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This month in Together Retro we dive one of the Sega’s most classic 16-bit platformers with Sonic & Knuckles. Originally intended to be included as part of Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles was instead released separately by Sega due to time constraints and the price of high-memory cartridges. However, Sonic & Knuckles isn’t just a shameless cash grab, as it offers several unique features that make it stand out on it’s own.
Sonic & Knuckles is a traditional Sonic platformer, featuring momentum based platforming, high speed action and multiple routes to explore throughout the level. As it is an expansion/second half to Sonic 3, it also features all of the new gameplay elements that game introduced, including special shield power ups for Sonic and the Blue Sphere bonus game to unlock Chaos Emeralds. You can also play as Knuckles to experience unique abilities such as climbing and gliding, alternate routes and storyline changes.
In addition to the standalone game, Sonic & Knuckles features innovative lock-on technology allowing it to connect to other Sonic titles on the Genesis. Connecting Sonic 3 creates Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the full game as originally intended – allowing for all 3 playable characters (Sonic, Tails and Knuckles) to play through the entire game. It also allows you to gather a whopping 14 chaos emeralds and become Hyper Sonic for the first (and only) time.
Combining Sonic 2 with Sonic & Knuckles allows you to play as Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic 2, offering new abilities to utilise and new secrets to find.
Although connecting the original Sonic doesn’t allow for any extra gameplay in Sonic 1, it does allow you to play an almost endless amount of Blue Sphere bonus game levels.
Sonic & Knuckles originally appeared on the Genesis, but has since become available on a whole host of platforms, often as part of various compilations.
Sonic & Knuckles is playable on Sonic Jam for Sega Saturn, Sonic & Knuckles Collection for the PC, Sonic Mega Collection for Gamecube, Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PS2 and Xbox, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for PS3 and Xbox 360 and Sonic Classic Collection for Nintendo DS. Note though, that the PC ports do not include the ability to lock-on to Sonic 1 or Sonic 2 (as they aren’t included) and that the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection port doesn’t include lock-on functionality at all.
Sonic & Knuckles has also appeared on various digital platforms, including Wii Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade. On both of these platforms, the lock-on functionality is included if you have downloaded the other relevant games. The game was also released on Steam in the Sonic 3 & Knuckles – this version forces the lock-on functionality, meaning there is no way to play each game separately.
Sonic & Knuckles was the last Sonic platformer on the Genesis, and the last console Sonic platformer until the release of Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast two console generations later. (Sonic 3D Blast and Knuckles Chaotics being slight deviations from the standard formula).
Knuckles the Echidna is a major character within the Sonic series and regularly appears in new entries into the series, unlike many other Sonic characters of the era who have been forgotten over the years.
The Sonic series is still a popular franchise with a very dedicated fanbase even to this day. Critical reception of the series has varied greatly though, with many titles – such as Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) and Sonic Boom – being almost universally panned, and others – such as Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations – receiving generally positive feedback.