Sonic and the Black Knight is the second installment of the Sonic Storybook series, the first being Sonic and the Secret Rings. Basically the idea here is: Sonic + Classic Children’s Story = $$$… right? Well the actual equation is Sonic + Classic Story + garbage Gameplay = bad review. The last installment of the Storybook series was an off-shoot of the Arabian Nights, and this one is of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. So naturally Sonic has to wield a sword… great lets completely change the style of play that has defined Sonic for over a decade, that will surely yield great results! Well at least the game is still fast paced for the most part.
You are introduced to Merlina (granddaughter of Merlin… love the creative name huh?), who is surrounded by a bunch of goons and a dark armored figure on a horse, we are told that he is King Arthur. I’m already scratching my head here because that guy CLEARLY looks like a bad guy. Oh wait it is… take one of the most celebrated heroes of all time and make him a villain… great idea! (Please sense my sarcasm) Merlina then instantaneously summons our lovable hedgehog from the sky to protect her, who lands with a thud, who then franticly ping pongs around to save his two chili-cheese dogs from meeting their demise in the dirt. After eating one of them, he tosses the other in the air, wipes out all the goons except for King Arthur, and catches it before it lands. Merlina then explains that the power of Excalibur has corrupted the king so he is ruling his kingdom using armies from the underworld (Lich king anyone?) Then as Sonic attempts to go after the king, Merlina stops him saying that the game doesn’t end 5 minutes from the opening no matter how much you want it to, no wait I lied… she says something about King Arthur’s invulnerability due to Excalibur’s scabbard etc. This all took place in a beautiful cut scene; I was actually impressed and thought that no matter how bad the game was at least I could have my pretty cut scenes. Well, sad news is, that’s the ONLY damned cut scene in almost the whole friggin’ game, all other modes of storytelling while progressing are some form of animated storyboard garbage where their lips don’t even move.
But the voice acting is great and Sonic still sounds like the lovable arrogant douche from the other games. However the dialogue is so corny and the one-liners don’t even hit me at first because they aren’t even recognizable as one-liners (That’s showing how bad they are, not how dumb I am ). The game later introduces you to your sword, Caliburn (he also talks by the way, with a heavy accent to boot), and you are to master using him in order to defeat the three knights of Arthur and eventually face King Arthur himself. Now get this, Knuckles is Sir Gawain, and Shadow is Sir Lancelot, two of the three knights you are to defeat. They are also wearing medieval helmets and have armor and swords. They look stupid, very stupid, but it was somewhat amusing. I love how this game not only butchers Sonic lore but also the Arthurian one.
This is the most linear game I have ever played, even compared to Mario on the SNES. You know why? At least in Mario you can face backwards. One of the first things that struck me was… “Hey, I can’t turn around.” Then you start to notice that there is no camera control, which can only mean one things… there is no reason to adjust the camera. Then I realized there is only one directional for almost the whole game, forward tilt. Sonic performs hairpin turns, loops, and other crazy stunts all by simply pressing forward. There is not much gameplay left in a game to redeem itself from such a terrible design. Also, sonic only has sword attacks this time around, and sword maneuvers are performed by moving the Wii-mote. Now you may think that swinging it horizontally will make a sweep and vertical would be a direct slash, I sure was, but then I realized it doesn’t matter HOW you move the Wii-mote, you will always slash and destroy things in your path by blindly flailing the Wii-mote. There is also a jump move which has no real use other than scaling objects, and a Soul Surge move which uses up an energy bar that allows you to perfectly hit enemies, but flailing wildly does the job just fine so this ability has no real use except for a boss fight. Speaking of Boss fights… WOW did they do a TERRIBLE absolutely HORRENDOUS job of designing boss fights. Not to mention that all of the knights were EXACTLY the same type of fight. I will go through my first encounter (not like any later encounter was different) with a boss knight to more effectively articulate how bad they are. You start out face to face with a Knight, since I had no idea what this encounter had in store for me, I just charged in while flailing the Wii-mote. Now get this, before the enemy finished talking I had already won. I was almost certain that I had somehow glitched the game or my random flailing must have accidently unlocked the hidden combo or something, so I immediately restarted the fight. Second time through, I did the same thing, and I won within seconds. The next two knights are EXACTLY the same, I even tried closing my eyes one time and I think I did better.
There are two boss fights left after these, which actually are boss fights but are not anything extraordinary. (How can they be with three buttons as your arsenal?) The other instances of Wii-mote specific actions are also extremely lackluster. On one occasion you are to use the Wii-pointer to reflect light, using your sword, into a rock to free a civilian by shattering it with light. (Makes complete sense I know, I got an A in physics…) It is nice to know that the Sonic Team wants me to practice my pointing skills in case I wanted to work for the weather station. There are also prompts to shake your Wii-mote when parrying a boss (only King Arthur really) to get more attacks in, but these prompts are badly timed. I kept dying to King Arthur only to figure out the timing of the prompt was wrong and that was why I was failing.
The extras in the game are irritating and pointless. As you go through levels you get items such as helmets flowers and tomes. I think this is Sonic Team’s attempt at trying to make sonic into some type of RPG that medieval is often associated with, but none of the items are equipable nor do they have any sort of value, other than trading it to friends online. Multiplayer for such a thoughtless game is also not even worth mentioning, although there are a lot of multiplayer modes, along with an online ranking of scores from the single player mode. However if you are above the age of 10 and spend time perfecting your scores for such a bad game’s online ranking, you have severe problems. The game from start to finish can be done in one night, it is a very short game, and you will be thankful for that.
For the most part, Nintendo consoles have always been “family” systems with relatively nonviolent games. Exceptions to this are rare; therefore almost all mature-rated Wii games are highly anticipated. I mean, the gruesome violence and man-beastliness found in UFC is absent in Pokémon battles, or am I missing something? If Pokémon gym fights excite you, then MadWorld is sure to give you an epileptic seizure.
The first thing that screams at you (other than your mother grounding you for playing such a disgusting [read: badass] game) when you insert your testosterone reinforced disk (a.k.a. MadWorld game) into your Wii, is the amazingly stylistic design of the world and characters you are about to control. Wii games, in general, are noticeably crappier in the graphics department when compared to other consoles of the same generation. However, the brilliant developers at Platinum Games (or color blind) have created a purely black and white world where the crimson color of blood is the only exception. The style of the game makes aliasing less noticeable and really at a glance doesn’t look like a Wii game, or any game for that matter. Unlike the black and white photos of a boy with a bright red rose kissing a girl, MadWorld is downright badass.
You are located in Varrigan City; the entire city has become part of a murderous game show, DeathWatch, where the inhabitants are the participants. The rules for the game are relatively simple, it’s basically kill everything in sight till you reach the top ranked position for a large cash prize. You are Jack with a chain saw on your arm, other than that, the game doesn’t reveal much about you in the beginning, a lot is left in question for a reason. How Jack appeared, his motives, along with the creation of DeathWatch are all topics slowly uncovered as the game plays out. Surprisingly enough such a violent and absurd title has a pretty intriguing storyline..
The game throws you right into the action from the get-go, and it stays that way for the rest of the game (which is about 4-5 hours?). When first playing you are given a very brief tutorial, which actually takes place in the first level, on how to… um… kill your opponents gruesomely. Yeah, one major aspect of the game is a point system given to killing baddies. For example, if you take your chain saw and slice someone in half, you will get around less than 10,000 points and the phrase “Regular Violence” flashes on the corner of your screen. However if your punch someone senseless, then shove him into a tire, then take the nearest sign post and impale him with it, and bring him over to the delicately titled “rose bush” (spikes on a wall) and slam him into it multiple times, you get 30,000+ points and a pat on the back! Controls are pretty simple, but the movement of the nun-chuck and Wii-mote take a little time to master, as with all Wii-mote swinging games. There are no instances of the Wii-pointer, which is a good sign as through my experience it’s usually a sign of failure. Although you should be warned, I got a little into the brutality of the game, and when I received the prompt to move the nun-chuck away from the Wii-mote in order to rip apart someone, I accidentally ripped out the Nun-chuck plug from the Wii-mote. (Lesson here is that you don’t actually need to use as much force as Mr. Jack) But within the first hour of playing you will no longer need the in-game prompts to move the Wii-mote. The animations of attack are very brutal, I had my stomach churn a couple times when Jack cut open and extracted a guy’s heart only to crush it, spattering blood everywhere. There are actually a large number of these animations so they don’t get too stale, and when new weapons such as spiked baseball bats and knives become accessible, they come with brand new action sequences as well. (Not to mention that the weapons turn more and more red from blood as you bash enemies’ skulls) The use of the environment as a weapon is also another major aspect of the game, and almost every object that you run into can be used to kill, even a trash bin closes on a victim cutting him in half.
Levels follow a simple yet effective design, taking into account that people may simply just like killing people in the game, bosses are “unlocked” after you gain enough kill points. You can hack and slash through 200 people to get the points, or brutally murder 50; it’s all up to the player. Furthermore killing enemies also unlocks mini-games known as Bloodbath Challenges. These mini-games are pretty fun (after you get around the fact that those aren’t really people with feelings, they are pixels with electricity), for example in one you must knock as many people as you can onto the railway tracks and wait for a train to run over them, or take a baseball bat and launch people into a giant dart-board etc. They are also hilariously introduced by a pimp, who is always killed by one of his hoes in order to show how the mini-game is played. Each level is also non-linear; Jack can run around all he wants. Although it’s not very expansive such as in the instances of GTA, it’s pretty much: go wherever you want and kill people as you see fit. Boss fights are extremely fun and require different strategies, also each boss is drastically different from the other, and very carefully thought out and designed. Throughout almost all of the game you will hear the two incessant voices of the commentators of DeathWatch. They themselves often say pretty damned funny things and are very crude about it. To put it shortly, if you gave Duck Hunt these commentators, you’d have another mature rated Nintendo title.
There are a couple of drawbacks however that prevents this game from reaching perfection. The first major disappointment was the length of the game; although it was fun, it was too short. While one can go back and get higher scores on previous levels, the incentives for doing so are lackluster. Furthermore the multiplayer facet of the game is only the Bloodbath challenges. There is no real vs. mode nor is there co-op, two things that could have made this game great. Not to mention the lack of multiplayer modes indicates there is no online play either. So for the few hours I played this game, it was great, but coming back to it isn’t really on my lists unless I want to show it off or really am in the mood to kill people (the Wii is not your local shrink). If you have a Wii and are comfortable with sexual reproduction and violence, please by all means don’t shrug this game off. It is undoubtedly one of a kind. There are very few Wii-games where I can say, “Whoa, I enjoyed that.” This is one of them.
Being the first original non-remake Tomb Raider game for the Wii, much was expected from the latest Tomb Raider: Underworld, however fans of the series will be slightly disappointed with this installment. The game starts out where the previous series left off, if you don’t recall the previous story or haven’t played the original games, you will find yourself a bit confused, as was I. Essentially the game’s main goal for you is to find Lara’s mother who is being held in Avalon. The search for this fabled place while fighting off her foe Amanda and her goons is the entirety of the plot. The way the story plays out is pretty interesting and is not one of the game’s major drawbacks; however it does seem to get foolish at some points, don’t expect the story to be something out of an action novel. The first thing that I noticed was that this is actually a decent looking Wii game. Then again, it is a Wii game… so the PS3 and 360 versions of the game are much more gorgeous, but that being said even the Wii has detailed environments that alone are impressive, and I figured that the Wii-mote fun set out for me should make up for the lack of equivalent graphics… I was a tad bit wrong, okay I was downright wrong, but I‘ll get into that later. Before I delved into the actual adventure, I got used to the controls and spent some time using grenades and shooting off my pistols, little did I know that the pistols were going to be stuck in my belt throughout the whole game. The controls take a while to get used to, and oddly enough stay that way throughout the game. A frustrating little adventure awaits you, but if you can overlook the drawbacks or have an intense love for the series, you will actually find something entertaining within this title.
Jumping, climbing, and swinging using your grappling hook makes up most of the game play. Although the levels are very linear in the sense that there is only one correct way to do things. Watching Lara’s athleticism is initially entertaining, such as seeing her flip up from a ledge, but then it dawns on you that you will be flipping up a thousand or so more ledges and that the animation is the same each time. While moving through the game, you will find yourself occasionally stuck or lost on what to do. It usually gets solved by you noticing this itty bitty ledge on the corner of your screen that you needed to super-humanly jump to, while at first you may not even attempt this feat of strength, eventually you will try this impossibility because you tried all sane alternatives. On the flip side, there are parts in the game where you know exactly what to do but the unfriendly camera angles and odd controls lead to multiple accidental deaths. (Which is not frustrating at all… right?) There is actually a system implemented where you call in your radio for hints on what to do, although often they are unhelpful, occasionally they are godsend. (How was I supposed to know that you can shotgun down a fiery locked door on the very first level?) Impressively enough there are a lot of “adventure” moves such as balancing on a beam, flinging off a pole, or climbing up a pillar. Figuring out which moves to use in order to continue can be pretty fun, and this elongates the experience as you trial-and-error your way through the challenging parts of the levels. Although sometimes you get carried away into the adventure, or get used to the fact that unrealistic maneuvers can actually be the right ones, and end up searching for things to jump on in areas that aren’t intended for jumping, and a few times I found Lara’s head and body being clipped by an enormous gear protruding from the wall. If an area isn’t made for the progression of the game, it isn’t well polished and can be downright glitchy. It really isn’t an adventure if you can’t quench your curiosity without getting punished by getting stuck in a wall.
This brings me to my next gripe that there is little to no interactivity between objects and Lara (except for the occasional getting stuck in them). For example there are no cans you can accidentally run into. (I understand that there can’t be cans in ancient tombs but at the very least small rocks?) There is also no alternative ways to progress through a level, making the replay value low and it feels like you are being “led” through an adventure instead of actually adventuring. There are also the occasional puzzles that you need to solve before continuing on your Tarzan-like adventure. The puzzles usually incorporate some pointer function of the Wii; I guess this is their attempt to make this a “Wii” game. However these puzzles are often brainless and on one occasion I just spammed the ‘A’ button while pointing randomly at the puzzle and it solved within seconds. So much for the Wii-mote fun set out for me, the Wii specific elements of this game are very disappointing, and the improved graphics the 360 and PS3 deliver makes the Wii version the least desirable.
Some of the other incorporations of Wii-mote functions made me plain confused as to why it was implemented, for example you must violently sway the Wii-mote back and forth in order to shimmy faster while moving horizontally on a ledge, or be suffered to move extremely slow. I mean seriously, how does threatening the safety of civilians beside you with the Wii-mote make the Tomb Raider experience more realistic? (Well I guess there is the extra danger involved… not exactly what I had in mind when I thought of Wii-specific elements.) The aiming system with Lara’s guns is also handled through the Wii-mote pointer, not exactly innovative but a nice, albeit expected, touch. What I didn’t expect was that although a well developed combat system existed, there really was not much combat to be found. I was looking forward to shooting up some baddies but after playing for hours through the first couple of levels, I got to kill two and they both died within one shot. Unlimited grenades are also part of your arsenal, but I have yet to encounter a situation where they had to be really used. In order to give this title a more action feel, they implemented “Situational Adrenaline.” Essentially this is a bullet-time similar slow down sequence in the game where you can perform more precise movements. This mode is actually rather fun however the time of use is predetermined; you automatically go into this mode when you come up to a part in the adventure that requires it. While it is pretty entertaining, it would be much more rewarding if you could actually queue up the adrenaline mode on your own and decide for yourself the parts that require the slow-down of time. There is the occasional epic adventurous music that plays but most of the time you have to play through the levels in musical silence only listening to the environment which is very obnoxious, and a lot of these environmental sounds seem relatively fake. Don’t even get me started on the gunshot sound, when you fire your gun the Wii-mote makes the most horrendous noise and I couldn’t figure out using the game menu on how to turn off the sounds the Wii-mote spits forth. However this is partially saved by the fact that you barely use your guns.
All said and done, this isn’t necessarily a bad game, but I was expecting it to be more polished and fun game given the franchise its coming from. It definitely feels like a Tomb Raider game, but it could have been much better. If you are a diehard fan of the series or have all the games, definitely try this one out to see if it is to your taste. However, if you are expecting the action from the movies or the true freedom in adventuring, I’d say look elsewhere. This game is a lot more enjoyable when played in doses so you don’t get too used to the gameplay so it starts to be boring.