Sin & Punishment

Sin & Punishment
Sin & Punishment Cover
Platforms Wii Virtual Console
Genre Bewildering Rail-Shooter
Score 7  Clock score of 7

Every Monday morning since the Wii craze began in November 2006, the Wii Shop Channel has been updated with new downloadable titles to purchase. The Virtual Console, one of the Wii's few enticing tidbits to core gamers at launch, promised to make all our favorite classic games through the N64 era available on one piece of hardware. Things started out strong for the VC, which reached the 100-game milestone just over six months after launch. It seems Nintendo just couldn't keep that pace, however, as the first seven months of 2010 have seen less than twenty new retro titles. With obvious Nintendo classics like Star Fox, Yoshi's Island, Pilotwings 64, and Excitebike 64 still waiting to be let loose -- in addition to the many unseen third party games worth revisiting -- it seems far too early for the Virtual Console to receive less than one title a week.

The future of the Virtual Console was looking bright in 2007, however, when Nintendo decided to make the N64 import classic Sin & Punishment available outside of Asia for the first time. It seems Treasure always planned a western release, as all the voice acting was performed in English (with Japanese subtitles), even in the original Japanese cartridge. The rumor is that a dried-up N64 market in 2000 made the niche developer think twice. In a rare showing of extra effort on Nintendo's part, Sin & Punishment was the first of a small collection of games formerly exclusive to Japan to make it to the Americas. It probably didn't take that much effort, though, since the only translation required was in the main menu and tutorials. The original Japanese subtitles persist even in the localized version.

I'd always planned on putting down the $12 to try Sin & Punishment at some point, but I figured the recent release of Sin & Punishment 2: Star Successor for the Wii makes this as good a time as any. Might as well snag the N64 game for some context, right? I downloaded the game with the intent of completing a first hour review for our readers, but it seems there isn't a whole lot to talk about beyond that first sixty minutes, so this has been upgraded to full review status. Lucky you!

sin and Punishment Memory

Just in case you wanted to check out my notes from the first hour of the game, here they are:

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)

00 through 59 - I don't understand what is happening, but I like it a lot.

60 - The first hour ends.

sin and Punishment Lizard

Sin & Punishment stars Saki, a boy equipped with the world's baggiest short shorts, and his slightly mannish girlfriend Airen. The pair is some kind of resistance force, I guess, and they fight both humans and Ruffians, which are aliens and/or monsters of some sort. Saki soon transforms into a monster himself somehow, and there's this Achi girl who seems to know what's happening when none of the other characters do, let alone me. Some guy named Brad commands a huge armed force and has a pet cat-monster, but I think he turns into a supernova, so maybe he dies then. But before that, someone fell off a building and the streets of Tokyo filled with blood. The gang also teleports to a train ten years in the future for some reason, but I think that might have been a dream sequence or possibly an alternate reality concocted by a genie.

I'll be honest, I've played through Sin & Punishment multiple times, and I'm still not exactly sure what happened. You might get the jist of what Treasure was going for eventually, but I feel as though there isn't much to get: it's just crazy balderdash as far as I can tell. The nonsense actually seems to work in S&P's favor, though, because many of the outrageous scenarios you'll play through are well beyond the realm of feasibility anyway. You won't question why you're assualting a fleet of aircraft carriers from a floating strip of asphalt because nothing that happens beforehand makes any sense either. My advice? Turn off your brain and enjoy the ride.

sin and Punishment GunshipAs is the Treasure tradition, it's definitely a ride like no other. Sin & Punishment is in a similar vein as rail shooters like Panzer Dragoon and Gradius, but it has an interesting twist: your character's movement and aiming are performed separately. Player movement is restricted to sidestepping left and right on the ground, along with simple jumps and rolling dodges; the stage will almost always scroll, as in any rail-shooter, without the player's input. Meanwhile, the aiming reticule can be moved independently, and automatically targets background and foreground foes as you guide it along the 2D plane of the screen. Nearby enemies and some projectiles can also be fended off with a powerful sword attack. There's definitely a hint of Star Fox 64 going on in Sin & Punishment, but the independent movement and shooting makes for a unique flavor. It will probably take some time to wrap your head around the controls.

Speaking of controls, I played the game using the Gamecube controller, and things worked out fine...mostly. The default control scheme reasonably uses the Gamecube D-pad for sidestepping, though sometimes the dodge mechanic (triggered by pressing a either left or right twice) will misfire. Using the C-stick to control the reticule is fine, but when things get a little crazy, you'll wish it could cruise across the screen a bit faster. Also worth noting is that the reticule can be toggled to lock onto nearby enemies by hitting the A button, a feature that leaves less precision for the player to worry about but isn't quite as powerful as manual aim, which also builds score bonuses quicker. My only real complaint is that the L trigger must be fully pressed in to shoot and tapped to use your blade. Considering you'll likely be holding down the trigger for the entire game and repeatedly pressing it to trigger your sword, this gets tiring with the Gamecube's springy shoulder buttons. The controls certainly work, but I can't help but wish there were some customization options so my left index finger doesn't get so much of a workout. By the end of a half-hour session, my knuckle is screaming for me to stop.

sin and Punishment Closeup

As a technical package, Sin & Punishment won't turn any heads, at least not for the right reasons. Sure, there's a pretty impressive amount of stuff happening on-screen for an N64 title, and the draw distance is better than you'd expect, but like all other games produced during the advent of 3D, the character models look a bit like cubist art. Overall, the game looks much better than most of its N64 contemporaries, but considering how aged most N64 titles look nowadays, that's not exactly high praise. Things break down even more when you turn up the volume. The voice acting is simply terrible, though I suppose that was par for the course in the fifth generation console era. The odd jazz-rock synth-fusion soundtrack isn't especially memorable, though seems fitting to the unfolding chaos. And the sound effects have that tinny, washed-out effect that Star Fox 64 also sometimes had. This is not the game to show off your new surround sound system, that's for sure. On the other hand, if you and your friends enjoy ridiculing B-movies together, you might get a kick out of Sin & Punishment's presentation, especially the audio.

But if there's one true weakness to this lost gem, it's that there's just not much to see. My first hour with Sin & Punishment was also the first two-thirds of the game's story mode (and the Training mode as well). Outside of the standard story run and Training, there is only a Scene Select mode for each of the game's eight stages. That said, what's there is a fantastic package. Treasure's specialty has always been short games stuffed with memorable moments, and there's no chance Saki and Co. will outstay their welcome. The variety of standard enemies is impressive, but what's really incredible is that nearly half of the game is spent fighting bosses or mini-bosses, each with different tactics and patterns to figure out. And if you enjoyed the ride, there are a few higher difficulty settings to complete, and they do change things up a bit by adding more enemies in tougher spots and giving bosses a new tactic or two. Plus there's always the neverending quest to get higher scores and lower completion times with plenty of strategies to discover there.

sin and Punishment Wall Rush


Final Thoughts

Video: Like most Treasure games, the screen is always full of glorious danger. It looks good for an N64 title and has some pretty neat-looking set pieces, but it still looks fairly out-of-date, as expected.

Audio: Terrible voice acting. Sound effects have that lo-fi feel you get from N64 games, but the strange synth-fusion tunes seem to suit the surreality of the game.

Story: The English dialogue will make about as much sense to you as the Japanese subtitles.

Gameplay: It's a bit like Star Fox 64 with some extra folds of complexity and experimentation thrown in.

Challenge: Treasure doesn't hold back: you'll definitely want to run through the Training mode before tackling the actual game. Anyone but rail-shooting veterans should start on the default Easy mode, because things ramp up considerably by the end of the game. Unlockable Hard and Turbo modes await as well; the former throws an excessive number of foes and projecties on-screen, and the latter does it at double speed! Earning ever-higher scores will require planning, experimentation, and plenty of replay.

Pacing: Saki hits the ground running and never stops. It's all action, all the time. There's no loading, and cutscenes are brief and skippable.

Longevity: You can see everything the game has to offer in one brief sitting. But if you like what you played, it's worth trying again on higher difficulties and searching for tricks and strategies that will net higher scores.

Fun Factor: The two-plane gameplay is unique enough to feel fresh, and there's never a dull moment with new threats around every corner.

Value: At 1200 Wii points, it's the most expensive game on the Virtual Console and probably won't even last you as long as many cheaper titles if you're just looking to see the end credits.

The Verdict: Rail shooter fanatics and Treasure lovers should absolutely check out this lost gem, as should hardcore gamers looking for a short but sweet challenge worth replaying over and over again. On the other hand, if you don't obsess over finding alternate strategies for each enemy encounter to maximize hits and time remaining, you probably won't feel like you're getting your money's worth out of Sin & Punishment.

sin and  Punishment Title