I’m calling this 2009 release Sin & Punishment 2 because that’s what it flipping well is – a sequel to the N64 original. What’s written on the spine depends on where you live, with the US (Star Successor) and EU (Successor of the Skies) titles being equally valid attempts at localising the Japanese subtitle 宇宙の後継者 – which has the written word for ‘cosmos/space’ pronounced just like the Japanese word for ‘Sky’, because somebody felt Japanese-to-English translation wasn’t complicated enough already.
Anyway! I wanted to start with this very interesting quote from the excellent Iwata Asks conducted for the game:
Yamagami: Some people who learn about this game from this session of "Iwata Asks" might think it's not a game for them since we got a little core about it sometimes, but I don't want them to think that.More than mere PR spin to try and increase launch-window sales, this idea of a ‘[hard]core’ game for everyone is visible in every single aspect of the game.
Iwata: Because you made it so anyone can enjoy it.
Yamagami: Right. Among those of us who worked on the game, I'm the worst at playing it. I lose all the time. But even if you are beaten, there's no need to start over from the beginning. You can easily progress from stage to stage, so those who just want to experience the world of Sin & Punishment can fully enjoy it.
Take the controls for example – four different controller types are supported, and Sin & Punishment 2 lets you use whichever you please and then further customise the button layout however you like. I like to use a GameCube pad because I’m an old lady who’s resistant to change, but they’re all equally valid so if you want to get some use out of your Wii Zapper Treasure are happy to let you blast away to your heart’s content.
There’s an easy mode too – which unlike Alien Soldier's ‘supereasy’ mode is actually easy-by-normal-person-standards and doesn’t leave you feeling like the designers are laughing in your puny inexperienced face. Heck, even the two player mode’s based around the idea of creating a more inclusive sort of game, allowing an experienced player to worry about all the dodging and melee stuff while a friend comes along for the ride as an extra crosshair. My Pure Gaming Heart wants to grumble and tell you this is a missed opportunity for a true 2P co-op experience, but being able to share Exciting Explosion Game with people who would otherwise be too nervous to take the plunge is good news for everyone - they get a taste of what all the fuss is about without having to worry about dodging lasers and melee attacks, and the old-timer gets to say ‘Remember when I shot the fire-breathing space tortoise?’ to someone without looking insane.
But that’s just modes and options at the end of the day – what makes Sin & Punishment 2 such a special joy is that this loose ‘as you like it’ playfulness is found within the level design too. When an enemy wave comes at you there are a lot of different ways of tackling them - straightforward shooting will do the job just fine, but deflecting the missile launched by a distant enemy into the side of a flying battleship will do it faster and earn you a points bonus too. Eagle-eyed players will also spot numerous barrels left idly lying around too, and as both Doom and Time Crisis have taught us they’re there to cause satisfying explosions if you can hit them at just the right moment.
So it’s a layered game, with challenges and ideas coming to you naturally as you gain confidence in your own abilities and familiarity with the system. That doesn’t mean new players will find the game a flat and lifeless experience until they learn the game proper though – Treasure’s Wii masterpiece is a spectacular ride under and over futuristic Japan, taking in ruined cities, underwater tunnels and lava-filled fortresses along the way. If you choose to ignore the graphical flamboyance the mere ideas behind them are still enough to make your hair stand on end – flying upside-down between scores of enemies, a one-on-one fistfight against a formidable boss, running through a forest on a moonlit night… the imagination on display in Sin & Punishment 2 is staggering and puts many titles with far bigger teams on more powerful hardware to shame.
If there’s one real issue with the game, it’s the plot. Now you may wonder why that would be a problem in an action game like this but there’s a fair bit of it and it’s clearly trying to tell you something, but working out exactly what that something is is another matter entirely. So as it is you’re left smiling and nodding at snatches of dialogue about multiple earths and what it means to be human and Ruffians with little clue of what it all actually means. This leaves what is clearly extensive world-building lore feeling like Alien Soldier’s A-EARTH/X-TIGER/parasite aliens infecting orphaned boys opening text crawl stretched out over numerous (skippable) cutscenes – technically you understand every word said, and yet somehow they still make no sense. Those souls committed enough to do their research will find a tale that links back to the first game in surprising and significant ways, and it really would have been worth sitting through the dialogue if only it had been better written.
However that complaint is only a tiny speck of a fly in an ocean of ointment, and all things considered Sin & Punishment 2 is just one of those special games that encapsulates everything the hobby should be about – an exciting and inclusive sugar rush of an experience that’s as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, whether you’ve got a spare thirty minutes or an entire afternoon to dedicate to wiping out everything your crosshairs touch.