Every once and a while, you may hear me gush about Japanese developer Treasure, creators of such treats as Gunstar Heroes and Ikaruga. None of their games crack the loose inventory of my favourite games, but every time I play one, I’m always stricken by the sheer imagination that’s always on display. They’re weird, but not necessarily in a quirky way, you know?
Anyways, I’m also a fan of the N64 (don’t judge me), and I’ve recently been making an effort to put their Japanese-only games onto my shelf, and my most recent acquisition was Sin & Punishment. Out of all their efforts on the N64, this one tends to get talked about the most, perhaps because Mischief Makers was so divisive, and Bangai-O is better remembered as a Dreamcast game. Nonetheless, Sin & Punishment is something of a swansong for the N64 in Japan, having been released in late 2000, and keeping in mind that Japan didn’t receive Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It was never released in North America because… I have no idea, but it did eventually get ported to the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console over here. I’m a snob, though, so I needed to have the cart. I need to get physical.
Sin & Punishment is an arcade style, on-rails shooter, playing something like the landmaster missions in Star Fox 64. You dodge obstacles and enemy attacks that come at you while simultaneously lobbing firepower back in their direction. Honestly, I think the landmaster comparison is so spot on that I want to give myself a high-five.
The difference is that Sin & Punishment is more close range, having enemies run at you from around corners and obstacles, and allowing you to swat them away with a well placed swipe of your sword. You can dodge from side to side, trade out firepower for the accuracy of a lock-on system, and deflect certain projectiles back on enemies.
It’s also a lot weirder in a weird way, if that makes any sense. It’s a lot like the tone of Gunstar Heroes without the goofy graphics. The characters play it straight-faced, and some of the dialogue is a bit dark, but no one winks at the camera to let you know that all the bizarre setpieces and strange plot are supposed to have a humourous edge to them. It’s a confusing juxtaposition.
GOOD MORNING, AIRAN
Speaking of confusing, I’m not even sure how to explain the plot. Apparently the Earth has too many people and not enough food, so Japan genetically engineers new delicious creatures called ruffians which mutate and starts wreaking havoc. A group of mercenaries (maybe) named the Armed Volunteers come in and try to set things right, but I guess they’re jerks, so that’s not good either.
You play as group of kids (I think) who are fighting… everything. They’re just letting loose and killing Armed Volunteer and ruffian alike in the hopes of saving Japan, or something. A lot of weird stuff happens, Tokyo gets drowned in blood, and there’s a plot about some girl giving everyone her blood to allow them to transform into monsters.
The whole thing is voiced over (poorly) in English, and I struggle to understand why. It takes place primarily in Japan, the characters have clearly Japanese names like Saki and Airan, but they speak English without an accent with Japanese subtitles. It takes place in the unimaginably distant future of 2007, so maybe everyone just speaks English, I have no idea.
I HAVE NO IDEA
But, whatever, who cares why your characters are mowing down their fellow man as long as the gameplay is good, and really, it’s delicious. It’s not especially deep, but it is really satisfying and contains a dash of variety that keeps things fresh. Sin & Punishment loves to just throw gobs of enemies at you, letting you effortlessly mow them down or smack them away.
The game was designed with the idea that you’d hold the N64 controller with one hand on the left-digital handle and another on the center-analogue one, but they include the option for center-analogue and right-digital. Either way, you’re moving with the digital buttons while aiming with the stick. It works pretty well, but it takes a bit of getting used to, and even after a few playthroughs, I’d still forget which button was jump.
Sin & Punishment follows the arcade model pretty heavily. There’s an emphasis on getting the high score and finishing in the fastest time. That’s really the only way to extend gameplay, since the game is extremely short. My first run was just over an hour. It’s also not very difficult, at least I didn’t have much trouble with it. There are limited continues, but you get extra lives for every hundred enemies you kill and the game throws avalanches of them at you, so it’s unlikely you’ll run out. There’s also a checkpoint system which means you won’t have to start a level over for each time you die, so it’s pretty easy going about your failures.
Amusingly, Sin & Punishment was developed under the name Glass Soldier, and was initially reported to have an extremely high difficulty. The director from Nintendo, Hitoshi Yamagami, debated with the team to reduce the difficulty, as he was unable to complete the gameplay that was presented to him. The team responded to him by saying that if he wasn’t up to the task of playing the game, he didn’t belong on the team. After a great deal of debating, Treasure eventually acquiesced, and that’s how we ended up with the difficulty we have.
It’s sort of difficult to really nail what makes Sin & Punishment so enjoyable, because there’s a lot more
It’s also short, and pretty simple. It’s definitely not for everyone, but you’re only risking an hour by giving it a try. It’s a game that absolutely reeks of Treasure’s unique personality, even if the difficulty isn’t quite there. It’s definitely not their best effort, but it’s certainly something worth seeking out.
This game was played on an N64 using an original cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.