Sonic & Knuckles
Review by BigCj34
"Serving suggestion: add Sonic 3. And possibly a Mega Drive."
He's blue, he's spiky, it's that hedgehog that's too quick to be flattened by oncoming traffic and after beating Robotnik twice, he's got no time for visiting fellow hedgehog flat-mates. The death egg ship you thought was destroyed for good really landed on top of Lava Reef, and the not-so-free-range egg-shaped Dr. Robotnik manages to sneakily trick Knuckles the Echidna to obtain the Master Emerald to repair the Death Egg ship. It's up to Sonic and Knuckles to team together and stop Robotnik, send that Death Egg to the scrap merchants, and liberate Angel Island from deranged egg-ness. S&K is actually the second-half of the original Sonic 3 game, which was split into two from time constraints and the cost of a big-enough cartridge. To compensate S&K features a unique lock-on mechanism on top of the cart allowing you to connect Sonic 3, combining both games for a huge epic as it was meant to be played.
If you have been a Communist anti-Sega Mario-loving fanboy until now, the basic formula of a Sonic game is as follows: you go through a series of zones that comprise of two acts, with a boss at the end of each. Throughout the levels you need to free innocent creatures from their mechanical robot shells, collect rings in order to avoid an early death by a badnik (you just drop all your rings otherwise) and to be able to access bonus stages. To fully complete the game you need to collect Chaos Emeralds, found by completing special stages, here accessed by finding giant rings hidden throughout the level. To assist you through the game power-ups are available, essentially with fire, water and electric shields at your disposal to protect you from their respective elements throughout the game and also grant Sonic enhanced jumping abilities.
Sonic 3 did away with the signature fest of zooming through levels at high-speeds, and here it's only worse. The level sizes are vast with plenty of depth with an abundance of secret areas, which really occurs to you when trying to find special stage rings: some acts can consist of up to 6 rings of them but you'll do well to even find two as a secret passage can be lurking in any wall. Many of the enemies take no prisoners here and you'll need to take even greater care dodging whatever they chuck at you. Obstacles are in abundance and at times you'll consider it lucky that you'll still be holding onto some rings, as spikes and flameballs are just as pleased to meet you in all directions, you need to navigate your way through cautiously, making backtracks, activating switches and hopping platforms. However, the increased difficulty does make Sonic and Knuckles feel laborious to get through at times, as you'll be left scratching your head wondering where to go next not to mention losing a lot of lives.
Unsurprisingly, the most obvious addition to the formula is the ability to play as Knuckles, plus Sonic, and Tails through lock-on. The Knuckles' part of the game has level variations to add challenges optimised to suit his gliding ability, but the fun doesn't end there either, as playing as Knuckles in the Sonic 3 levels opens up previously inaccessible areas. The character abilities do notably contrast, Knuckles can glide across levels and climb up walls, but he doesn't have the same acceleration as Sonic making bosses trickier. Tails can fly for a limited time, but Sonic is the most limited, but can do special jumps with power-ups to compensate. If you enjoy the added Knuckles challenges you can play as Knuckles in Sonic 2 by inserting that in the cart, and experience his gliding abilities and slower space.
Another notable difference to the formula is with the bonus levels. As well as Sonic 3's gum machine there's two new bonus stages, the number of rings determining which one, but you now only need 20 rings. The first new stage is a fruit machine like off Sonic 2's Casino Night, but the second is a little more obscure as you're propelling yourself up a series of revolving orbs catching item bubbles, while avoiding an ascending force-field. The special stages are still about collecting blue spheres while avoiding reds, but here they are now a curse: sneaky placing of trampoline and bumper spheres is enough to nullify your efforts actually finding the stages. Practise makes perfect though, even if you get all the chaos emeralds in the Sonic 3 levels, these monoliths are the ticket for super emeralds. If you just can't get enough of the special stages, inserting Sonic 1 into this boots up the Blue Sphere game to play through endless special stages. That's 134,217,728 of them. Good luck.
The zones this time involve battling your wits with levels such as the notorious Sandopolis, with sand streams that never fail to go against your direction of travel, and the Flying Battery zone, with enemies and obstacles that love to molest you with fireballs. However, a good chunk of the game is going through the deadly Death-Egg in all its salvaged steel glory, along with the endless traps, false jumps and a series of bosses at the end, it's the toughest fight yet as the Detah Egg, like Robotnik himself, does not come free-range. The zone designs look stunning making for some of the best visuals on the Mega Drive, with vividly coloured levels accompanied with impressive parallax-scrolling techniques. The music is excellent as well, despite looping quickly the tunes are pretty catchy, hard beat and fast rhythms keeping the action going.
Similarly with Sonic 3, Sonic and Knuckles is a pretty solid platformer by itself, albeit a little short. There aren't many proper zones as such, after four zones you'll soon find yourself on the road to the final showdown on Robotnik's sky base. The gameplay formula is very much the same, retaining the dark approach but even darker, as this is certainly the toughest Sonic game on the format; whizzing through levels is so passe as now every jump needs careful timing and attention, but can feel laborious and tedious to plough through at times. When putting Sonic 3 in the equation you get the real meat and potatoes, giving you access to Sonic 3's save states, plus S&K's new bonus stages, Super Emeralds and a smoother increase in difficulty throughout. With the choice of characters available, all the Chaos and Super Emeralds and the challenge, be prepared to put in some time for an absolutely whopping adventure.
The 8/10 game score reflects S&K by itself, but when combined with Sonic 3 I would easily give a 9, or even a 10.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/21/08
Game Release: Sonic & Knuckles (EU, 10/19/94)
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