REVIEW #4 Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Barely Playable; 0: Non-Functional. SIN & PUNISHMENT: SUCCESSOR TO THE SKIES Developers: Treasure Publishers: Nintendo Console: Wii Players: Two
To my mind, a well-written review shouldn't just be about the reviewer delivering a verdict on whatever it is they're writing about, but also giving readers an individual insight into an experience through which they can decide whether they would agree or disagree with the author's conclusions. With that in mind, I'm hoping that my assessment of Sin & Punishment 2
is going to be just so successful, because I have a feeling most of the people preparing to buy this game will be approaching it from a very different perspective than I was.
My only real beginning-to-end experience of the 'bullet hell' shooter genre was Gunstar Heroes
on the Megadrive, a game now firmly slotted into my all-time top five. I've played a few modern iterations for a short time and tried my hand at the original Sin & Punishment
when it was released on Virtual Console, though was dissuaded by its thumb-dislocating control mapping to the GameCube pad. Encouraged by positive reviews and my continuing love affair for Wiimote-based aiming systems, Sin & Punishment 2
was therefore to be my first real foray into the genre since the early '90s. I suspect that most reading this will be hardened pros at not getting killed by vast numbers of flashing things, which was tragically not the case for me. For a game which probably won't last longer than five or six hours on a reasonably successful playthrough, I spent the best part of a week dragging my shrapnel-eviscerated body to the finishing post – and that was on Normal difficulty (it seemed to defeat the purpose to play on Easy) and only with one character. Having seen his pseudo-lady chum Kachi die faster than Michael Richards on comedy night at the Apollo, Isa must have breathed a deep sigh of relief he wasn't subjected to the same indignity.
On visual terms, the game's thoroughly ordinary graphics are shown up in the ne'er-more-skippable cut-scenes (conveying a story that makes less sense the more attention you give it) but disguised in play beneath a huge variety of environments (an air-tunnel stretching through ocean depths being an early highlight), the constant barrage of attacks and some enemy design as inspired as it is deranged, picking up the baton from Disaster: Day of Crisis
' showdown with an enormous bear and sending you to face off against giant mutant chickens, a fleet of (literally) killer whales and a fire-vomiting mechanical terrapin.
On one hand, it's a joy to play a game that genuinely demands you learn how to play it properly and not make concessions for less-skilled players (aka: me). This is especially true of the bosses, whose attacking strategies force you to learn from each death and jump through all manner of gameplay hoops, from a close-range samurai showdown to a puzzle game-inspired section where your battle is periodically interrupted by blocks falling from the ceiling. The on-rails corridor shooting is similarly devoted to keeping you on your toes, flipping from flying sections to side-scrolling and a midnight through a dark forest where your targeting cursor doubles up as a torch. The action is anchored around a cleverly balanced scoring system, where multipliers are increased with every creature or object destroyed between taking hits, which in turn send your bonuses back down again. In a devious twist, staying grounded from your hoverboard decreases your manoeuvrability but increases your score, forcing a choice between preserving health or going for big numbers.
This sophisticated scoring system is somewhat defeated by your score being reset every time you die with no extra lives or possibility of saving your numbers at any point between the beginning and end of each stage. This means that you're expected to stay alive for a solid thirty minutes (thirty seconds would have been nice) in order to have anything worth registering on the scoreboards, thus eliminating not only the appeal of comparing your scores online but also the replay value of trying to beat those scores for all but the most dedicated experts. This creates separate issues for different kinds of player: for newcomers like me, the game will take a while to complete but each stage is far too long and makes returning for practice feel more like extra work than enjoyment. If you're a pro, you'll have greater success in racking up big scores to post online but the game will be over in no time at all (even for a Wii game).
It's a shame that while the mechanics of the game are so well balanced and inventive, much of the filling can be tiring or outright unfair. As stand-alone set-pieces, boss battles are devastatingly demanding but fair, epitomes of the practice-makes-perfect mantra. The same cannot be said for the on-rails sections in between: while clever in their staging, they are content to simply throw screen-filling quantities of attacks at you, counter-intuitive not only to devising a strategy beyond spamming the dodge button, but often completely obscuring your character from view or making it impossible to avoid attack (Stage 3's side-scrolling section being the worst offender). Treasure's decision to restrict your movement to a 2D plane while travelling through 3D environments adds problems in judging depth and which objects or enemies can be melée-attacked and which must be shot down. When the game isn't going over-the-top, allowing you a few inches of clear screen to move into, it's a joy to play, keeping your mind twisting around itself looking out for new enemies and working out patterns and timing.
If you're a veteran of bullet-hell shooters past, Sin & Punishment 2
deserves to be greeted with open arms. Its unashamed focus on delivering maximum challenge to a small number of devoted gamers deserves great commendation when game experiences are increasingly being watered down to reach the widest audiences. But the visual spectacle, gloriously inventive boss battles and gameplay versatility are too occasionally undermined by slips out of strategic focus and the small number of overlong stages, which could at the very least have allowed you to register your score at each checkpoint or used an extra life system. But the game's mere existence is the real achievement, a rare treat for the select few who can describe themselves as true hardcore gamers, though leaving slender pickings for the rest of us.
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