Sin & Punishment: Star Successor

Game Description: Sin & Punishment: Star Successor is rail shooter for Wii that challenges you, whether playing alone or with a friend, to survive an onslaught of attacks by enemies large and small. Players have their choice of a male or female playable character, each with defensive and specific offensive abilities, and the ability to battle huge bosses and other enemies from the ground or from the air using a variety of devices. Additional features include multiple controller options and online international leaderboards and more.

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor Review

Virtue and Reward

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor Screenshot

HIGH The Lovecraftian transformations of Armon Ritter.

LOW The painfully sluggish sword fight against Hibaru Yaju.

WTF So, the hideous bird-lion boss is our new best friend?

One might well wonder why on earth anyone would make a game like Sin & Punishment: Star Successor for the Wii. The developer, Treasure, is known for hardcore shooters like Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. While a game in that vein might fill a poorly-served niche in Wii software, it hardly seems like the sort of thing that would appeal to the console's broad audience of relatively inexperienced gamers. As I played the game, however, I came to understand Treasure's reasoning—the incredible robustness of the remote-and-nunchuk control scheme makes the Wii a solid hardware choice for shooters regardless of demographics. In addition, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor has been tuned to provide an excellent introduction to the genre for novices, and therefore may do a great deal to build the audience for this kind of game.

What a rosy picture I've drawn! Things don't begin so well as all that, however. Our introduction to the game takes the form of a cut-scene that showcases the game's weaknesses; there's practically no story, and what little exists is conveyed through stilted, poorly acted dialogue. Up close, as they are seen in these moments, the character models are distractingly ugly and even distorted, especially on an HD screen.

Thankfully, almost all the issues evaporate once the action starts. The game looks just fine in motion, with eye-catching enemies and beautifully-crafted bosses. The ordinary foes cover the screen while pumping out as many bullets as they can, but Treasure has tuned everything so that the system never chugs under their weight.

In the normal flow of action, the player uses the remote for shooting and the nunchuck for moving, without any waggle nonsense to ruin your wrists. Both playable characters can lock on to specific enemies for more certain hits, at a slight penalty in damage, and one character has a softer auto-lock. Charged shots and melee strikes are also available.

These latter factors often come into play in Sin & Punishment's numerous and inventive boss battles. The traditional elements are all here: hidden weak points, bosses invulnerable to anything other than the charge shot, screens absolutely full of bullets, and so on. Treasure also fiddles with the system to generate some interesting alternatives to a typical fight, including a sword battle and a segment that behaves like a classic 2-D fighter. These permutations aren't always successful—movement during the swordfight was unpleasantly sluggish—but they change up the action just enough to keep you on your toes.

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor Screenshot

A change-up is needed because although the game (overall) is quite short, the visually diverse stages themselves feel very long, and they often end in a crescendo of multiple bossfights. Hardcore score junkies may rebel against this structure as it increases their chances of taking an unlucky hit and losing all the points from a good playthrough. The generous checkpointing, however, means that newcomers to the genre will never get too frustrated with their lack of progress.

An accurately-named "Easy" difficulty also makes for a gentle welcome, but that doesn't mean that it's a cakewalk. Sin & Punishment: Star Successor is a game where I died frequently because I sucked. The important thing here is that it was my fault; the control scheme almost never let me down. I knew that each death was the result of my bad decisions, my inattentiveness, my failure to read what was going on in a fight. The only exceptions were the slow-moving swordfight and one difficult-to-read boss. Even in those cases a simple adjustment of tactics was all I needed to get past an embarrassing game over.

After such a death, restarting from a checkpoint preserves progress but not score, so even people who never work their way above Easy difficulty have something to shoot for in replays. With its brevity and minimal story, the pleasure of Sin & Punishment lies in the old-school virtue of beating the high score, either a personal best own or someone else's. In this regard, the online leaderboards were something of a disappointment. They load sluggishly, and the game didn't seem to play very nicely with my console's Wi-Fi connection. Comparing scores to the rest of the world involves a lot of backtracking in menus, a design that feels dated in comparison to the effortless leaderboards of so many Xbox Live games.

Taking a few minutes to check scores might just feel like a welcome respite, however, after the intensity of Sin & Punishment's long levels. Treasure hasn't skimped on the frenetic action or toughness that the genre is known for, yet they've tuned the game to cut down the frustration for those who just want to progress without playing the same ten minutes of a level over and over again.

For the genre fan, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor will be a sublime, smoothly controlling treat. For the novice, it's a fairly gentle introduction to a classically hardcore experience. For Treasure, it's a great chance to addict a vast new audience to their style of game. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Wii. Approximately 13 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed twice on easy and once on normal).

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains fantasy violence. None of the violence is graphic and there isn't any blood. Honestly, I'm not even sure what justifies the T rating; any child old enough to play a console game will be fine with this one.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Some attacks are preceded by sounds, but overall you won't have much added difficulty. Subtitles are available in cut-scenes, not that there's anything interesting going on.

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor Second Opinion

A Masterclass in Mayhem

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor Screenshot

HIGH Finding yourself overwhelmed by giant bubbles in the underwater stage, then realizing you can turn them into missiles by hitting them with your sword to unleash all kinds of destruction.

LOW Playing the so-called "2 Player" mode with a friend for the first time expecting chaos of the highest order, only to discover that the second player really doesn't get to play at all.

WTF When a boss rips off a piece of itself, dribbles it like a basketball, and then throws it at you like you're its own personal bowling pin, you know you're playing a Treasure game.

There are action games, and then there are action games made by Treasure, and therein lies the difference.

I'm sure there will be those who will say I'm full of poop, but it's about time someone went ahead and stated the obvious: Treasure makes the best action games. Since the Sega Genesis days, they've been the Bob Clampett of video games—creating games that often have more ideas in a single level than most studios manage to put into an entire game. If you don't believe me, play Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes, Radiant Silvergun or Ikaruga, and then try to tell me those aren't the best games of their respective genres.

If you happen to be one of those poor souls who hasn't been paying attention to Treasure's exploits, now's your chance to get yourself acquainted with the modern masters of disaster. Sin & Punishment: Star Successor is out on the Wii, and it's as good a game as Treasure has ever made. It's so good that if this game isn't on everyone's Top 10 lists at the end of the year, I'll maybe think about running through downtown Seattle wearing nothing but a Wii Remote Jacket.

A sequel to a Nintendo 64 game that was never released in North America until its debut on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007, Star Successor represents the natural evolution of the old-school, side-scrolling shooter disguised as an update of Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon. It is a third-person, on-rails shooter just as those games are, but honestly, it plays like Gunstar Heroes for a new generation.

This game is pure poetry in action gaming. Running and flying and shooting and dodging through the game's well-rendered and beautifully designed levels using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk is a genuine thrill—that doesn't happen often these days. Successor achieves critical mass less than five minutes in and doesn't let up until you've beaten the game or it's beaten you (which happened to me more times than I could count).

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor Screenshot

The game's beauty is in its simplicity. You play through the entire game with same level of firepower as when you started (the only power-ups are for health). Shooter fans might scoff at this, but it actually works brilliantly because the gameplay is tuned accordingly. Your gun also doubles as a sword, which lets you unleash four-hit combos on bad guys when they're close, not to mention deflect incoming missiles and other assorted projectiles right back from whence they came. You also get unlimited use of a special shot that does plenty of damage but requires some charge time every time you use it.

Treasure gets maximum utility out of this simple set-up with stages and bosses that require intelligent usage of all of your abilities. Mastery of the deflect attack and the quick-dodge maneuver is particularly essential for getting through the game's later stages. I love games that are built around your powers to navigate its world, and then through good design force you to push those powers to the max to survive. Successor does even better by making it all a lot of fun.

I don't have the time or space to go through all the fun ideas and situations Successor throws at you, but I at least have to mention a few. During the escape scene at the very beginning, there's a great, not-so-subtle throwback to the original Contra–which was developed by some of Treasure's team before they left Konami. The next stage is an underground city that twists and turns all around you—much like the environments in Ikaruga—as you dart under highways and in-between skyscrapers. Later in the game, the gameplay perspective shifts to the old-school, side-scrolling viewpoint for an entire stage, but unlike most games of this ilk, you're not limited to one-directional firing because the controls remain unchanged. The fabulous water tube stage features bad guys who ride the inside of the tube on jet skis and fire rockets which can be redirected at the giant sea serpent chasing and snapping at you. That stage also has sea creatures that emit giant bubbles which can be turned into deadly underwater missiles by hitting them with your sword—now that's fun game logic! There are even a couple of bosses you have to fight melee style, and in one instance late in the game, the fight is actually presented like a Street Fighter-style fighting game.

I feel I'm not doing the game justice, but take my word for it: Playing through the first three or four stages, I can truly state that Successor showed me things I hadn't seen before, such as a boss that morphs into an orca and fights you alongside his orca friends; as well as some things that I had seen before just not done this well, such as the Forgotten Worlds-style gameplay turned on its head. And then, in true Treasure style, the game's second half takes you inside someone's dream, and things really get strange and wonderful.

And hard. Man, is this game hard. "Punishment" is the key word here. The reason this review is coming out so late is that it took me much longer than originally anticipated to finally beat the damn game on the "Normal" difficultly setting. Yeah, go ahead Mr. Hardcore Schmupper: Tell me that I suck at video games. I'm here to tell you it takes some skills if you wanna see the end credits of this game, just like the old days. I didn't care how many hundreds of continues I burned through, when I finally defeated the last of the many crazy bosses this game throws at you toward the end, not only did I feel like I survived something that I'll never have to do again if I choose not to, but also a genuine sense of kick-ass accomplishment—as if I had subdued a big scary monster using only my cat-like reflexes and ninja moves. And it was fun, but the thought of attempting to beat the game on "Hard" makes my balls ache.

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor Screenshot

Also, I've gotta mention—just like the great action games of old, Successor has a great soundtrack. The water tube stage in particular is played to a track that fits the action perfectly, and I love it when that happens because most modern game soundtracks put me to sleep. Fans of Gunstar Heroes will also notice a couple of familiar tunes as Treasure continues to pay tribute to the game that put them on the map.

While Successor achieves near perfection during gameplay, it almost fails spectacularly in a few other areas. First of all, the story in this game is stupid and often incomprehensible, and the cinematics between stages are as poorly conceived as they are terribly animated, but you gotta love a game that contains the immortal dialogue:

"Now what do we do?" says sidekick Kachi.

"Now we run like our lives depend on it. Because they do," answers our generic anime hero, Isa.

You can easily skip through the unnecessary cinematics should you choose to be spared of such hilarity. I know there are fan boys out there who will probably online-bitch at me for saying so, but storytelling has never been one of Treasure's strong suits. However, I'll give Treasure the benefit of the doubt as to the above travesty, as I believe Nintendo of America's localization department was responsible for that howler.

A bigger problem is the game's two-player option, which is pretty much a waste of time. Instead of true co-op mode in which two characters fight together on-screen, the second player is limited to crosshairs-only shooting—doing slightly less damage per shot and with no charge attack. In short, it's no fun at all for the second player, which is too bad because I can see how a real two-player co-op mode would have gamers beggin' for buttermilk.

Also, and it's a minor gripe, but for a game in which so much blows up, it's kind of a drag that it doesn't look just a bit cooler when stuff 'splodes. Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga and Gradius V had some of the best video game explosions I've ever seen, but somehow in Successor, most of the them kind of look like Nintendo 64 quality (although they do sound great). I'm sure this was a compromise Treasure had to make to keep the game running at 60 frames per second, so in the end it was probably a wise decision. On a completely unrelated note, the menu screens are surprisingly uninspired and blah.

This is still one of Treasure's best games, however. With Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, Treasure continues its recent trend of releasing their unique brand of action for Nintendo's underpowered game platforms—Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and Wii—as if to say to Microsoft and Sony, "We don't need your fancy graphics to make good games!" The Wii may not have the best graphics, but it does have its strengths. This game is perfect for the Wii, so I hope it finds an audience. I doubt I'll play a better action game this year.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via purchase at a Toys R Us in Seattle and reviewed on the Wii. Approximately 15 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed one time) and two hours of play in multiplayer modes.