Review by Jotun
"Amazing beyond imagination"
I first saw this cartridge while browsing the local store in the summer of 1996 and I honestly didn't know what to think of it. I had never heard anything about it. Was it a new game? A kind of adapter or Game Genie? An import? On the end I decided to buy it, and to this day I am still extremely glad I did.
Sonic & Knuckles is an absolutely revolutionary cart which oddly enough was born out of a stunning flaw. When Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 3 they released an incomplete game to have it out for the announced date. The game was indeed short, because a lot of unfinished and undebugged levels were left out. Hints of such a mutilation were quickly found in the game (the presence of many unselectable stages in the level select cheat screen, an alternate boss music which wasn't featured in the game...), and didn't make Sonic fans too happy.
To regain respect from the gaming people, Sega made Sonic & Knuckles. Does it mean they made a game out of the recycled levels they left out of Sonic 3? I could say yes, but that would be extremely incorrect. First and foremost, Sonic & Knuckles is a kind of sequel again, as the action takes place right after the events of Sonic 3 (you even see the Death Egg falling back down on Floating Island in the title screen sequence!), but it's also a game which can stand on its own. As the title suggests, you can either play as Sonic and hopefully destroy Robotnik's death Egg once and for all, or play as Knuckles and begin a new adventure which takes place AFTER the completion of Sonic's task. In both cases, you'll have to travel through more new, huge zones and of course collect the seven Chaos Emeralds for the best ending and gameplay.
But there's more... as Sonic & Knuckles is basically ''Sonic 3 - Part II'', you can ''lock-on'' the Sonic 3 cartridge to this one making two games in one... the game which Sonic 3 should have been! And finally, as a special treat, you can even lock-on Sonic 2 to play as Knuckles in Sonic's classic second adventure! I have never heard of anything like this, neither back then nor now.
In one word... no, wait: you simply can't sum this up in one word. Imagine Sonic 3's graphics, take the same main characters and features but add totally new backgrounds and enemies, and multiply the overall quality by a pretty big number. You should get Sonic & Knuckles' graphics.
This game has some of the most amazing graphics I've ever seen on the Genesis. Take a look at those and you'll forget about the system's poor palette: the colors are unbelievably full and varied. The backgrounds are simply marvellous, with an amazing quantity of details, and so are the new sprites. The 3D special stages look as good as they did in Sonic 3; the extremely high speed, great animations and absence of slowdown are retained too.
As in the graphics, a lot of elements have stayed the same as Sonic 3 (the stage clear and game over jingles, a lot of sound effects, etc.), but the level music are totally new and they simply rock!!! Once again, the themes vary a bit in act 2; there are also new tunes for Knuckles and the sub-bosses (yes, this one is the one we heard in Sonic 3, see the introduction), as well as new themes for the new bonus stages. Great job.
Just like Sonic 3, as they could not be improved anymore! All I can say here is that Knuckles is equally easy to control, and it'll take you about 5 seconds to master his special moves. Awesome.
I'd go straight to the point: this should deserve more than a 10.
Let's start by examining the game by itself: if you play as Sonic, you will make your way through 7 long zones, just like you did in Sonic 3; if you collect all the Chaos Emeralds you will be able to turn into Super Sonic and access to the eight zone. If you play as Knuckles, your adventure will be a little shorter, but also harder! Again, you should collect all the Emeralds if you want to get the best prize... In both cases, you'll be facing a long and very fun trek across lush hills, tricky deserts, lava caves and more! There are also treats for long time Sonic fans such as some Flying Battery Zone sections (which are a real tribute to Sonic 2's Wing Fortress Zone) and the multiple boss battles in Sky Sanctuary Zone (where you will find two Egg-O-Matic versions from Sonic 1 and 2)! You'll also have to find the giant rings to access to the special stages to try and win the emeralds, and beware: although the special stages are once again 3D spheres, the level designs are new, and there is even a new item (the yellow sphere) to be found! And if you pass a Star Post with enough rings and want to take a ride to the Bonus Stage, forget Sonic 3's gumball machine: there is not one but TWO new bonus stages for you to try out! In one of them, you'll be floating around a rotating maze (once again a self-quote, this time the reference is Sonic 1's special stage) with a slot-machine in the middle: you can activate the slot machine (just like you did in Sonic 2's Casino Night Zone) to win or lose prizes; in the other one, you'll face a treacherous climb using magnetic spheres as well as bouncers and flippers to make your way to the top, trying to stay away from a force field which rises from below and will knock you out of the bonus stage should you fall in it; obviously as you climb higher the prizes (which are hidden in small glowing spheres that become gumball-like power-ups when you touch them) become richer, and you might even get 50 extra lives in a single hit (look, I'm not kidding)!
And now let's lock-on Sonic 3... now you can play the six zones of Sonic 3 and then go on through the new zones like it was one single huge game! The real treat is that here you can save your progress (and now you have 8 slots to do that) and play as Tails in the new zones and as Knuckles in the old zones! You'll discover A LOT of different paths trying out different combinations, especially playing as Knuckles (remember that his adventure is supposed to be played AFTER Sonic's). Also, seven old special stages + the seven new ones = 14 special stages = 14 CHAOS EMERALDS! that's right, you can turn the seven regular emeralds into Super Emeralds, thus unleashing the power of the Master Emerald which allows you to become HYPER Sonic, HYPER Knuckles and (drum rolls) SUPER TAILS!!!! That's right, the tiny fox finally gets his power-up status too, finally! This is an unique, immense gameplaying experience!
Now let's lock-on Sonic 2... and let me tell you: playing with Knuckles is extremely interesting! By using Knuckles' moves you can reach previously inaccessible places and try out different strategies; the game is also harder because Knuckles is stronger (he can bash through walls without spinning!) but less agile and jumps lower than Sonic or Tails.
Finally, the sub-game glitch: you can lock on Sonic 1 and play the infamous Special Stages games... meaning you will get to play through A LOT of 3D special stages you've never seen before, and there are literally thousands of them!
If this isn't enough for you, well... go away!!! ;P
LASTABILITY AND REPLaY VALUE: 10
This game by itself will last long enough as it is a lot harder than Sonic 3, since the first zone you play here was actually meant to be the seventh... if you have the lockable games too, the replay value will reach INSANE proportions, an dthe rating would be way beyond Gamefaqs' 1 to 10 rating scale! ;)
An unique, superb gaming experiment. Get it if you can; I hope for you you can get the lockable games too! This is the ultimate Sonic experience!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 06/10/03, Updated 06/10/03
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