Review by discoinferno84

"It's easier to run..."

The Sonic series has had its ups and downs over the past decade. What started out as a promising franchise went up in smoke, had a bunch of spinoffs, and then ultimately revived on the current generation of consoles. Within that process, there have been both good and bad games, treating and mistreating loyal fans to the wonderful world of Sonic the Hedgehog and the rest of his crew of heroes. It's been quite a while since a 2D console Sonic game had any redeeming qualities. When the last of the original Sonic trilogy was released, it was a mystery as to where the series was going to go. But before the creative minds at Sega dished out the slew of bad games, they gave us a true treat: Sonic & Knuckles, yet another installment of the well-established lineage of the old Sonic games.

When we last left our heroes, Sonic had just beaten the evil Dr. Robotnik yet again. He sent the Death Egg, a massive weapon of even more massive destruction, careening on a crash course for Floating Island. The subsequent crash embedded the huge structure into the island, flinging Sonic into the nearby Mushroom Hills. Unfortunately, Robotnik is far from surrendering. He's already begun rebuilding the Death Egg in hopes of salvaging his plan for world domination. He'll use the Master Emerald, a gem of inconceivable power, to get his weapon back up and running. Knowing the consequences of such an act, Sonic must get back into action and stop the doctor's diabolical plan. But not only does he have to face a madman, but he also has to contend with the likes of Knuckles the Echidna, the mystical guardian of the Floating Island. Knuckles is out to get whoever sets foot on his island, regardless if they're good or evil. As the two heroes struggle against each other, Robotnik gets ever so closer to achieving his ultimate goal.

Not only do you have to deal with a madman, but you've also got to deal with some unfriendly rivalry along the way. However, that rivalry goes both ways. For the first time in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, you can opt to play as Knuckles. Regardless of which hero you choose, you'll still be in for an excellent time. While Sonic's incredible speed remains his greatest asset, this newcomer has a few extra tricks of his own. Not only can Knuckles roll into a ball and accelerate, but he can also fly, break through barriers, and climb walls, allowing him far greater access to the levels than Sonic could ever hope to achieve. Though his style of gameplay adds a little more difficulty to the tried and true Sonic gameplay formula, he clearly outshines his new rival. But if you decide to stick with your old pal Sonic, you'll be treated to the same run of the mill fast-paced gameplay that has become a staple of the 2D Sonic games. But if you play as Sonic, you'll have to endure quite a few traps laid out by crafty echidna.

The quest will take you over the wide and varied terrains of the Floating Island, all of which are fraught with enemy presence. You'll have to deal with dangerous robots, spikes, deep water, lava, and plenty of other nasty surprises just waiting to ambush you. As with all the previous Sonic games, a single hit from an enemy bullet or a missed jump can spell certain doom for these heroes. The answer comes in the form of the golden rings strewn throughout the level. If you pick up some of these little treasures, they'll act as a makeshift shield as you continue your journey. If you happen to get hit on accident, all of your rings will scatter across the screen, forcing you to scamper around and pick them up before they all vanish. These rings can also be used to get extra lives as well as the Chaos Emeralds, which will make your characters more powerful than ever before. There are also a decent assortment of pickups hailing from the previous Sonic games, but given the slightly lax difficulty, you won't have much need for them.

But there's something special about Sonic & Knuckles that makes it stand tall and proud over its contemporaries. While it may be designed to be yet another standard Sonic game, it has an extra little feature that'll ensure its worth. The cartridge has “Lock-On Technology,” a feature that allows it to link with other Sega Genesis game cartridges. Doing so will allow you unlock thousands upon thousands of bonus levels, each of them a just a tiny bit different from the other. If you happen to have Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or 3, you'll be able to play as Knuckles in those games, allowing you access to tons of secret areas and other surprises that you'd have never found by playing the original game. Needless to say, Genesis owners won't be putting this game away any time soon. It's the game that just keeps on giving.

Considering how much time you can spend with this game, it's a good thing that the folks on the Sonic Team did such a great job on the presentation of their little bundle of joy. Sonic looks excellent, complete with a shiny new fur coat and speeds never before seen. Knuckles looks just as good for his playable character debut. But what really looks awesome are the levels. When you start off in the Mushroom Hill Zone, you'll find yourself surrounded by these massive mushrooms and tons of other wild plants. Everything in the game, from the grassy thickets to the massive vines to the dead leaves you stir up in your wake looks beautiful. It's as if Sonic and his crew were finally immersed in a place that actually had life in it. You'll go from the forest to the Death Egg to desolate deserts to lava reefs and everything in between, all depicted with remarkable clarity and detail. The massive levels are accompanied by some memorable themes, adding plenty to the already fast-paced gameplay. A Sonic game has never looked better.

I wish the Sonic the Hedgehog series would come back out of the hole that it has dug itself into. They just don't make Sonic games like they used to. When the series made the jump from 2D to 3D, something vital was lost in the translation. It was something that needed to remain to ensure that the top-notch high quality of the Sonic games remained intact. Whatever happened to that special something? Who knows? Sonic & Knuckles was probably the last of the Sonic series that still had that kind of magic that could only be found in the older style of games. While that kind of allure may never see the modern gaming community, Sonic & Knuckles stands firm as one of the greatest installments of the Sonic series to date.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/06/05

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