"Double Trouble."

What essentially is Sonic the Hedgehog 3: Part Two was snipped off the end of the original and repackaged and released as Sonic & Knuckles. While Sonic 3 provided some major changes in structure and integrity, Sonic and Knuckles did little to add to those changes. Sonic 2 saw the introduction of the legendary spin-dash and the debut of Miles “Tails” Prower, Sonic 3 added special shields, new bonus stages and longer levels but Sonic & Knuckles, despite the new “lock-on” technology, really doesn't have any outstanding creative changes at all.

Don't get me wrong, Sonic & Knuckles is a stellar platform game and one of the toughest of its genre. It has everything that a proper Sonic game should have, right down to its core. It utilises the longer level design of Sonic 3, which compacted the game into five longer zones instead of the tried and tested 8+ zones of Sonic 2. The lock-on technology was an extremely creative piece of hardware which allowed you to plug in Sonic 2 and 3 into the S&K cartridge, allowing you to play as Knuckles throughout the entire Sonic 2 game and combining Sonic 3 and this title into one colossal experience, compete with more super chaos emeralds, Tails and Hyper Sonic (a faster Super Sonic who can breathe underwater and pull off a terrific double jump.)

Unlike before, where you could pick between Sonic & Tails, Sonic or Tails, you can simply choose between Sonic or Knuckles. While most new players would be more eager to play as Knuckles due to his additional abilities which allow him to scale up walls or glide across large areas. While Knuckles seems like the more interesting choice, Sonic's actual game is longer and offers more interesting turns and twists. With Knuckles, his sole aim is to destroy one of Robotnik's henchmen who has caused some minor disturbances on the Floating Island. However, with Sonic, you have to foil Robotnik's plan to re-launch his Death Egg (an obvious parody of the Death Star.) Doing this allows you to face far more interesting bosses, including Metal Sonic version 2.0 and Knuckles. It also offers more levels for you to play and allows you to unlock the epic Doomsday Zone, which makes way for the ultimate denouement. The final battle between Sonic and Robotnik, well, until Sega turned Sonic into 3-D.

Anyway, remember when Metallica stopped playing thrash metal and slooooooweeeed down to create a more epic sound? That transition is similar to the one between Sonic 2 and Sonic 3. Instead of whizzing through levels at blinding speeds all of the time, Sonic & Knuckles requires the player to actually put some thought in where to actually go in levels. Instead of the simple A to B layout that the early titles where renowned for, Sonic & Knuckles encourages the player to take alternative routes and explore. Sonic will run through mushroom filled wood, a floating sky-base, a pyramid and a volcanic reef of crystals and flame. He'll also run through a hidden palace (originally reserved for Sonic the Hedgehog 2) and aboard Robotnik's Death Egg. Unfortunately for Knuckles fans, his journey ends at the Hidden Palace zone, where he confronts and destroys Robotnik's minion who caused the disturbance on his paradise.

Exploration is something that is key to Sonic & Knuckles, if you wish to complete the game properly. Collecting chaos emeralds is still a tricky task, instead of the standard “collect 50 rings and reach a starpost/the end of the level, you can find super rings throughout the game. You'll be plucked from the world and placed into a bizarre globe, covered in red, blue and orange orbs. The bonus levels here have not changed a bit; collecting blue orbs, avoiding red orbs and bouncing over large terrains with orange orbs. Navigation through these worlds grows increasingly difficult as you collect more blue orbs, due to your impressive speed boost; let's not mention the fact that the blue orbs decide to turn red after you pick them up. Collection of all the emeralds not only makes you a man, but allows you to become Super Sonic, or the less impressive Super Knuckles, which increases your speed, makes you invincible for a period of time and turns you into a spiky supernova. Not only does it look badass, but it makes the game so much more enjoyable, making the longer levels go flying past.

While the combination of this title with its predecessor creates an epic game in its own right, this game alone does offer enough to keep you entertained. The only criticism that you can lay on this game is that it doesn't make any major creative changes to it's formula, which every other Sonic sequel did. Because of this, Sonic and Knuckles feels like an expansion pack, rather than a stand-alone game. However, when you brush aside that, you're left with a title that provides plenty of action and challenge. Also, it's part of a fantastic combination, which allows you to play one of the most epic platform games you can get. It's just to bad that it's not as wholesome as an individual game.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 08/26/07

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