All the elements of a classic shooter, refined, polished, and supercharged via the Wii interface.
Indeed, Sin & Punishment knows how to punish. In fact, provided you play on Normal or Hard difficulty, you’re sure to encounter the Game Over screen at least a few dozen times throughout your venture. But understanding the approach is the most important strategy to enjoying this on-rails shooter on steroids. The game expects you to die, and die often—it’s the process of trial and error and finally success that it promotes, and the learning and perfecting experience is its greatest asset. In other words, yes, it’s a classic Treasure-developed shooter, only this time, it’s polished and refined for the mass market without any truly notable subtraction from their beloved formula.
The differences, apart from the fact that this is Treasure’s most beautiful game of the sort to date, all lie in the approach. Sin & Punishment: Star Successor keeps the cheesy storyline of the original, sporting sappy anime interactions and some pretty rough English voice acting. But it’s got more content, more beautiful visuals, more intuitive controls, and a considerably more reasonable approach to difficulty—more of everything.
Is the game easier than the original, you ask? Well, the action isn’t any less frenetic, and the bosses are just as challenging—but the continues are now unlimited from the start, making completing the game a lot less irritating… at least, if you’re as impatient as I am. I suspect that most gamers never completed the original Sin & Punishment, and with the help of these changes, nearly everyone who is persistent will be able to reach Star Successor’s credits without spending weeks on end memorizing every single intricacy of every single boss.
Okay, chill out
Some of you are probably getting pretty pissed off about how I’m approaching this review by now. “Sin and Punishment is made to be insanely difficult, you dolt,” you’re probably saying to your screen. After all, that’s what shooters are all about, and you’re right about that. But the difficulty isn’t lost on the sequel; there are still just as many outrageously powerful bosses, and an even more ridiculously challenging approach to score tabulation (which we’ll get to in a bit). It’s just that the path to sheer completion is much more sensible, making continuation of your play that much more enticing.
You see, Star Successor understands that regular people (i.e., those of us who aren’t positively superhuman while skating around effortlessly in bullet hell) don’t want to lose six levels into the experience and then get vaulted back to the title screen when a particular boss decides to ruin their day. So instead, the game shortcuts the typical architecture and dispenses with extra lives altogether, so that every time you die, you’re met with the Game Over screen and a request to continue. Again, your continues are unlimited, so following this five-second punishment, you’re free to pick up right where you left off, correcting the mistakes you made that landed you in the grave.
One down, twenty-nine or so to go
It’s still undeniably frustrating at times when you come into contact with a truly powerful boss, but now, there are far fewer excuses to give up. This is the evolution of the shooter and a seriously significant step toward assuaging the genre for the mass market without dampening the legendary level of challenge that defines it.
Speaking on that last point, three difficulty levels are available from the start. I chose Normal (which is hard enough—believe me), but certainly the more ambitious among you will attempt Hard. Here’s the thing: since there are no more extra lives, now, each time you die, your score resets to zero. So if you’re playing the way the pros play—that is, for high scores and to secure a spot on the leaderboards—this change in design just makes it that much more challenging to reach that spot. In other words, in essence, Star Successor has gotten easier for those simply looking to complete it, but much harder for those playing for score.
But let’s back up for a moment and talk about the basic gameplay. Again, Star Successor is an on-rails (Star Fox style), high-action shooter, featuring seven stages and countless epic boss battles interspersed throughout the various levels (there are typically around four or five per stage). The stages are notably lengthy for a shooter, often approaching 15 or 20 minutes in length if you don’t count deaths.
The game is played via Wii remote and nunchuk, and it fits the Wii like a glove. The analog stick on the nunchuk moves your character around the screen, and the Wii pointer aims your reticule, making the simultaneous operation of both challenging yet manageable. Holding B rapid-fires bullets, while pressing it melee attacks. C jumps, and Z dodges (rendering you temporarily invincible and sending you in the direction you specify via the analog stick). Finally, pressing A locks on (though shots are less powerful when locked), and holding it executes the player’s special attack, which differs between the two selectable characters. A recharging delay applies after each special attack as well.
Take this, bucketheads!
Your character has a life meter, which, thank God, means that you can sustain multiple hits before you bite the dust. Typically, most enemy attacks inflict between 5 and 10 damage on the player, and there are actually sparsely-provided health pickups as well that will keep you going after a tough sequence. The gameplay itself is a hybrid of on-foot and in-air, and anytime there’s solid ground in the frame, you can transition between the two at will. Later on, you’ll also enjoy some vehicular combat, too. In fact, the game does an excellent job of shaking things up throughout the entirety of the seven stages.
Though it’s soon effortless enough controlling your character, the Wii interface provides a great deal of versatility which is exploited on a regular basis by the developers. You’ll find yourself cruising at high speeds through matrices of lasers and bombs, tracked by a half-dozen enemies all at once firing rounds at you, and even hopping from one rail car to the next. Other times, you’ll speed across patterns of mines on a jetbike (not unlike a section of F-Zero) and even careen through corridors while avoiding protruding walls, sort of like something out of Battletoads. Start to finish, there are rarely chances to catch your breath or opportunities for prediction or monotony; it’s high-energy, don’t-blink gameplay at its fiercest.
And that’s to say nothing of the boss battles, which are certainly the most memorable sequences of the game—all roughly thirty of them. In-between the various mobile action sequences, you’ll find a relentless assortment of these multi-stage battles, and they’re hardly ever trivial. Some of them, in fact, are extremely frustrating, so much so that you’ll have to sit back, take a deep breath, and vow to adopt an entirely different strategy the next attempt if you wish to succeed (the Samurai melee battle and bird-headed freak battle immediately spring to mind). It’s seriously old-school pattern-based boss battling to the max, so buckle up.
Should you manage to complete a level without dying, you may have a shot at the leaderboards. These boards, by the way, are intelligently divided by difficulty and character to ensure that every comparison is apples to apples. Uploading your score is a ten-second affair: complete the level, confirm the automatic upload, and off you go. To reiterate, if you’re going for score, this is one hell of a difficult game.
Your mileage may vary
But again, the critical theme here is accessibility. This is a product for the hardcore, but no less is it a barrier for those of us who might just wish to play and enjoy in pursuit of completion. That isn’t to say that you aren’t hardcore if you can’t handle the Ikarugas and Radiant Silverguns that populate the library of past projects that Treasure has produced, but rather, simply that not every gamer is willing to dedicate the requisite time to complete a level without dying and secure a spot on one of the leaderboards.
The point is that the game—extraordinarily—caters to both audiences. Granted, it’s unlikely to please the truly casual, but odds are you don’t fall into that category if you’re reading our site. Grab a friend, spouse, or prisoner, and you can even enjoy a Super Mario Galaxy-style two-player mode, which probably could have been a little more tightly-integrated… but hey, it works.