as evidenced by its length. While you can find the game for about $10 nowadays, making it a worthy purchase in its own right, you really need both this game and Sonic 3 for the best experience. Locking Sonic 3 onto this game will make the resulting game better than either of the two individually, as you get a game that rivals Sonic 2 in scope, depth, and most importantly, fun. Luckily, neither game is super expensive nowadays, so grab 'em both if you can find them.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 01/27/02, Updated 01/27/02
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