Sin and Punishment is, if nothing else, an oddity. A bizarre cross-breed of the best both 3rd person and on-rails shooters have to offer. Developed by Treasure and published by Nintendo, it features an uncharacteristically dark plot that tells of a world where overpopulation has destroyed global food supplies. Desperate, mankind's only hope is to engineer a new food source, but the plan back fires when the genetic mutations, called Ruffians, escape and overrun Japan.
Struggling to quell the spread of these abominations, a new international peacekeeping organization is formed, the Armed Volunteers, who quickly begin an assault on Japan, slaying Ruffians, but also oppressing the Japanese. Thus, from the fires of occupation a new band of rebels is formed. Known as the Savior Group, they fight to destroy both the Ruffians and the Armed Volunteers, freeing Japan and saving mankind.
In a surprising departure from other titles like Bangai-O and Radiant Silvergun, Sin and Punishment utilizes a third person over-the-shoulder perspective, allowing the player to move freely on a 2D plane, while being thrust forward on a rail. Jumps, double-jumps and evasive rolls allow you to quickly dodge incoming project tiles, but timing the action will take some getting used to as object depth is not always clear. Larger projectiles like missiles can be deflected using your sword, removing the need to evade while dealing massive damage to your opponents. Combat weapons are, unusually, limited to just an automatic blaster and a sword, but the method of execution makes this pairing perfect. Holding the fire button will fire your blaster, while tapping the button when an enemy is near will trigger a powerful sword slash. No switching of weapons creating an opening for enemy attacks, just a smooth quick transition.
Controlling your character can be a bit of a challenge due to the awkward shape of the original Nintendo 64 controller. Character movement is handled by either the d-pad or X/Y and R, while aiming the cursor falls to the analog sticks. It's a layout that allows for left- or right-handed players to feel comfortable, but it feels awkward not being able to use one stick for each type of movement. Considering the extra development Nintendo claims to have but into this localization, I'm surprised they didn't allow one to use the analog sticks in the more traditional modern manner.
Gameplay is divided into 10 stages consisting of a prologue and three major story arcs with each level consisting of a long run through hundreds of smaller enemies broken up by a handful of truly creative boss fights. No two bosses fight the same and some can't be hurt by your blaster, calling for players to adapt and find a new attack strategies like missile deflection or some form of environmental damage. Like most of Treasure's games Sin and Punishment is short, it can be finished in a little over an hour, but the exciting set-pieces and challenging high scores allow for great replayability. During the course of writing this review I sat down intending to only play for a few minutes to put me in the mood. I ended up beating the entire game in that one sitting. It's highly addictive and that's exactly what Treasure fans want.
Although this is technically the first game to see a post-release localization created specifically for the virtual console, I have to question how much work Nintendo actually put into it considering that the original audio track was already entirely in English. It is clear they did at least translate the menus and the training mode, yet for some curious reason they left the mandatory Japanese subtitles intact. Perhaps they thought this would maintain the feel of the original game, but when every thing else is translated it just makes the effort look half-hearted.
Overall Sin and Punishment is just as tightly designed as any other Treasure shooter, but its unique presentation, high-energy gameplay, and disturbingly dark plot make it something special. Strong sales have already resulted in the revival of the series as Sin and Punishment 2 is on its way, so who knows what's next. Mother 3 maybe? Nah.
Sin and Punishment is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Fantasy Violence and Mild Language.
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