Thursday, 13 May 2010

Review: Sin & Punishment 2 - SotS (Wii)

Ten years ago Treasure unleashed their little known but highly praised N64 classic, Sin & Punishment. It was a game that brought high-octane on-rails shooting to Nintendo’s failing 64bit system in a way not seen since the likes of Alien Solider on the Megadrive. Giant battles, continuous action, and challenging gameplay were all part and parcel of the experience, an experience though very well received, never made it anywhere outside of it’s native Japan.

Since the release of S&P Treasure has had only a few hits to their name. Outside the GameCube smash Ikaruga, and the commendable Astro Boy for GBA, there hasn’t been anything as iconic or sublimely brilliant at Radiant Silvergun, or even the original Sin & Punishment. Perhaps that’s because Treasure work best when investing in fresh new ideas, and not pandering around to its own rabid fanbase. It’s the main reason why, as a studio, they tend not to create sequels and only focus on new IP.

With this Wii sequel to the original S&P however, Treasure have delivered an experience that is in every way superior to the N64 original, featuring some of the most intensely fast-paced hardcore shooting action to be found on any console to date. If you like games that send wave upon wave of beautifully choreographed enemies your way, with some absolutely huge boss battles continuously emerging from the chaos, then you’ll love Sin & Punishment: Successor of the Skies (S&P2).

Like its predecessor S&P2 is an on-rails shooter. Guiding you along a fixed path, the game has you aiming and blasting your way through anything that stands in your way. Frequently your progress will be hampered by some show stopping gigantic creatures, in which the game mechanics and the on-rails nature briefly expands into something more free roaming, though still as tightly restrictive. In fact, right from the beginning it is clear that you have more control over your characters than in the original game, if only restricted to the view on screen. At the most, you can on occasion move inwards and outwards in addition to the standard left and right, giving you a brief moment of extra manoeuvrability.

The Nunchuck controls character movement, whilst the Wii Remote points and shoots at enemies across the screen. Camera movement is fixed, and your path is largely pre-determined, though you can move around the limited space given at any time. Two different characters are playable throughout the game, each with subtle differences adding some extra strategy to the game, and another excuse to play through the whole thing again once it’s finished.

Isa, the main one of the two and usual lead male protagonist, commands control of a jetpack and has the ability to unleash a charging shot of sorts, which explodes in a grenade-like fashion when it connects with enemies or the environment. Kachi, on the other hand, is a little different. The female of the bunch, she uses a hoverboard instead of a jetpack - yes, proper Back To The Future stylie - and features a lock-on charge shot that can target multiple enemies at once. Both characters can dodge, and also fight back with a standard melee attack, which can repel projectile attacks while still being the first choice for close-range combat.

Throughout most of S&P2 you will definitely need to use your entire arsenal, dodging and shooting your way past a multitude of foes, whilst making sure to keep that chain gauge going up. Later on in the game you’ll be faced with having to dodge through laser beams and constantly melee back projectile attacks, whilst at the same time trying to counter a gigantic boss creature’s main method of attack by firing off a well timed charged shot, disabling it for few seconds before repeating the whole process again. It’s pretty intense, and utterly exhilarating at the same time, being the most fun I’ve had with an arcade shooter in a long time.

It’s also a pretty tough ride all round. Though never unfair, the game requires you to simply learn enemy attack patterns and counter them effectively with the right set of moves. Most of the time, a well-planned dodge or some accurately positioned charge shots are all that is required. Whereas later on, you will need to mix it up using melee strikes and rapid gunfire in order to survive. That said there are a plentiful amount of checkpoints on offer, not least of all before every gigantic boss creature and end of level encounter, so you’re never far away from where you last died. Unlike Lost Planet 2, Sin & Punishment 2 absolutely nails down how old school progression should work, keeping things fair but challenging at all times.

The best part is that the entire game is filled with imaginative ideas, from the huge bosses and the smaller cannon fodder, to the level design and overall aesthetics. Sin & Punishment 2 is overflowing with an art style that is as original as it is bizarre, packed with a level of stylised beauty that could only have come from the minds at Treasure. Much of the game bares more than just a passing resemblance to Ikaruga, and at times it feels like this could almost be a spiritual successor to both Treasures much loved GCN shump and the Saturn classic Radiant Silvergun, though obviously unrelated to either.

Along with the unique art style and imaginative designs, the game also looks very pretty impressive from a graphical point of view. Visually, S&P2 is one of the best-looking Wii games, and doesn’t take its time to showcase its abilities. For one, the game runs at a buttery smooth sixty frames per-second almost constantly, with only minor drops in framerate. Bosses and the larger enemies are packed with detailed textures, bump mapping, and feature a liberal use of that next-generation sheen lacking in so many Wii games.

However, if there is one downside is that the game tends to look a little blocky, lacking consistantly high polygon counts, a result of having so much going on at any given time and keeping a smooth framerate. Also, despite featuring some of the sharpest, cleanest edges for a Wii game, S&P2 suffers from plenty of jagged edges, which means that playing this upscaled on a good flat panel HDTV is a painfully ugly process. Thankfully, any CRT owning folks out there can experience this in all its clear 480i/p glory, which really, is the best way to be playing S&P2.

With Sin & Punishment: Successor of the Skies there’s very little to complain about. Treasure have easily delivered one of their finest games of recent years, and one of the best arcade shooters to come out of any Japanese development studio in a long time. With it’s unique blend of imaginative ideas and art design, filled with unmistakably addictive on-rails action, S&P2 is not only an essential purchase, but also the best thing to come from the minds at Treasure since 2002’s Ikaruga. In many ways this deserves to be remembered as fondly as Radiant Silvergun, and maybe even some of their older 16bit hits as well.

What we have here is quite simply a modern classic, and perfect for anyone out there wanting some old-school action - something that you can dive in for a couple of minutes before getting lost into for several hours. Despite being a little short, it perfectly demonstrates what is missing in so many of today’s high profile titles, and shows that a tried and test formula can be equally refreshing as anything that attempts to push forward the boundaries of gaming.


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