KNUCKLES CHAOTIX / Sega / 32x
Knuckles Chaotix is just about everything I hate about the Sonic games come back for an even more poorly-designed round. My main beef with the whole series is that the whole thing rotates around the gimmick of blinding speed, but the game is constantly forcing you into blind plungers and spike traps to punish you for going fast. And once you're not running, the controls are god-awful and the level designs are dodgy to try to move about in.
In Knuckles Chaotix, you get a big dose of that, because the central gimmick of this game is that two characters are handcuffed together, and have to run, jump and (presumably) take a whiz together. This gimmick was actually almost inflicted on the main Sonic series -- there's a beta ROM floating around called Sonic Crackers that has Sonic and Tails doing this. Fortunately, I guess Sega's Department of Derpy Decisions had the week off when this one was proposed at the board meeting, and they ended up releasing the concept as a Knuckles game to ensure that it wouldn't enrage the fanbase too much if it didn't go over.
They did sneak Sonic in there, however ... as a re-color called Mighty the Armadillo. You can tell it's the regular Sonic sprite just altered a bit, with mostly the same moves and animations. There's also a cast of other second-rate furries that I don't think ever made it out of this game - a crocodile, a bee, etc. You pick any two of these to be chained together, and each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Then off you go. The set-up is that Robotnik takes over this island resort/carnival while apparently Knuckles and his buds were visiting a furry con there or something. You only start out with a small handful to select from, some of these guys need to be rescued as you go to become playable.
I guess I'll lead with the positive -- the best thing you can say about this game is that Sega really used the 32x hardware boost to make the game look and sound really nice. There's a vibrancy and richness to the color not seen in the Genesis games, and the music is generally pretty decent too. Though I have no love for the gameplay, I really wish Sega had focused on making more 2D games for the 32X that looked this nice.
The issue is that you have the usual Sonic gameplay problems -- minus pits, which mercifully have been removed from the levels here entirely, but with the added restriction of basically a giant weight tied to you as you move about. Your partner flies about wildly, making the simple act of jumping from one platform to another an ardurous task frequently. You can "recall" them to your position, even through walls apparently, but it costs you ten rings - you're allowed to actually run a ring deficit up to negative 99 rings, at which time you get kickbooted out of the level. Between that, and the fact that you lose all of your rings if only one of the partners gets hit, means that you're working with zero safety net for most of the game, prodding you to creep along cautiously rather than enjoying the speed and thus kinda defeating the purpose of the game.
The whole thing is far too convoluted for its own good. You can't go very fast unless you use the "hold" feature to cause characters to repeatedly slingshot each other forward, but you need a good swatch of flat ground to get up to speed that way, and you don't get that often here. Just getting momentum to get through a basic loop is a pain in the balls due to the extreme gimping of the spin dash, in an apparent effort to force you to use the slingshot mechanic. Knuckles still has his abilities from Sonic & Knuckles, but they're likewise gimped. Wall climbing is pointless since jumping and throwing is quicker, and gliding is useless since your chained partner dangles around and fucks everything up for you. The new characters' abilities are likewise not all that helpful in making your way through the levels. And you get saddled with a random character, a random level, and there's some overly complicated system of day/night/evening versions of levels depending on how much time you spent in previous levels - these don't really effect the level all that much, but it has something to do with getting the "good ending" or whatever. Hell if I'm bothering to figure it out.
The mechanics of the regular Sonic games needed some work, but disrupting the one really fun quality wasn't nearly the right answer.
* Gameplay Video
* fab soundtrack