Hands On With The Wii's 'Sonic And The Black Knight'

It's already time for a new "Sonic" game, which MTV Multiplayer got a hands-on demo with in New York City today. This time, Sonic's got a sword and his Wii-exclusive game, "Sonic And The Black Knight" has surprising controls.

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What was that Wii game in the corner of Sega's big New York City event today?

It was "Sonic and the Black Knight," the Wii-only successor to 2007's Wii-only "Sonic and the Secret Rings," aka the best-received "Sonic" game in recent years and yet one that seems to have been forgotten.

"Black Knight" was revealed last Summer and has been featured on the cover of Nintendo Power, but Sega kept quiet about the game most of last year, leaving the Sonic promotional spotlight to the console game "Sonic Unleashed" and the DS game "Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood."

Those games have come and gone, so bring on "Black Knight," which will be out in America in just two months. It's hook: Sonic is in the King Arthur legend and wields a sword.

The first thing I noticed about "Sonic and the Black Knight" today was how much more conventional its controls are than its predecessor's. "Sonic and the Secret Rings" was an early showcase of Wii motion control. That game was played with the Wii remote only, held on its short ends. Sonic perpetually moved forward in a pre-determined path, but rocking the Wii remote made him steer within his lane. Hoisting the controller up made Sonic jump and slamming it down made him attack. "Black Knight," however, is controlled with the remote and nunchuk. Sonic advances when the nunchuk's analog stick is pressed forward; he jumps with a tap of the A button and he swings his sword with a shake of the remote.

'Sonic and the Black Knight' Image From Tokyo Game Show 2008

Sonic wielding a sword is an odd gimmick, though arguably less odd than Sonic turning into a were-hog as he did in last fall's "Sonic Unleashed." In one level I played of the new game, I had to run Sonic down a path dotted with apples (instead of rings). I had to time swings of Sonic's sword to knock down targets propped up along the path. A stampede of cows charged toward Sonic. Pressing Z generated a shield that bounced them back. As with "Secret Rings," Sonic will earn powers, but I only saw these basic abilities in my brief time with the game.

Sonic appears to gain experience points for completing levels in a skillful manner. This earns Sonic extra "followers" who manifest themselves in the game's town, a feature I was told about but didn't see. Sonic's "friends" also appear in the game, though I didn't see Knuckles or any of the rest.

I did get to fight King Arthur. Arthur is the game's first boss. The level where I encountered him forced me to run Sonic up to an armor-clad Arthur who sat upon an idle horse. Sonic and Arthur faced off. Arthur prepared to attack. An on-screen prompt directed me to swing the Wii remote. With proper timing I did and hurt Arthur. After a couple more strikes I was prompted to press the A button for a bigger attack. That worked and Arthur fled. More running followed, then another standstill for an Arthur showdown... but I ran out of time. I had to go see another game.

So what to make of my limited time with "Sonic and the Black Knight"?

As I told a Sega rep before I departed the event, it's a bit confusing to have another "Sonic" game to cover and play so soon after "Unleashed" was released. And even though "Secret Rings" was one of the best-looking Wii games upon its release, I've now seen enough of Sonic on higher-end systems that it's a little hard to go back to seeing him on the Wii. Twenty feet away from "Black Knight" today was the stylish, black-and-white "Madworld," which makes a strong visual argument for designing Wii games with more creatively rendered graphics that, in their cartoon-ishness don't look as dated.

This Wii exclusive line of "Sonic" games does have promise. The "Secret Rings" game showed great potential in remedying some of the long-standing problems of putting Sonic gameplay in three dimensions by constraining the action to on-rails gameplay.  So seeing further development exploration of that concept is encouraging. What isn't encouraging is seeing that game's control scheme abandoned, possibly in order to accommodate new swordplay.

The "Sonic" line has been full of experiments but few creative and critical successes in recent years. Should that make Sega stop trying or even slow down? That doesn't appear to be the publisher's agenda. We get to try this latest attempt in March. From what I played today, this experiment could go either way.

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