In late 2000, during the twilight of the N64, Nintendo contracted famed developer Treasure to create a shooting game. The resulting product, Sin & Punishment: Successor of the Earth, was a highly regarded on-rails shooter with a melee twist, and console owners picked it up in spades. Despite the high praise and good sales, though, the game never left Japan, forcing North American gamers to import the game at high cost once it looked like the translated game would never make it out before the release of the GameCube. Seven years and two console generations later, gamers finally saw the title via the Wii Virtual Console, and the gameplay holds up well to this day. Nintendo and Treasure have teamed up again for the sequel, which the developer rarely does for its titles. It may have been a very long time coming, but fans will not be disappointed in the sequel, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor.
The universe has two different dimensions to it, inner and outer space, which are at constant war with one another. To defend inner space, its leaders have created humans to destroy anything that is different from them. If the humans begin to choose peace over war, the leaders wipe the planet clean and start anew. Kachi, an outer space agent, is sent to Earth-4 to determine the weakness of the humans who had been wiped from the planet. Upon arriving, she loses sight of her mission and becomes curious about humans. Isa Jo, the inner space soldier who has been sent to destroy her, decides to spare Kachi's life. Inner space leaders are infuriated by Isa Jo's betrayal and send a Special Forces unit from Earth-5 to wipe out the duo.
The plot for Star Successor only begins to make sense if you read the instruction book. The game doesn't explain why certain things occur or why characters have the abilities that they do. You never know why Kachi and Isa Jo are banded together in the first place or why Isa Jo can pass through solid objects or teleport. The game will show you that Earth-5 operatives are hunting them down, but the reasons for this are unclear. All that you can infer from the cut scenes is that two people are running away, and an army has been sent to stop them at all costs.
Like the first game, this is primarily an on-rails shooter. In every stage, the chosen player will automatically move where the stage takes them, much like classic shoot-'em-ups. Your player can move in any direction around the screen and shoot in any direction. You're also given a special attack for extra firepower and a melee attack that acts as extra offense for nearby enemies or a defensive move since it can absorb and deflect a few enemy shots. You can also dodge incoming shots, and this also provides a brief moment of invincibility as you're going through the dodge animation.
Treasure has gained a reputation for developing games that are challenging for veteran game players. Star Successor is no different, but it achieves this level of difficulty in different ways. This is a bullet-hell shooter, so gunfire and lasers fill the screen but only during boss fights. Non-boss fights leave you with multiple objects on the screen, and while they still pose a problem, the chaos is manageable and the amount of gunfire isn't as deadly. Players will quickly notice that there are almost twice as many boss fights as non-boss fights. It's not uncommon to see one boss fight after another, and each boss fight is always much tougher than the last. Dying is a common thing, but you're always compelled to keep going because the fights are exciting and the checkpoints are numerous.
The checkpoint system highlights one of the major improvements that the developers have made to help the game reach a wider audience. Checkpoints are placed at the beginning and end of almost every fight and every directional change, ensuring that death doesn't mean respawning far from the place you died. Checkpoints even appear in the middle of boss phases, so defeating a large boss often doesn't mean going through the same tough phases over and over again. The other change to appeal to the masses is a selection of variable difficulty levels. Interestingly, even the easiest level of difficulty keeps up a level of excitement without making the player feel too overpowered. Some may fear that these changes dilute the experience, but regardless of the difficulty level, it's still entertaining to shoot down hordes of enemies and waves of giant bosses while dodging a storm of bullets.
Like most shooters of this kind, there is the issue of game length. With eight levels to traverse, it takes an average of three hours for one character to complete the game. The desire to keep playing is fueled by the online leaderboards for each level and the overall game, but it is also fueled by the differences with each character. For example, Ino Jo has a more powerful supershot but Kachi's supershot can target multiple enemies. Kachi can also auto-target enemies while Ino Jo has to manually initiate lock-on. The differences aren't superficial and really make the game and skirmishes feel different. As a bonus, once you complete the game with both characters, you can play again with the option to switch characters on the fly during the fights. Even with three different playthroughs, the experience will take less than 10 hours. Unless you want to keep playing to get higher scores, the overall experience can be quite short.
Star Successor features a multiplayer mode that feels like it was added to broaden the appeal of the game. The mode is cooperative only, but instead of giving the second player a physical character to play, he or she only gets an aiming reticle. Additionaly, the second player can only access regular gunfire but not melee attacks or supershots. It's pretty similar to Super Mario Galaxy where the second player isn't in the game but affects the game world. This is probably the only change that makes the game much easier, but while it is a fairly fun mode, co-op gameplay would have been much more enjoyable if both players had equal abilities.
The graphics are good but not exactly great. The environments go from drab and desolate to somewhat foreboding, especially during the dream sequence. The character designs for the heroes are still anime-like but look slightly more realistic than cartoon-like. Monster designs are more imaginative, though, with each boss being more beautiful and equally more grotesque than the last. They also become stranger in their designs, thus adding to their beauty. Explosions and gunfire are plentiful, and while everything runs smoothly most of the time, there are a few points where the game experiences slowdown. It sounds like the typical stuff Treasure is known for, but what stops this graphical package from being excellent is the use of color. From the environments to the explosions to the multiple colors used on the heroes, every color feels like it has been run through a filter and made to look bleak. Brighter colors would have had the same effect, unfortunately, as the dire feeling of the situation at hand would have been lost in the brightness. A nicer color balance would have made the game look more appealing.
The sound in Star Successor is somewhat nostalgic but in a good way. Most of that nostalgic feeling comes from the music that bounces back and forth between high-energy electronic tunes to something orchestral. The score sounds good and will be something familiar for longtime Treasure fans. The effects are also good and bombastic but not overwhelming, considering the amount of weaponry and explosions going off at almost all times. The voices are unusual since they feature both Japanese and English, something that the English-only prequel never did. Both are delivered well, and even if the dialogue isn't exactly the best written material, it isn't groan-inducing either.
You have a good selection of control schemes, so just about every gamer will find one to like. The default Wii Remote/Nunchuk combination has you moving your character with the analog stick and aiming the cursor with the Wiimote. The game also supports the Nintendo GameCube controller and the Classic Controller, with the right analog stick taking over for the Wiimote in aiming duties. Unlike most games that have multiple controller options, the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combination ends up being the most ideal due to the rapid aiming that can be accomplished with the Wiimote in comparison to analog stick movement. For a bullet-hell shooter like this, rapid reaction is key, and it's great that the game can sense rapid movements without losing its connection. The only controller option that doesn't seem as comfortable to use would be the Wii Zapper configuration, mostly due to the placement of the Nunchuk in proximity to the Wii Remote. It is still playable this way but is much less comfortable than the other configurations.
Sin & Punishment: Star Successor does exactly the same thing the original game did: Provide a devilishly fun experience under the guise of a simple but difficult shooter. With the action coming in at an almost nonstop pace and a slew of bosses at every turn, the game manages to live up to Treasure's reputation. At the same time, the varied difficulty levels and different attributes of each character make this one of the few Treasure shooters that can be accessible by even the most inexperienced players. If you're a Wii-owning shooting fan of any skill level, Star Successor is pretty much essential for your gaming library.
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