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January 8, 2012 / jwaxo

Sonic & Knuckles (Expansion Packs)

Pointly knuckles let one defy gravity. True story.

A long time ago, some big executives at Sega delivered an ultimatum to the team creating the latest Sonic the Hedgehog game: either deliver whatever they currently had made for Sonic 3 within the next few months as a complete game, or scrap the entire project altogether. With this new time constraint, Sonic Team decided to split their project into two different games. One would be released as Sonic 3, and the other wouldn’t quite be a standalone game, but rather an expansion on the first one. It would be built in such a way that it was both its own cartridge and could be plugged into a different Sonic cartridge, thus giving extended gameplay to whatever game was piggybacking.

And, one boring summer my brother and I discovered a curious lesson, one that resounded for years: expansions are useless without something to expand upon.

See, on one of our trips to the grocery store to rent something-or-other to play or watch, we found that there was a new Sonic game there, one we had never heard of. Sonic & Knuckles it was called. We decided that, instead of renting our usual, Sonic 2, we would try this new game out. We pooled our money, grabbed the game, biked home, and plugged it into the system.

First of all, it was a weird-looking game. The cartridge was stubby and didn’t have much fancy art on it, but it did have this big hole in the top.

Well, if it fits into the system…

We ignored that and plugged it in, and the Sega booted up just fine, exciting us with a new intro screen and a bunch of new levels to play. I was disappointed that there was no cooperative mode like in Sonic 2, but Knuckles himself was a pretty interesting dude, and the new bubble armors and such were interesting. The problem came when we found out that it wasn’t supposed to be a standalone game, but an–

Actually, hold on, before we get into that whole can of bees, there’s something else. A particular lesson was learned here about gender.

You see, we didn’t have the manual for the game, due to it being rented. And internet wasn’t so hot for looking stuff like this up at the time. But my brother and I had a huge argument about what Knuckles’ gender was.

The dispute came because, unlike Sonic and Tails, Knuckles, the red echidna that can climb walls with his pointy knuckles and glide using the power of dreadlocks, does not wear shoes that are white and red, as boys’ shoes should be. No, Knuckles wears red, green, and yellow shoes. “What more proof do you need?” my brother would ask, pointing at the screen. “Girls wear yellow socks!”

Girl.

This years-long fight ignored, I grew curious about what the big, cartridge-sized hole in the top of the game was for. I consulted with some friends who lived nearby who were well-versed in all things video games. Their main citation was owning virtually every console, handheld, and computer game that came out. The jerks.

“You put other Sonic games into it,” they explained. “Sonic 2 or 3. Once you do, you can play as Knuckles in those other games, or even unlock more levels in Sonic 3.”

Well, as you might remember, the reason that we continually rented Sonic 2 was because we didn’t own it; we only owned the original. But man, there was no reason why it wouldn’t work with just plain Sonic. And it would be so cool to go through those levels again, crawling over them with Knuckles awesome knuckle power!

As you can guess, it did not work.

I was extremely frustrated and upset that it did not. Was it our cartridge’s fault? Maybe the rented version was faulty! But no. As I would soon learn, even the fact that it did anything special for Sonic 2, or that it ran on its own, was a bit of a small miracle in itself. It was an expansion pack, and the first real one I encountered. Not a standalone game, not a sequel, but a game that full-on requires the purchase and ownership of the parent game to even run.

And, while they add life to the games that they supplement, expansions are rarely necessary to enjoy the original. It’s just cheap when certain games are made, expecting expansions to pad out the rest of the content.

Um, not that I’ve ever endorsed expansions. Never.

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