Sonic and Knuckles
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Sonic Team
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • US 10/17/1994
    • JP 10/18/1994
    • UK 10/19/1994
Score: 95%

This review was published on 05/30/2012.

Sonic and Knuckles is the direct continuation of the great yet short Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on the Sega Genesis. Both games were originally meant to be one, but Sega claims that it wasn't possible to fit everything in one cartridge. This is where Sonic and Knuckles' lock-on system comes into play. The cartridge for Sonic and Knuckles is unique in that it can have another cartridge inserted on top of it, forming a tower of awesomeness. This was mainly used to combine the game with Sonic 3, but it can also be combined with Sonic 2. Combining the game with Sonic 2 only lets you play as Knuckles in Sonic 2, but combining it with Sonic 3 allows for much, much more. The main benefit to combining the game with Sonic 3 is that the levels of Sonic 3 immediately flow into the start of Sonic and Knuckles, making for a colossal adventure. Sonic and Knuckles is one of Sega's greatest achievements, and it gets even better when paired with the already incredible Sonic 3. These two games combined form the best Sonic experience available in video gaming history.

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The story in Sonic and Knuckles resumes from where Sonic 3 last left off. In Sonic 3, the evil Dr. Eggman attempted to restore his doomsday fortress, the Death Egg, but failed at the hands of Sonic. Now Dr. Eggman is trying to restore his Death Egg... again. Eggman sure seems to be having some problems in the creativity department. If at first you don't succeed, try again, I suppose. Knuckles tried to hinder Sonic in Sonic 3, because he was dumb enough to believe the lies of the egg shaped scientist. Eggman betrays Knuckles, however, and then the blue hedgehog and red echidna team up to foil the doctor's plans. Sonic still does most of the work, though. It's in this game that the "Master Emerald" is first introduced. This large, green emerald becomes a central plot point for future Sonic games, due to its unlimited power. Eggman wants it to power his Death Egg, of course. On that note, what's with the Star Wars reference? Is Eggman a Star Wars nerd? It sure seems like it. Knuckles is the guardian of the Master Emerald, so it's not within his wishes to let it fall into the hands of an overweight Star Wars nerd. I don't think Knuckles does a very good job of guarding it, though, because it gets stolen almost as often as Princess Peach gets kidnapped in the Mario series. The good thing about all of this back story is that none of it is forced down the player's mouth in the game, which allows the player to focus on the game play. I did like how the cutscenes have no dialogue and communicate everything through actions. It gets the idea across without bogging the player down in a bunch of text.

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The graphics and music in this game are fantastic. The graphics are more or less the same as they were in Sonic 3, but with new levels and environments. It's a style reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country on the SNES. That's quite a feat, considering people didn't even think such graphics were possible on the SNES, much less the Genesis. I'm not saying that the graphics are better or just as good as what's seen in Donkey Kong Country, but they're close. The title screen is a good example of the visual prowess. Sega was able to get a lot of mileage out of the Genesis hardware. A nice effect is how the robots burst into little pieces whenever you destroy one, which makes defeating enemies and bosses very satisfying. This and Sonic 3 are easily two of the best looking games on the Genesis. They're some of the best sounding games on the console, too. Every level is separated into two parts, and each part has a different track. This lends the game a great amount of musical variety, because you rarely ever hear the same piece of music more than once. The few tracks that you do hear more than once are spectacular enough to listen to multiple times. I particularly like the boss theme.

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As the game's name implies, you can play as either Sonic or Knuckles. Sonic controls like he did in Sonic 3, with his famous Spin Dash to give him a burst of speed and the shield attack which allows him to hurt certain enemies he can't normally harm. Sonic can also make use of the three elemental shield power-ups scattered throughout levels: the fire shield protects him against fire and lets him blast off in mid-air, the thunder shield attracts rings and enables him to double-jump, and the water shield allows him to breathe underwater and use a bounce attack. Sonic isn't the main draw in this game, though. Knuckles is the real star of the show. In Sonic 3, Knuckles was merely a nuisance, but in Sonic and Knuckles, Knuckles is a fully playable character. If you're playing as Sonic in Sonic and Knuckles, Knuckles will still act like a jerk, showing up in cutscenes to pull levers to blow Sonic away or knock rocks into the blue hedgehog. If you're playing as Knuckles, however, then you'll be able to glide around and climb up walls. Knuckles does this using the spikes on his, well, knuckles. This is one resourceful echidna. Two unfortunate things about Knuckles is that he can't jump as high as Sonic and he can't use the special moves of the elemental shields, although the defensive properties of those shields still apply. Knuckles' decreased jumping ability makes him unable to take the same routes through levels as Sonic would, so he has to take new paths by using his fists to break walls that Sonic can't get through. This adds a nice amount of replay value to the game, as the routes Knuckles takes can sometimes be different, with tougher or entirely new bosses. Tails is unplayable in Sonic and Knuckles alone, but playable when Sonic and Knuckles is paired with Sonic 3. It's worth playing the entire game at least twice, once with Sonic and another time with Knuckles. This game is just that good.

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The level design in Sonic and Knuckles might feel a little strange if you're playing it before Sonic 3. Whereas Sonic 3 was easy all throughout, Sonic and Knuckles starts off difficult and only gets more challenging as things go on. This is because, as I've mentioned before, these two games were meant to be one. This means the difficulty of Sonic and Knuckles continues from where Sonic 3 left off. The other thing that makes Sonic and Knuckles harder is that it doesn't have a save feature if you play it alone. It might sound weird, but the Sonic and Knuckles save file is stored on the Sonic 3 cartridge. I'm not sure what was up with that decision. In any case, the levels in Sonic and Knuckles are a bit more varied than what was seen in Sonic 3. You've got the typical forest, fire, and desert zones seen in most platform games, but also some more creative locales, like an airship level and a floating island area. Some zones feel like they're a two for one deal, like the desert zone, which starts off in an outdoor desert area, but ends up inside a dark pyramid with ghosts and puzzles to solve. Every stage has its own gimmicks, and while that might be annoying for most games, it works very well in Sonic and Knuckles. The gimmicks rarely detract from the standard game play you'd expect out of a Sonic game, instead adding a bit more complexity and depth to the experience. The levels in Sonic and Knuckles are some of the most fun in the entire series.

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There are still two acts per zone with a mini-boss at the end of act one and the real boss at the end of act two. The mini-bosses are unpiloted machines or robots, while the true boss is almost always Dr. Eggman piloting a contraption of some kind. Eggman's boss fights are the better of the two, although there are some mini-bosses that are nearly as good. Sonic and Knuckles has some of the best boss fights in the Sonic series, far better and bigger in scale than the bosses seen in Sonic 3. The first fight with Eggman proves to be an intriguing battle in that it auto scrolls as Sonic runs after the mustachioed madman, forcing Sonic to jump over spiked traps as he attacks the speedy machine. Perhaps the most memorable showdown with Eggman is in the fire zone. It's both challenging and impressive, with crumbling platforms, missiles, and lava. Mecha Sonic, the replacement to Metal Sonic, is another cool boss to fight, especially with Knuckles. The final boss is a battle of epic proportions, wherein Sonic fights a gargantuan robot that fills nearly the entire screen and has multiple phases. That's not even the true final boss, either. The real final battle only shows up if Sonic has around seven Chaos Emeralds at the end of the game. This battle consists of Super Sonic flying through space as he dodges meteors and dashes into Eggman's robot. I find this to be the most satisfying battle in the game, as it's a long, arduous fight. It's hard to forget any one boss in this game, because they're all so memorable. When it comes to excellent boss design, Sonic and Knuckles has it covered.

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The Special Stages are accessed in the same manner as in Sonic 3: enter giant rings hidden throughout the game to take on a challenge where you must collect blue spheres and avoid red spheres. The challenge of these Special Stages is that the character you're controlling is constantly running, and they run faster the longer you take to collect all the blue spheres. If you're wondering, yes, Knuckles still has to avoid red spheres and collect blue ones, despite being red himself. Successfully completing a Special Stage nets you a Chaos Emerald. Sonic can transform into Super Sonic if he gets all seven Chaos Emeralds and collects fifty rings. This is mostly the same as it was in Sonic 3, except there's a twist: Knuckles can also turn super. Super Sonic and Super Knuckles are invincible for as long as you have fifty rings, but the rings constantly count down. They also run a lot faster than they normally would, allowing you to breeze through levels with ease. It's best to complete the game first before you decide to break it with the super characters. The super characters are a nice reward, though, and replaying the game using them is a fun way to pass time. It should be noted that connecting Sonic 1 or any other cartridge to the Sonic and Knuckles cart will result in a special mode where randomly generated Special Stages can be played. If you're obsessed with these stages, then you may want to check this out.

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When the Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles cartridges are combined, it's actually possible to collect fourteen Chaos Emeralds and achieve a form even higher than super for every character. The seven Chaos Emeralds you collect in Sonic 3 transform into "Super Emeralds" in Sonic and Knuckles, and you must collect them for a second time. The second set of Special Stages is much more difficult than the first set, so this is a true challenge. Sonic becomes Hyper Sonic if he gets all the Super Emeralds. This does the same thing as Super Sonic, with the addition of being able to breathe underwater and an attack that kills all enemies on the screen. Hyper Knuckles has the same benefits, but does not have a kill all attack. Tails does not have a hyper form, but he does have a super form, and it's the most overpowered form in the game. Super Tails has an army of invincible birds that attack anything in his path, including bosses. When playing as Super Tails, you won't even have to move a finger to decimate the final boss. That might be a little too powerful, but hey, at least it's a worthwhile prize for acquiring all of the Super Emeralds. All of these things add a tremendous amount of replay value to the game, if you're up to the challenge of clearing all fourteen Special Stages.

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Sonic and Knuckles has it all; great graphics, good music, polished game play mechanics, awesome level design, and memorable boss fights. There's not much this game doesn't do right. Sonic and Knuckles is one of the best Sonic games ever made on its own, and the de facto best Sonic game ever made when combined with Sonic 3. They're best when played together, as that's how they were originally meant to be experienced. If you haven't played these two games, then you're missing out on the finer things in life.

Word Count: 2,162

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