Release: Out now (Japan, EU), June 27 (US)
Think dodging 100 bullets is tough? Try firing them. Quizzed in a ‘Iwata asks’ session, the original N64 Sin And Punishment development team (returning largely intact for the sequel) revealed that the hardest hurdle was getting enemy attacks to hit the player in the first place. Both instalments root you on a 2D plane surrounded by 3D pain, assaulting you from all angles in both the fore- and background. It’s incredible any shot fired ever lands on the desired target. Oh, but they do.
At its most basic, Sin And Punishment is an on-rails shooter with echoes of Space Harrier: you fire into a 3D landscape. Freed from the floor with a jetpack or hoverboard – it was an on-foot affair on N64 – the echo is louder. When enemies are within arm’s reach you bat them away with a melee attack. Use the same swipe on certain projectiles and they will be volleyed into the distance, homing in on foes should you lock on beforehand with a tap of A. Multipliers rise with kills, decrease with a hit. Swiftly dispatching enemy formations or killing with ricocheting shots nets you medals – more points. The confidence with which we recount the rules vanishes seconds into play.
Treasure’s coup lies in how landing shots and keeping your character alive are mutually exclusive. One focuses the eye in the distance, the other demands dexterity pressed up against the glass of the TV screen. This latter skill is tested considerably more on Wii; flying devices permit screen-high threats where the old game relied on grounded hurdles. Prioritising between 20 onscreen enemies is a ferocious test of shooter mettle, but the acrobatics closer to home give Sin And Punishment 2 its urgency, one rarely felt in this age of cover systems. Spend too long stooping behind conveniently Marcus Fenix-sized walls and you forget the glee of surviving out in the open.
Just as Treasure finds an entire screen of agony for the new jetpack controls, so the fluid Remote pointer-aiming lets the game show off complex enemy formations. Swarms of tadpoles engulf a skyscraper. A giant chicken squeezes a torrent of its young into your path. An armada of galactic stealth bombers blots out the sky. Each individual art asset may be graphically rough (cutscenes are particularly gruesome), but the scale and unfaltering speed impresses. The cursor doesn’t break a sweat as it flits over them; mouths break into grins as the multiplier reaches double digits in record time.
Aiming fluidity allows scenarios to constantly evolve. Characters usually fire into the screen, but can pivot on their 2D plane to shoot to the side, should it be required. Levels turn right angles to become sidescrolling gauntlets or top-down aerial bombardments. In bursts, Sin And Punishment 2 is multiple Treasure shooters in one: carving a route through stone blocks recalls Bangai-O and run-and-gunning through a cyborg factory could be Gunstar Heroes. Elsewhere, single-button melee control is stretched into several swordfights, a joust and a bout of bare-knuckle boxing. Forever shapeshifting, it gives a slim fourhour runtime a weightier impression.
Sin And Punishment 2’s real value lies in the (now online-enabled) hi-score tables and a brilliant risk/reward scoring system. Basic bullets are effective enough to get by with, but too flimsy to efficiently eke points from the enemy swarms. Batting missiles solves the problem, but forces you to survive until a projectile makes itself available. In some stages projectiles are the risk themselves. Bubbles and aerial mines will wait patiently for you, letting you stockpile them at the expense of foreground manoeuvrability. A delightful addition rewards you points for standing on the ground whenever it is available. For every self-imposed limitation the score spirals: you set your own challenge.
Bosses – always deserving of their own paragraph where Treasure is involved – take the design to its logical conclusion. Killing the screen-dominating brutes is as ‘simple’ as whittling down a central core. Lock on with A, hold down B and dodge every laser its tentacles/dolphins/parrots fire at you. While fighting tentacles/dolphins/parrots won’t down fiends any faster, extra points await the brave souls who do. Annoyingly, later bosses unbalance things with overly punishing attack waves. Millimetre-wide laser flecks are a bullet-hell tactic and appear rather cheap in the context of innovations elsewhere.
Level length is also misjudged. Considering the score-attack nature of play, expecting players to survive a 20-minute onslaught to post a number is a little much. Unlimited continues (resetting the score each time) and regular checkpoints will see any capable gamer through (at least on easy) but they also highlight how easily levels could have been divided into manageable chapters. If only to rehearse for level-long runs, it would be interesting to have a segmenting system, akin to Guitar Hero’s practice mode, albeit with Free Bird’s solo exchanged for the ‘fire-belching terrapin bit’. As it is, chasing top scores can feel like one part skill to two parts patience.
But these are the moans of hardened Sin And Punishment fans, bowled over to be playing a sequel in the first place. Full of Treasure’s off-kilter charm and tight controls, you forget the difficulty faced in just getting the bullets to hit you, and sink happily into the ease of unleashing yours.