Knuckles’ Chaotix continues the typical Sonic the Hedgehog formula of high-speed platforming action, however it is set apart by a ring gimmick that links two characters together. These special rings bound our heroes into pairs, making them both a hindrance and a help to one another depending on the circumstances. An early beta version of the game (entitled Sonic Crackers), featured Sonic and Tails using the gimmick, but the final version has neither character in sight. Instead, Knuckles the Echidna takes centre stage, joined by a less familiar cast of characters in lost legend Mighty the Armadillo, and the Chaotix trio Vector the Crocodile, Espio the Chameleon and Charmy Bee. While there is only one campaign to play through, we are able to switch freely between the 5 heroes who, each having their own unique characteristics, provide a refreshing way to play this classic Sonic outing. These gameplay tweaks allow Knuckles’ Chaotix to stand out without feeling too unfamiliar from its predecessors.
The main campaign is also laden with bountiful surprises, yet it is here where the experience doesn’t quite lift off the ground. Dr. Robotnik has discovered the Chaos Rings, which will allow him to understand the connection Sonic and his friends have withthe many rings littered across the world. Further still, harnessing their power will allow him access to the Master Emerald he so craved from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This brings the echidna into the fray, saving the other heroes from Robotnik’s tricks and facing off with none other than Metal Sonic along the way. The plot is filled with potential and, if considered as canon, provides a very interesting backdrop for the series. However, the American version of the game changes the plot dramatically, with Knuckles travelling to a carnival based island and involving basically non-existent stakes and minimum intrigue. The dramatic change suggests big problems for Knuckles’ Chaotix, as even before its worldwide release, it was being distanced from the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise as a whole.
Albeit, we’d be forgiven for not realising any of these plot details whatsoever, as apart from an exciting beginning and ending, Knuckles’ Chaotix just sort of happens without really exciting us in any way. The stages or randomised, with 5 different zones containing 5 acts acting as the bulk of the experience. The stages themselves are more maze-like than typically seen in the Sonic franchise and apart from a handful of gimmicks, don’t really stand out from one another. Big set-pieces have always been common in Sonic games (whether it’s Robotnik sending Sonic plummeting into a different kind of Scrap Brain zone, or our heroes chasing the Death Egg into space along a crumbling ancient sanctuary), but this game is entirely devoid of these tense and exciting moments. Thus we arrive at the end never feeling entirely invested or pleased we’ve got that far. Again, Knuckles’ Chaotix trips itself up, with all its good ideas never really culminating together into something that genuinely excites us.
Therein lies Knuckles’ Chaotix problem, as nothing about it is particularly exciting or noteworthy. It’s gimmicks are neither wholly bad or good to really commend over any other Sonic game, it’s stages just aren’t quite as interesting as they ought and a potentially awesome plot never really lifts off the ground. Heck, the 32X it was released on was never anything wholly commendable for any Sega Mega Drive owner. Yet despite all this, I’d still recommend playing this title to any Sonic fan out there, as all these aspects simply spark the imagination for what this title could have potentially become.