You know all those “bullet hell” shoot ‘em ups that insist on cramming as many projectiles on the screen as possible? The kind that seem to require a superhuman level of hand-eye coordination to survive? Sin & Punishment is the accessible, tough-but-not-impossible version of the genre, tossing endless amounts of lasers, missiles and rocket-breathing monstrosities in your face, albeit in a manageable, less rage-quitty kind of way.
That said, this still sums up most of the game:
You will die. A lot. But dying is part of the experience. Each level whisks you through an otherworldly, on-rails shooting gallery of robots, tanks and flesh-hungry beasties, all of which are easily dispatched by your barrage of bullets and devastating lock-on beams. The more you kill, the higher your combo count (and your end-of-level total) will be. Before long you’ll come to a boss, and hoo boy, that’s when the “Punishment” comes into play.
Above: S&P has some of the weirdest bosses you’ll ever see
Just about every boss will annihilate you at least once. Their attacks fill the screen and deal huge damage, and until you figure out their pattern and a way to counter it, you’re going to become very familiar with that Game Over screen. And in all honesty, that’s the bottom line of the game – keep the combo meter going and beat the bosses in as little time as possible. Sounds limiting, but the journey, while repeatedly frustrating, is fun in its own right.
A great example is the boss above, the weird six armed man-thing. He shoots tons of missiles and swings a humongous girder like a whip. What can you do besides pick away with your little gun? Well, some experimentation with your various abilities reveals you can swiftly dodge through some of his beams and even kick back some of his missiles and yes, even the girder, right back at him for increased damage. What once seemed like an impossible battle is now just a matter of dodging and deflecting, adding a great deal of skill and an “I am such a badass” feel to a seemingly mindless shooting hall.
Above: Melee attacks, kicking missiles back at their launchers, multi-targeting shots, last-second evasion… there’s always something to keep your attention fused to the screen
There is a down side to all this – once you figure out the patterns and essentially break the game, it’s almost too easy. All the challenge seeps away and you’re left, after all that frustration, with a boss that’s now barely an effort. Treasure, the beloved developer of Sin & Punishment (as well as Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga) appears to have been aware of this, and took steps to keep you playing.
Leaderboards, an expected feature on PC, 360 and PS3, are still somewhat sparse on Wii. Score-centric games like Sin & Punishment are the reason leaderboards were invented (as initials-only posts on arcade machines), so the inclusion is welcome but entirely necessary for longevity. The game’s endless continues and frequent checkpoints mean you will beat this eventually, so without a way to compete, there’s not much left to do. Now, if you care, you can attempt to climb the charts with a better score.
Above: Finish a level and you’ll be asked to upload your score
Above: Apparently “Fart” can’t post online. Too offensive!
Above: Fart will never change his name!
There’s also a chance you’ll enjoy the actual levels enough to play through them again without a particular emphasis on score. You’re flying by so quickly that some of the details can be lost, and if nothing else each area is so distinct that you never tire of any particular style. Underwater tunnels, an unlit forest, a broken city, a lava world… all the bases are covered.
They’re all tied together by a surprisingly interesting story too. No, we’re not suggesting this is destined for another best videogame stories ever article, but for a game that’s all about assaulting your senses, it has enough mystery and ‘90s-era anime charm to stick with you.
Above: Isa was sent to kill Kachi (who’s not really human), but changed his mind. Now they’re on the run
Above: The melee-heavy battle with Hibaru (left) is a boss highlight, and the creepily sexy bird-lady Ariana puts up a frustrating fight
And though the art has nothing to do with the gameplay or the score, we did want to say the box art and all the pencil sketches inside are gorgeous, so if you’ve got an art bug up your ass, hey, partial bonus.
Little stuff that adds up
It’s a shooter. A two player shooter, even. But what kind of crap is it when the second player isn’t even onscreen? There are two characters, on the run together, and only one appears on the screen in two player mode. I’m sure there are “reasons” for this, but it still makes the second player’s role feel less substantial and involved. No dodging or weaving, just aiming and shooting.
Is it better than?
Dead Space Extraction? No, though they’re not entirely comparable. Both are rail shooters, but Sin is all about quantity and Extraction is all about quality. The latter is slower-paced, violent, disturbing and a real step forward for on-rails titles, but still is only worth one or two trips through.
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles? Yes. The second RE shooter is still clumsy and plodding compared to Sin and even Dead Space, and even though the gameplay is intentionally slower than Sin, it’s nowhere near as fun. If your preferences lean towards House of the Dead and not twitch-reaction stuff, maybe you’ll feel differently.
Sin & Punishment? Yes, if only because the Star Successor is newer and has modern visuals, while the N64 original obviously looks quite dated. Both are similar experiences and offer the same intensity for one or two players, and both are essentially over when you recognize all the patterns. However, we never saw the original in the US until the Virtual Console, so try both to be sure.
Just for you, Metacritic!
A bullet hell shooter that’s just sane enough for anyone to enjoy. The action is nonstop but manageable, and the bosses are freakish and challenging enough to warrant a few repeat plays just to figure out how to totally destroy them the next time around.
Jun 25, 2010