Reflecting on Black Knight’s “Casual” Direction

Back in February, I posted a story from CasualGaming.biz regarding the intended audience of Sonic & the Black Knight.  Once I read it, I found some solace in that I shouldn’t give a care about Sonic idiotically waving a sword at 300 MPH.  Tetsu Katano, the director of the Japan division of Sonic Team, went on the record to tell us older guys to look down on Black Knight as child’s play.

“Sonic and the Black Knight is aimed at a younger, more casual audience. We’ve changed a lot of things, essentially. It’s thinking as children; approaching things from their point of view, thinking what they want to see.”

So be it, Tetsu.  However, I still have to play it to keep myself informed.  It’s part of my job here at TSS, because nobody wants to read articles by someone who is completely clueless.  When I played the game, I went in with lower expectations than Sonic Unleashed.  Considering how much I loathed the werehog, Black Knight was as low as I can get.  My rental time with the game can be summed up in Svend’s review, or any review that you can find on the internet in the 60s score range and below.

After my experience, I thought of this article by CasualGaming.  How do kids react to this game?  It was a thought that lingered in my mind until I finally put it to the test.  I have spent the last week in Los Angeles, making connections, scouting apartments, soaking up sun, and visiting friends.  I went to one of my old mentor’s houses in Burbank.  He has a wife, three kids, and, most importantly, a Wii.  On a slow day, I rented Black Knight again and asked the kids to play it.

The three boys have never played a Sonic game before, so I thought that this little experiment was an excellent opportunity to test Katano’s “kid-oriented” game and his other goal of using this game as a way to introduce people to Sonic:

“Sonic is kind of a cheeky, edgy character, and so we like seeing Sonic challenge new things all the time. The Wii is a big part of it, because it appeals to a wider range of people who maybe have not played a Sonic game before.”

The kids were hooked on the presentation, like most people, but could not stand to play the rest of the game.  They complained that the game was “too difficult” and that their wrists were getting worn out.  From my observations, the difficulty stemmed from the poor design choices in gameplay that a majority of the reviewers have been harping on.  The kids refused to play the rest of the game and Katano’s primary audience of new, young Sonic players was violated.

You can take as many grains of salt from this experiment as you would like to (it is just three kids after all), but, personally, Sonic Team’s failure to hit their target audience speaks volumes on the state of the series.