Very few games have used perspective as a gameplay mechanic. For every game like Super Paper Mario, Crush, or the upcoming Fez, where the camera perspective changes everything, there are bunches of tried-and-true 2-D or 3-D games. There's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes, risks need to be taken to accomplish something great. It's comforting to know that such a chance was taken with Sideway: New York. It's also good to know that the game is a fun overall experience.
Sideway: New York starts off with your typical video game plot device. You play the role of Nox, a graffiti artist who's looking for your missing friend, Cass. Along the way, you come across one of your tags sprayed atop a rival tag. That rival tag comes to life in the form of a monster named Spray, who suddenly sucks you in from the real world of New York to the flat graffiti world of Sideway. Your job is to find Cass and stop Spray from entering the real world, where he can wreak more havoc.
The title follows the basic rules of a side-scrolling platformer quite nicely. At first, Nox can perform some basic moves like running, punching and jumping on enemies. Since he has some control over objects in the world, he can push and pull crates and use springs to gain some extra height during jumps. As in most platforming games, he can also collect spray tags and secret tags for bonus points instead of extra lives, since he has an infinite amount of those. As the journey progresses, Nox gains new abilities such as double jump, slide, create temporary platforms, and latch onto items and swing from them. He can also gain abilities related to combat, such as create shields, lob paint grenades, perform diving kicks and do ground pounds. All in all, it's about everything you expect from a decent platformer nowadays.
The game's playfield starts to turn heads. All of the buildings and surfaces are rendered in 3-D, and since you're a 2-D painting, sticking to the flat surfaces means the world rotates around you. You'll first notice this when you reach the end of a wall and see that you're wrapping yourself around a corner to continue moving. Get on the roof and, depending on the camera angle used, you'll be able to stand on pipes and air ducts that would normally be lying on the roof. That perspective change is constant, and it helps with the gameplay since you're always trying to find alternate paths to the goal or a secret area full of hidden goodies.
Even without the perspective-changing gimmick, Sideway is still a solid platformer. The enemies are initially easy to defeat, but the methods to defeat them always change, making for some good, thought-provoking situations. The platforming is comprised of classic jumping challenges and other reflex-oriented puzzles, where you have to construct platforms at just the right time to maximize where you can go in what amount of time. The power-ups are also doled out in just the right amount, so every level feels fresh since there's always something new you can do. The number of levels feels about right, even though the game can be finished in about six hours. Level scores and pick-up totals are always recorded in online leaderboards, so that drives enthusiasts to replay everything to find stuff faster.
If the game falters badly in one area, it would be with the multiplayer. Both players have the same moves and can spawn in at any time as long as one person remains alive (this is useful during boss fights). There's even drop-in/drop-out play, so a multiplayer game can be started or stopped at any time. All of these are good multiplayer elements, but ultimately, the design renders it more difficult to play. Because of the constant perspective shifts that are triggered once a player enters a different plane, it becomes difficult for the other player to keep track of where they are. It wouldn't be so bad if the perspective switch were to happen in only a few spots per level, but it happens more often than not, and there will always be a time when one player constantly loses his/her character, making the game frustrating. While the idea is nice, it would have been best if this feature had been left on the cutting room floor.
At first, the graphics don't impress. The environments look like nice caricatures of each of New York's five boroughs, but the colors feel too flat to stand out. Whether jumping, running or standing still, Nox always looks like he's dripping with paint, and it fits well with the idea that he's a living, breathing piece of art. The same goes for the monsters whose looks range from rather tame to inventive. The animations are smooth during camera angle changes, and the overall result is a game that looks nice and fluid while in motion. About the only gripe than can be levied here is an occasional, slight drop in frame rate. There are very few times when the frames drop from a solid 30 to somewhere in the 20s, but since that only seems to happen during long camera pans at the beginning of a level, it won't be a big deal for most people.
Sideway's music nicely plays off of the urban theme. Constructed by hip-hop artist Mr. Lif, the game's soundtrack consists of some excellent beats as well as a song or two that fits well with the game's New York setting. The new tracks open up as you keep going through new levels in the game, so there's always something new playing. The bad news is that the tracks are often shorter than the time it takes to get through any of the game's 16 levels. As a result, the tracks start to sound tired as you hear the same one being played for the umpteenth time. This issue is especially grating when there are so few tracks at your disposal. As for sound effects, there aren't too many, but nothing sounds either bad or exemplary. The same goes for voices since, aside from Spray's laugh when you meet your demise, everyone is rather silent.
Sideway: New York is a charming side-scrolling platformer. The perspective change is a great effect that makes the game fun to play as long as you aren't playing multiplayer. The graphical look is fresh, and the music, while repetitive, sounds great and nicely adheres to the theme. Even though the combat may not be amazing, the platforming mechanics make the romp worth experiencing, and the numerous pick-ups make the short trip memorable. Sideway has a $10 price point, so if you're a fan of the genre, you should give this game a shot.
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