Aha! You thought I was just joking at the end of my Kid Icarus: Uprising review, didn't you? I'm willing to bet my digital copy of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 that you didn't expect me to review Sin and Punishment at all. Well, I proved you wrong! Anyway, let's get away from my petty victory and move on to the game. Sin and Punishment was a rail-shooter for the Nintendo 64 back in 2000 that was never released outside of Japan. Due to the appearance of protagonist Saki Amamiya in Super Smash Bros. Brawl as an assist trophy rather than a playable character for some utterly arbitrary reason, a lot of people wanted to play Sin and Punishment, causing it to be released on the Wii Virtual Console. After spending $30 to get enough Wii points to buy the game and then downloading it, I sat down and readied myself for my first ever rail shooter experience (aside from Kid Icarus: Uprising). Then, an hour of game time later, I got up again because I had finished it.
This makes my criticism of Journey's somewhat high price tag for its content rather petty in comparison to this. Of course, you can replay it over and over for high score purposes as well as get a second controller and a friend to control the reticle for you but I still felt cheated regardless. I do suppose that it is possible to stretch the game out a bit by playing it over again for story because Sin and Punishment, against my expectations, is rather detailed in that department. While this is normally a good thing, such is not the case in this context. As far as storytelling goes, Sin and Punishment is at the bottom of my list right now, having overtaken Kingdom Hearts of all things.
I think this is the point where I got lost.
Let's see if I can run through the plot right now; the pre-start screen cutscene shows the Armed Volunteers, who were formed to combat the alien Ruffians that were ravaging the world, mowing down a group of members of the Resistance, who formed to combat the Armed Volunteers because they're a bunch of mass murderers. At least, that's what the game says. Yeah, they did kill quite a few Resistance members but this is literally the only instance of the Armed Volunteers actually killing anyone in the game. For all I know, the Resistance members are the bad guys and the Armed Volunteers had no choice but to kill them. Anyway, other members of the Resistance are the main characters Saki Amamiya, Airan Jo and who I think is named Achi, the first of which is asleep. There's also this other character named Kachua who may or may not be communicating to her boss Brad telepathically.
After starting the game, Saki, Airan and Achi are apparently looking for a helicopter to evacuate to... somewhere but something goes wrong and Saki is exposed to Achi's blood, which transforms him into a 50-foot tall monster. Apparently, Achi's blood has special powers for reasons I cannot quite fathom. Despite being barely there, the story is so tangled and nigh impenetrable that I actually attempted to play through the game again just to figure out what the hell is going on. "Attempted" being the key word, mind you; I bumped up the difficulty to Normal (it and Easy are the only two difficulty settings) and I gave up when I ran out of Continues due to failing to notice one harmful thing out of six million. I can't say more about the plot without giving away any spoilers (if the spoilers are meant to be spoilers; it's hard to tell) but I do very much believe it is very badly written and executed.
If games followed the three act structure, Sin and Punishment chipped off a corner of the first and shoved it into the suffocating mass that is the amalgamation of the second and third. I don't think I've ever seen characterisation this lacking: Saki and Airan are supposedly in love with each other but this relationship is only said and never shown, none of the characters are composed of more than one dimension and each character's motivations are so hastily brushed over if they're even explained that you can't discern anything beyond "save everyone" or "kill everyone". In fact, I'm not even certain they have personalities. They're so flat and barren of character that I have nothing to say about them. I'm still amazed I wrote over six lines about them.
The plot's not that much better. I have absolutely no idea what the hell anyone's trying to do. Sure, wiping out the Ruffians is high on mostly everyone's list but they get kind of pushed to the side in favour of fighting the Armed Volunteers for yonks (well, yonks for this game, anyway). In fact, come to think of it, the Ruffians seem to exist only for the player to rack up their score as it's only the Armed Volunteers who our three main characters actually conflict with. It feels as if the developers set out to make an epic story but realised that they were making a game only an hour long so they had to push everything into a car compactor to make it work, so everything feels rushed. Without wishing to spoil anything, the final boss SHOULD be epic and awesome but the preceding events are just so sudden and I had long since stopped caring so the effect is lost.
It feels like half the game takes place here.
The funniest thing is, for all my criticism of the story, it never actually feels that bad. This is because the story doesn't make the slightest bit of sense and, if you're like me, you'll stop caring or following a little bit in. Rather, you will be focusing on the gameplay (as is always the case with rail shooters).
Have to say, this is a bit of a weird rail shooter; it combines bullet hell and rail shooting into one game. The difference here is that the game is presented in 3D, meaning there is now depth, meaning you now have to keep track of shots coming towards you as well as the ones going across the screen. There's also a bit of a problem with the combination of the two genres: not only do you have to keep an eye on your targets and your reticle, you also have to keep watch of your character and make sure they're not getting shot from nine directions simultaneously. I'm not saying this is bad: I'm saying the game's not for the less-skilled or less-coordinated, especially since the game has forsaken letting the player just drift around the screen in favour of- get this- letting the player run side to side as well as jump. Fortunately, the game seems to have recognised this and has put in a system where you can have another player control the reticle so you can focus on firing and moving. I never used it considering I have only one working controller but it's a nice touch, I imagine.
Something that doesn't help the game's difficulty is the controls. You have three control options available and I had a GameCube controller. I ended up with this: L and R moved me left and right, A made me shoot, B was to jump, Y was to switch between lock-on and manual targeting and the left stick to aim. After selecting your controls, I strongly recommend going through the tutorial whenever you switch control options so that you can get used to your new configuration (it's also somewhat funny at the end, in stark contrast to the story) because, I warn you now and I cannot stress this enough, this game is not kind. If you are unprepared, it will suplex you and have you for dinner. If you get cocky, it will slap that grin off your face with the biggest frying pan in the world. If you have any uncertainties, you will just plain die. Actually, those analogies aren't particularly accurate; you never instantly die as gameplay is pretty much a battle of attrition, which I appreciate more than those games that call themselves "hard" with their one hit-point wonders and cheap traps.
Focus on jumping, focus on moving sideways, focus on the missiles, focus on those massive thrusters... Why is this called "bullet hell" if we're in the sky?
However, there are two things that really cheese me off with this game... Okay, the bad controls and horrible story already do that but these things REALLY take the cake. Firstly, the time limit. From the start of the stage, every time you start the game and every post-cutscene checkpoint, you have ninety-nine seconds to find a time-extending power-up. If your time drops to zero, your health will rapidly decrease. Why do games that emulate the arcade style feel the need to bring across everything for better or worse? Time limits were important in arcades so that other people could have a go so why does a game on the Nintendo 64, a privately owned home console, need it? Time gifts don't exactly present themselves, you know, and bosses aren't a cakewalk that can be taken down in a single clip (even though you can cut down airplanes in only 3-5 shots).
Another thing that irritates me is the lives system. Again, lives are good in arcade games but not in personally owned games. Whenever you die, you go back to the last checkpoint and respawn with maxed health and time (no surprise there) but, if you don't have any continues, you... go back several more checkpoints and respawn with maxed health and time. Really makes you wonder why the game bothers with those things anyway. It's like it's trying to ape another medium even though such a thing is inappropriate. It wouldn't do that though, surely? I mean, putting in a frustrating and obsolete game mechanic just for the sake of keeping aesthetics is just wrong and surely Treasure (you know, those guys who made Ikaruga) knew that. Okay, okay, okay. You get a new continue after getting the result of 10 to some power points which won't exactly help you in boss fights.
Jeez, I'm forgetful. Did it ever strike you as odd how a Japan-only game got a Wii Virtual Console release in English-speaking countries? Well, as it turns out, the game was voiced in English but it had Japanese subtitles. This made it rather convenient to port over to English-speaking countries. However, the English voice-acting... well, it's not terrible but it could be better. While it at least feels like the characters are actually talking to each other rather than just leaving tape recordings around like some archaic version of Facebook, the actors tend to put emphasis on the wrong syllables or words when speaking. For instance, when Saki wakes up, Airan greets him with "Good MORning, Sa-ki". Using my incredible Genre Savvy-ness, I was able to determine that this was supposed to be a sarcastic greeting but the voice acting completely botched that. Not that I had any to begin with but this does not help my immersion in the slightest.
By the way, probably my favourite aspect of this game is how the game blends the cutscenes with the gameplay. The transition is incredibly smooth and I can't feel the slightest disconnect. This has the completely opposite effect of the voice acting and I feel like I'm always a part of the game. This is a game made by people who don't need all the money in the world and are creative enough without it. You know that whole run left to right as well as jumping thing? Yeah, they actually made one of the levels a 2D side-scroller and one early boss fight is also entirely in 2D. That said, while I do admire the creativity, the sidescroller level itself is a bit annoying because the controls just aren't suited for it and Saki jumps onto ledges like the soles of his shoes are made of soap, most likely L'Oreal brand given how ridiculously feminine he looks.
Well, this is new.
To what I'm sure is the delight of many of you, I'm going to cut this review short. Well, what do you expect? It's a rail shooter: you point at things you don't like and you make them go away. There's not much else to it. Regardless, Sin and Punishment is definitely creative enough to try and expand beyond its boundaries, what with the platformer section and the incredibly smooth transition. However, it's way too short and insubstantial to justify buying it. You can play over and over for the sake of getting higher scores but where's the fun in that? I don't see how topping a score you yourself set can actually be fun, especially since the controls and number of objects to focus on mean that the only thing exceeding your score will be the number of headaches you have at the end of it all.
Here are the rest of my reviews.
Yeah, this review isn't as good as normal. I've been having a few issues these past few weeks which haven't been healthy on my self-esteem. I'm alright now, so don't worry. Anyway, here's my newest review. Please comment and tell me what I did right and wrong and how I can improve.