Review by Dorkmaster Flek
"The pinnicle of Sonic gaming...if you have the other Sonic games that is."
The first thing that needs to be said regarding this game is that it goes hand in hand with Sonic 3, so you should be familiar with that game before venturing into this one to get the most out of it. Sonic 3 was great when it first came out. The latest and greatest Sonic adventure had a new 3D special stage, bigger and longer zones, a save game feature and a new character to add to the story. But it was also slightly cryptic. The conflict with Knuckles was never resolved, and the ending seemed somewhat anti-climactic as we never saw the Master Emerald within the game. All this was because we only had half the story in that game. The original scope of the project was much larger, but it had to be split into two games because of time and/or space constraints. Once Sonic & Knuckles was released, all the missing pieces of the puzzle were filled in and the brilliance and sheer magnitude of Sonic Team's last great Genesis project were brought to light.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. As a stand alone game, Sonic & Knuckles was just as good as Sonic 3, maybe even better because it fills in more of the story and the fantastic final battle with Robotnik is available even alone. S&K played pretty much the same way as Sonic 3. Same engine, same controls, same items. This makes sense because the two games were actually meant to be one. It even manages to outdo Sonic 3 in some areas, with even more graphical splendor, like the changing backgrounds in the second act of Mushroom Hill, and some even larger acts. Some of the later acts in Sandopolis and Lava Reef are downright huge with multiple paths branching every which way. Even the music is better as Sonic Team probably held back some of the good tunes to use in this game. The main theme/invincibility music is better, as is the mid-boss music. The music in the levels themselves is right up there with Sonic 3, and even has a few more catchy tunes than before. In addition to all of this, you can play as Knuckles or Sonic for two similar, but quite different games. All of this is great, and alone this game is quite comparable to Sonic 3, but there's more here than meets the eye.
You probably noticed that the top of this sleek black cart is larger than normal. Under the flip back cover is a slot for another cart. With normal Genesis carts, booting up S&K with one on top resulted in a screen with Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Robotnik and scrolling the words NO WAY! across the top. In fact, if you hold A+B+C and press start, the message GET BLUE SPHERES appears at the top and you get a generated special stage based on the serial number of the cart on top different from any special stage in Sonic 3 or S&K. With the other 3 Sonic games however, something different happened...let's go over these one by one.
With Sonic 2 locked on, you were treated to a new game called Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic 2. As you might have guessed, this allowed you to play through Sonic 2 as Knuckles, with his signature gliding move and wall climbing ability. This allowed you to explore new places you could otherwise reach in the levels of Sonic 2. This was a nice treat for fans of Sonic 2 who loved the new life suddenly breathed into one of their favourite games. In fact, there's a great FAQ for Knuckles in Sonic 2 on this very site, under the S&K section.
When you locked on Sonic 1, you got the same NO WAY! screen you did when you put any other Genesis cart on top, but there's something more here that was never mentioned in any manual. People noticed that the characters were brighter and in the foreground with Sonic 1, and some were animated a bit. When you hit A+B+C together, the same GET BLUE SPHERES message as a normal Genesis cart appears, but it starts at Level 1. When you finish a level, you advance to the next one, and if you get all the rings in a level, you advance 10 levels forward. With Sonic 1, you get access to every special stage that you could get by plugging another Genesis cart in to S&K. There's also a great FAQ regarding this on GameFAQs as well, also under the S&K section. There are literally millions of these stages (over 134 million to be exact), all combinations of certain sphere patterns. You may recognize certain patterns in different stages, but they are all different, and all possible to beat perfectly. They vary in difficulty from comparable to the normal game stages to much harder than anything you've seen so far in S&K or Sonic 3. It's a pointless minigame, but the stages are fun to play and it's great practice for the real game. It also basically gives near infinite replay value to this fantastic game.
Finally, we come to locking on Sonic 3, and this is it. The biggest and best Sonic adventure there is. There is no secret hidden game here, this is basically Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles back to back, joined together to create the absolutely massive Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This is the original scope of the project, what it would have been if they could have done it on one cart. You get 8 save slots, Sonic, Tails and Knuckles playable in all the levels, 14 emeralds to hunt down in the special stages, and 14 massive zones to play through. All is revealed, nothing is held back. Knuckles finds out who the real bad guy is, and Sonic takes on Robotnik in a spectacular showdown in the upper atmosphere of Mobius. Boy that's a lot, isn't it?
Well, first off, when you start a new game you can chose to play as Sonic, Tails, both together, or Knuckles. Knuckles takes different routes through some of the levels, particularly in the Sonic 3 stages, and has a few different bosses that Sonic and Tails don't see. When you beat the Launch Base zone, you get thrown right into Mushroom Hill and the story continues. Starting in the S&K zones, once you have all seven Chaos Emeralds from the Sonic 3 special stages, the giant gold rings will turn multi-coloured and you'll be transported to the emerald shrine in the Hidden Palace zone where the Chaos Emeralds will reveal their true forms as the Super Emeralds. You can then leap on to one of them to play the Sonic & Knuckles special stages to get the Super Emeralds, which you'll need if you want the best ending.
Playing through Sonic 3 & Knuckles together as one game is the only way to get the whole picture. You'll see everything that happens in the entire Floating Island saga. Knuckles in Sonic 2 and the Sonic 1 bonus stages are nice extras that resulted from the separation of this two games, but this is what Sonic Team set out to do when they said they were going to outdo themselves and create the biggest and best Sonic adventure ever, even surpassing the mighty Sonic 2. Most people saw Sonic 3 as a letdown compared to Sonic 2, but unless you look at the whole picture here, you won't see that not only did they live up to the legacy of Sonic 2, they surpassed it and created was is undoubtedly the best Sonic game yet, and perhaps even the best game ever released on the Genesis.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 10/08/03
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