Review by nastynate3118
"The End of an Era"
Sonic & Knuckles marked the end of an era for the Sonic franchise. It was the final traditional 2D platforming Sonic game released for the Sega Genesis and would mark the beginning of a downturn for the quality of games in the franchise. This game is the second half of Sonic's third adventure and was originally supposed to be combined with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 as one game, but time constraints did not permit this to happen. Sonic & Knuckles retains the formula that had made the previous games successful and introduces lock-on technology that gave a new spin to the older games.
Sonic & Knuckles is nearly identical to Sonic 3 in terms of gameplay. This is no accident seeing as how both games were supposed to be one in the same but in the long run it is probably better they were separated. The level design in this game is much more consistent and not erratic like its predecessor. The problem is that the levels in this game seem to drag on and are all very long, taking away from the spirit of fast-paced platforming the series is known for. Still, there is a massive amount of creativity that is employed in the design of this game that was not present in any of the other Sonic games.
As the title suggests, you can either play through the game as Sonic or Knuckles. Noticeably absent is Tails, the sidekick who followed Sonic in the previous two games. It really isn't much of a loss but the co-operative aspect of the gameplay is not present (in fact, no multiplayer is present in this game at all). The two different paths travel through mostly the same levels but Sonic and Knuckles have different abilities and go through different routes through each level. Sonic's path still has speed and fast-paced platforming gameplay that plays wonderfully, even if the levels are on the longer side. Knuckles' path is a bit more traditional seeing as how he cannot run as fast or jump as high. Instead, he can glide and climb walls, sort of reminiscent of the gameplay of Ristar. It is a welcome change of pace and offers a nice alternative to the usual gameplay of Sonic.
The special stages from Sonic 3 return in this game. You are transported to a 3D world where you have to collect blue spheres and avoid red ones. Introduced in this game are orange spheres that act as springs that make you bounce high up. I thought the design of these stages was vastly improved and a lot more fun to play, but the portals that lead to these stages are strangely placed. The first level of the game has eight (!) portals to special stages but you will be lucky if you can ever find them again throughout the game.
Another improved aspect for this game is the boss fights. The mini bosses and actual boss fights are more complicated and do not involve simply jumping on Dr. Robotnik like in the previous games. You actually have to watch the boss carefully and try and identify a weakness. I also think that the final boss fight in this game is extremely climactic and easily the best of the entire Sonic series. It has multiple phases and stands as the toughest and most epic fight Sonic ever has to conquer.
I also need to discuss the lock-on technology of Sonic and Knuckles. The actual Genesis cartridge of the game is significantly different from other games in the fact that you can lock other Genesis cartridges onto it and play a different game. If you combine it with Sonic 3, you can play Sonic 3 & Knuckles, which is Sonic's third adventure in its entirety. It has a save system and you can play through all of the levels from both games with Sonic, Tails, Knuckles or Sonic and Tails together. It is also the only game in the entire Sonic franchise that has Sonic's ultimate transformation available with the inclusion of Hyper Sonic. Overall, it is the best way to play those two games and the best Sonic game of them all.
If combined with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, you get Knuckles in Sonic 2 which is a game that plays exactly as the title says. This one is not as good as previous combination simply because the style of Knuckles does not fit well at all with the level design of Sonic 2. It also makes some of the bosses (especially the final boss) extremely difficult. To this day, I have never beaten this combination and was not impressed with it.
Every other combination of a Genesis game with Sonic & Knuckles results in Blue Sphere, a randomly generated mini-game based on the special stages of Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.
The lock on technology was very innovative for the time and was Sega's way of allowing fans to play Sonic 3 in its original intended form. Make no mistake that Sonic & Knuckles stands on its own as a fantastic game, but it really was meant to be played with Sonic 3. The lengthy level design and lack of multiplayer hurt the experience, but at least one of these things is corrected when combined with Sonic 3.
The interface in this game takes a big step backwards for the franchise with its exclusion of a save/password system. As I stated above, this can be rectified by combining the game with Sonic 3, but I'm not sure why they didn't include it in the game on its own. There is no options menu either, leaving a lot of things non-existent. I consider the lock-on technology to be a part of the interface and obviously it goes without saying that it was very innovative for the time.
The plot of Sonic & Knuckles picks up nicely where the previous game left off. Sonic has delayed the launch of the Death Egg (a massive spaceship) by the antagonist Dr. Robotnik, but Robotnik is still terrorizing the area and trapping local wildlife into robots. In Sonic's path, Knuckles is still a rival to Sonic and tries to prevent him from rescuing the island. There is a nice transition from level to level and a few scenes with plot presentation and development are scattered throughout the game. It is very simplistic and the character of Knuckles is extremely one-dimensional, but it is all in good fun. The ending of the game is pretty climactic and serves as a nice conclusion to the first four Sonic games.
Knuckles' story isn't nearly as interesting and features him feuding with Metal Sonic. Nothing is really explained or presented in his scenario which is a bit of a letdown.
The graphics in Sonic & Knuckles are very well done. They are on par with the high quality of Sonic 3 and feature a lot of great animation. One thing that sticks out to me is how spinning objects are depicted; they almost seem three-dimensional. The enemies and Sonic are both animated well and the backgrounds to each level are stunning. Each zone has a completely different color- scheme that is full of detail and has variety.
The music in Sonic & Knuckles continues to be catchy and varied. This is music that you will never forget and fits each level nicely. There is not a single bad song on the entire soundtrack and it all sounds very inspired. A few songs from Sonic 3 are present (namely the main theme song and the final boss music) to give a sense of continuity.
The sound effects continue to be wonderful and Sega stuck to something that was working very well for the series.
Play Time/Replayability - 9/10
I finished Sonic & Knuckles in 1 hour, 38 minutes and 43 seconds. It is almost exactly the same length as Sonic 3. The replay value is increased by the fact that you can lock the game on to other Sonic games and play those and there are two paths to take within this game. The lack of a save feature hurts the replay value of the individual game but it is still relatively easy to play through.
+Two different paths through the game
+Special stages are more creative
+Boss fights are challenging, epic and thought-provoking
+Innovative lock-on technology
+Decent plot presentation and climactic ending
+High quality graphics and animation
+Music and sound effects continue to be among the best for the Genesis
+Separate story paths increase replay value
-Lack of multiplayer
-Lengthy levels drag on
-No save feature or options menu
-Knuckles' story path is dull
Sonic & Knuckles book ends one of the greatest series ever on the Sega Genesis. The developers went to great lengths to increase the quality of each title and Sega did a nice job rebounding from releasing an incomplete Sonic 3 by creating the lock-on technology of Sonic & Knuckles. Overall, the best of the first four is Sonic the Hedgehog 2 but this game comes awfully close to topping it (and does top it if you combine it with Sonic 3). It is one of the best platforming games ever made and concludes the series in the best way it could have. The release of Sonic & Knuckles led to years of mediocrity for the Sonic franchise with a few good titles sprinkled in, but they will never live up to the standards of the original four games for the Sega Genesis.
Final Score: 8.91666667/10 rounded to 9/10
BONUS: Final Score (Sonic 3 & Knuckles combined): 9.0625/10 rounded to 9/10
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/29/12
Game Release: Sonic & Knuckles (US, 10/17/94)
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