Does Anyone Remember That Time Sonic Had a Sword?
Alternatively: Does anyone remember Sonic and the Black Knight?
The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise went through a very strange period of time in the early 2000s. While most call this the “dark era” of Sonic, I call this the Golden Era, or the Hedgehog Renaissance. I might be biased, seeing as this is the era of Sonic I grew up with, but I can’t help but enjoy this period of time. As an adult, I tend to enjoy this era for a different reason, absolutely devoid of any nostalgic love I might’ve had for these games.
The development history for the games in this time period was wild. If it wasn’t the development itself, it was how the game came to be in the first place. To fully understand why Sonic and the Black Knight came to be, you have to first understand why Sonic and the Secret Rings exists.
Sonic and the Secret Rings was made out of a contractual obligation to SEGA around the same time Sonic the Hedgehog: 2006 was being made. The original plan was to port 2006 to the Wii, but as soon as Sonic Team received the Wii’s development kit, they realized with shock and horror that it would be impossible to port a game made for the Xbox 360 to the Wii’s much weaker hardware. Sonic Team had to come up with a plan, and fast. They decided to split the development team in half, with Sonic Team producer Yojiro Ogawa leaving the project to work on Sonic and the Secret Rings.
What this rushed development gave us was an on-rails game with lackluster motion controls, a banging soundtrack, and a game that did better with critics than Sonic the Hedgehog: 2006.
Two years after the release of Secret Rings came a game that most people don’t remember. Sonic and the Black Knight was a direct sequel to Secret Rings and the second entry in a three-game Sonic Storybook series.
Black Knight follows Sonic after he’s thrust into the world of Arthurian legend. He is sent on a quest to save Camelot from a corrupted King Arthur with the guidance of his talking sword, Caliburn. (The Caliburn. The sword in the stone.)
Like Secret Rings, Black Knight is an on-rails game, most likely for its own benefit. Wii’s motion controls, while groundbreaking at the time, can be considered primitive by today’s standards. Considering Sonic Team’s refusal to make a game where Sonic is completely controlled via the Wii nunchuck’s joystick or classic controller, that’s probably for the best. But unlike Secret Rings, where the main focus of the motion controls was for platforming, Black Knight used its motion controls for hack n’ slash swordplay.
But, people were… weirded out… when the game was first shown on the cover of Nintendo Power in 2009. User Dark Sonic on the Sonic Retro forums says it best:
Why look at that. Sonic has a sword. And some metal glove. Pardon me while I say this but WTF is this shit?
Black Knight was coming out just a year after Sonic Unleashed, the game where Sonic becomes a giant hedgehog/werewolf hybrid known as a werehog. People were a little pissed off at Sonic Team for what they were doing to the already shamed blue blur. Many accused Black Knight of copying The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, some thought this was a late April Fool’s joke, and some people, like forum user Heran Bago, could only descend into hysterical laughter.
OH MAN… OH MA
Despite the mass hysteria that happened once the first pieces of promotional material were dropped for Black Knight, it did surprisingly… okay? Of course, game reviewers at the time couldn’t help but punch down at Sonic, as most do, even now. Matt Casamassina over at IGN gave the game a ranking of AWFUL and accused it of “crapping all over everything that has ever made the series interesting and then adds pointless waggle” and Richard Wakeling at Thunderbolt called it “another disappointing effort.”
Unlike critics, quite a few die-hard Sonic fans ended up thoroughly enjoying Black Knight, if only for the amount of fanservice present in the game. Sam J on Metacritic seems to have the ability of future sight in their review:
Awesome speed, plus a sword = win, excellent graphics and it’s funny! Brilliant game too bad it’s going to be mindlessly attacked because it’s a sonic with new gameplay elements and not 100% like the really old, out dated stuff.
Several other user-critics echoed Sam’s sentiment. For most Sonic fans at the time, the game didn’t have to be some flawless, wonderful piece of media, it just had to be fun and it had to feature their favorite characters and treat them respectfully.
And, that’s exactly what Sonic and the Black Knight did.
Black Knight was the last game to feature fan-favorite Jason Griffith as the voice of Sonic, and most would agree that this was his best performance as the blue blur. Debatably, Black Knight, along with Secret Rings, had the most in-character Sonic the franchise had seen up to that point. Many fans were still reeling from Sonic’s character flanderization in ’06, and being able to see Griffith play that part was, in a way, the most poetic sendoff the voice actor could get.
Black Knight, even today, is still highly regarded by fans as one of the better Sonic games, despite the freakouts that ensued upon its release. For Wii standards, Black Knight is a graphical marvel to behold, and the passion put behind the project is easy to spot, no matter where you look.
Remember how I mentioned earlier that Black Knight was part of the Sonic Storybook trilogy, and that it was the second game in that trilogy? Well, that was partially a lie. The Storybook series is dead in the water with no third game in the offing, and you can thank SEGA for that.
After the “dark era” of Sonic came to pass, SEGA was desperate to clean up Sonic’s reputation, so they did the thing any reasonable company would do and absolutely snubbed these games from existence. Any title with a sub-average Meta score was stricken from their website, any retailers, and was never mentioned again in an attempt to increase the value of the brand. In that way, Black Knight was really a once-in-a-franchise game, and it deserved better than what it received.
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