Comic Con ’09: Full SBK Hands-On Preview

Comic Con ’09: Full SBK Hands-On Preview

by February 9, 2009

Sonic with a Sword…Success or just Stupid?

I can’t tell you how many times I overheard near the Sega booth passers-by that merely took a look at Sonic and the Black Knight and shook their head in disgust, or made a snide remark.  The words of some attendees ranged anywhere from flat statements that Sonic shouldn’t have a sword, to speculation that the game is doomed to fail, especially arriving so close after the release of Sonic Unleashed.  Many who uttered those remarks didn’t actually play the game, but it didn’t help that those who did weren’t coming off particularly enthused–at least, compared to those who were wowed at other Sega fare such as Madworld or The Conduit.

To be completely honest, I can’t blame the nay-sayers for being so flabbergasted at SBK.  When the news first broke late last Summer, many in the Sonic fan community were outright angry.  That tension has calmed somewhat, but there are still plenty in the community as well as the gaming press who can’t grasp the concept.

The concept and storyline is fairly simple in context; this is folklore along the same lines as Sonic and the Secret Rings.  Sonic is thrust into the Arthurian world, as are many of the franchise’s supporting cast of characters.  The hedgehog must defeat the Black Knight, meeting and greeting with village charactersand completign various tasks and stages along the way.

Instead of the control scheme from Secret Rings, which I found much easier to handle, players will have a setup in similar nature to Super Mario Galaxy with a Wiimote and Nunchuk setup.  The Nunchuck is used for movement, the A button on the Wiimote can jump, and waggling it results in Sonic’s attacks via sword.  This took some getting used to, personally, though more experienced players should get the hang of it quickly.

In keeping with the Arthurian theme, the tutorial level I played had plenty of throwbacks to the era.  Apples will play more a role in health than anything else, and it appears fairy dust is automatically converted to rings.  You get bonus points for picking up the stuff, as well as doing a speedy dash and attacking well.  Those points, in similar fashion to Secret Rings, will convert to experience points.  Though it’s a little unclear from my gameplay, the RPG elements may have more of a role here than in Secret Rings, in terms of upgrading your equipment and power.

The boss I faced was a simple dragon creature, and it was here that I became a little bored.  It may just have been because it was the tutorial level, but you can only do so much swordplay before it becomes a chore.  While the meat of the level at least had some throwback to Sonic gameplay in the sense of trying to maintain speed, this duel stopped the sensation cold.  Though I was impressed with how combos could happen in combat with the sword, I wasn’t thrilled with how slow Sonic was moving backward with a dragon trying to crush me with its chin.  If further bosses don’t inject gameplay elements other than simple combat, there could be a problem.

Visually, the game looks good on the Wii–certainly on par with Sonic Unleashed and much of the other Sega fare on the show floor.  I was able to see peeks of a few of the game’s menus, and they’re certainly in line with the game’s theme.

A major concern for many in the Sonic fan community is how linear the game will be, and whether it will be to a point that it will seem “on rails” for much of the experience.  The tutorial level may not be the best indicator, but if it truly is a setup for the rest of the game, don’t hold out much hope for an open environment.  Sonic can move forward and backwards, as well as to the left and right in similar fashion to Secret Rings, but the level of freedom was nowhere near that found in Sonic Unleashed.  That’s especially disappointing considering how fun it was to explore areas in Unleashed, and while the format may have worked well two years ago, expectations for the franchise have been elevated.

Therein lies the potential fatal flaw for this game.  Many veteran Sonic fans will dismiss Sonic and the Black Knight simply because they want old-school Sonic back, and I’m not totally convinced that’s fair to this game.  There may still be elements of those times in that the game may not totally be linear; that remains to be seen.  But, at least in what I played…there aren’t even rings.  That doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have potential to be good, but leaving Sonic without his trademark characteristics can be a disaster.  Still, the controls are acceptably tight, and overall, it’s not quite the end days that many proclaimed upon the game’s announcement.  You just have to wonder–as so many did in passing on the Comic Con floor–why it has to be Sonic.  That hang up could prove tough for many fans and reviewers to overcome.