Sin & Punishment Review
Friday, August 27, 2010 at 5:32PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Difficulty Design, Level Design, Mechanics, Shmup, Skill, Story

Short. Sweet. And very concentrated. The graphics may cut your eyes, and the story may boogle your more intellectual sensibilities. But, here at Critical-Gaming gameplay takes priority. In true Treasure fashion, Sin & Punishment (S&P) delivers an engaging, deep, and action packed experience that's unlike anything I've played before.  I've become quite the Treasure fan over the years. Each of their games usually inspires me to write a blog post about something amazing they've pulled off. Ikaruaga. Bangai-O Spirits. And now Sin & Punishment. Get Bonus!



From what I can tell, the story is an amalgamation of what I call the "dregs of anime." If you take a great show like Neon Genesis Evangelion and tried to copy some of the off the wall, head splitting content without releasing it gradually through a well written/paced story, you'll have one concentrated bit of pure anime utterances, themes, and feelings. In other words, you'll have an animess. These are the dregs. The best way to relate such content is to be something of an otaku. Even then it won't make much sense. Get whatever enjoyment you can out of the story in S&P. Take it as seriously as you want. Just don't complain. You can skip all cutscenes.


Engaging Mechanics Design

I bought S&P on Virtual Console shortly after it was released. Yet it took me until now to finally play past the first level and beat the game. Before, I quickly became overwhelmed because S&P is the type of game that throws you right into intense action. The biggest reason I had a hard start with this game is the strange controls. Modeled after the N64 controller, I had to tinker with the control settings before I found one that worked for me. Type 3 using the Game Cube controller. Because the N64 controller only has 1 analog stick, the game was designed to let players aim with it and move using other buttons. For gamers familiar with dual analog Game Cube, PS2-3, Xbox360, and even Wiimote Nunchuck controllers, S&P's control scheme may feel backwards and twisted. I suggest going through the tutorial. The controls aren't anything that won't feel natural in about an hour of playing. 

The basic mechanics design of S&P is highly engaging in many ways. The most obvious way is the dual system controls. In S&P you control a character on a 2D plane that can freely move left, right, JUMP, and ROLL at any time. In addition to this, you independently control your aiming cursor and SHOOTing. Just wrapping your mind around the simultaneous use of these mechanics is engaging enough to last the full game. On top of this system, players can use a sword strike for objects, enemies, and projectiles that are close to the player character. This strike is powerful, but while you're swinging you briefly stop shooting. Furthermore, striking incoming projectiles reflects them in the direction you're aiming. Such a design links the two systems of character position and cursor position well. 



Communicating and Controlling Space

With a 3rd person camera set behind the player character, determining how far away elements are in front of you can be extremely difficult. This is an issue of ba3D, which is a natural drawback in  many 3D games. Fortunately, S&P has several design features that greatly reduce the negative effects of ba3D. The relatively slow bullet speed of player and enemy attacks functions like a measuring stick allowing players to visually feel out the 3D space. This design is actually functionally analogous to shooting star bits into space in Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2. When elements are close enough to your character for a sword strike, there's a distinct beeping sound. So even when you're unsure if you're close enough, the game will alert you.  Finally, the entire gaming experience is heavily scripted. When confused about the relative spacing, you can eventually memorize the timings of events. Because the sword strike is so powerful and large capable of hitting vertical and horizontal targets, the awkward close encounters are completely avoided. 


Skill, Level Design, and Difficulty Design

Discussing the skill it takes to beat S&P goes hand in hand with the difficulty design and the level design. Each level is unique with new enemies, camera angels, spatial arrangements, and level elements. Individually, each element is easy to understand and overcome. However, the game does an excellent job of developing layers of counterpoint. With just few simple elements happening simultaneously and factoring in the engaging mechanics design, and challenges quickly become difficult and at times overwhelming. Each challenge is designed to test a different combination of player skills. As the game progresses, the challenges are varied without necessarily building on the what was presented before. So, as you go along you'll have to keep sharp.

Let's look at how things break down with the DKART system.













Because Sin & Punishment is so short it's actually quite doable to beat the game without dying once. The game has such a smooth curve from learning to mastery, I can see myself conquering the game in a relatively short amount of time. But I think I'll put S&P aside and anticipate picking up the shinning successor to this excellent game. Knowing Treasure is a company that shies away from sequels, I consider Sin and Punishment Wii a... Get Bonus!

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