Sin & Punishment: A Wii Game Review

I was originally going to do a review of SIN & PUNISHMENT for Wii as part of a larger blog entry, but then I thought, why?  Why short change this wonderful, old school game when really, it deserves an entire entry all to itself.

Sin & Punishment is a third person rail shooter from Treasure games.  Treasure will always hold a special place in my heart for making one of the most awesome, woefully underrated, games for Sega Genesis: Gunstar Heroes.  Gunstar Heroes was a classic of straight up, shoot-em-up console gaming with amazing originality and non-stop chaos.  In many ways, Sin & Punishment is a spiritual successor to Gunstar Heroes, and that’s a great thing indeed.

First though, I have to get the most negative part of the game out of the way.  While S&P is a surreal experience, its most bizarre aspect is found in its character design.  Specifically, its two lead characters are just plain weird.

We have Isa, the boy.  He looks all of thirteen with an atrocious fashion sense.  If he didn’t excell at kicking butt, I just don’t know if I could take him seriously with his shorts, thigh-high boots, and light blue jacket.  Add to this an effeminate haircut, a slight frame, and a general androgeny and you end up with one of the strangest action heroes in gaming history.  I mentioned I would have trouble taking him seriously if he wasn’t so skilled at shooting the crap out of everything, but that’s a lie.  I really can’t take him seriously at all.

Kachi is the girl of the duo, and she isn’t much better.  With a jean skirt, a fluffy shirt, and a tendency to stand pigeon-toed, we’re not exactly talking about an intimidating presence.  While she looks like a refugee from the 80’s, she actually comes across as the less ridiculous of the two, so that’s something.

While I don’t know what inspired these designs and they are unintentionally goofy in America, part of me likes the change from the traditional grizzled space marine that dominates most action games these days so I’m willing to overlook it.  Some “manly” men will take one look at our heroes and turn up their noses.  Too bad.  Their loss.  Because S&P is a hardcore action adventure the likes of which we rarely see this day and age.

The plot of the game . . . eludes me.  There’s something about two worlds, demons, super soldiers, genetically modified guardian monsters, and I don’t know what else.  It’s confusing as hell, but who cares?  Playing a video game for the story is like reading a book to admire the font.   It should get the job done, but not get in the way.

S&P’s gameplay is straightforward.  It’s a rail shooter, meaning the camera carries you through the level as you do your damn best to keep from getting killed while blasting everything in sight.  That’s it.  There’s nothing terribly complex about it.  It’s pure reflexes.  You shoot.  You dodge.  You shoot some more.  Dodge some more.  Then you shoot while dodging and dodge while shooting.  Stand still, you die.  Don’t shoot, you die.

Treasure hasn’t tried to reinvent the rail shooter, but instead has elected to take full advantage of what a home console shooter can do.  The levels are huge.  The bosses complex and rewarding to defeat.  And there’s enough variety of enemies and levels to keep gamers looking for a hardcore shooter interested.

The game supports two players.  The first player controls a character and shoots.  The second player just shoots.  I haven’t tried this yet, but I can see why.  There just wouldn’t be much point to having two characters on screen at the same time because usually the screen is so filled with enemies and enemy bullets that there will only be one safe spot to be standing at any time.  Two characters would just confuse each other, get in each other’s way.

And here comes S&P’s second biggest weakness.  It is tough.  Tough as hell.  Even playing on easy, you’ll find yourself facing defeat at later levels.  Fortunately, the game makes liberal use of checkpoints.  Don’t you hate games where you die and have to walk all the way back from point A to point B, only to die again and go right back to point A?  Well, this is rarely a problem in S&P, which has checkpoints like mad.  In fact, this is one of the only games I’ve ever played where even the boss fights have checkpoints.  Sometimes, they even have multiple checkpoints.  And you’re going to need them.

S&P has some nice gameplay options.  After you beat a level, you can always jump right to it and practice.  It keeps track of high scores, and you can even compare your high scores to other players across the world via the Wii’s internet connection.  There’s something charming about this to me.  S&P is a flashback to a time when scores meant something.  Whether it’s topping your personal best or striving to make your mark, watching your score rise can be an old school  joy.  One of the things I love about the gameplay is that you have a score multiplier that rises the more bad guys you destroy, but falls whenever you get hit.  Even if you’re nowhere near dying, you’ll still wince as you take a hit and watch that multiplier fall.

Let’s just get down to this.  The Wii takes a lot of heat (some of it justified) for being a system that plays it safe with countless Mario games and silly little casual game trifles.  But there are some genuinely hardcore games for it, and this is one of them.  Granted, it doesn’t have the hardcore game look.  It stars strangely garbed children and involves a storyline that is both mystical and absurd.  Nobody is grizzled.  The bad guys all look nearly as weird as our heroes, and most people will probably take one look and label it “gay” or “kid’s stuff” and move on.

But S&P is great and unique.  It’s flaws are forgivable.  This is a game that dares to break the mold, that is both retro and next gen.  So check it out.  You might just be surprised.

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