Boasting in-game movies, voice-acted dialogue and a campaign in the five-hour range, the Wii’s “Sin & Punishment: Star Successor” (rated T, $50) looks more like a traditional $50 video game than a lot of shoot-’em-ups on the market.
But don’t let those bullet points fool you. Though “Star Successor” is a blast to play, its graphics look as if they’ve been run through some kind of muddy “2001” filter, the soundtrack, though excellent, sounds like it’s playing through a boom box and the confounding, meandering story seems to have been written by a 4-year-old.
Yet to harp on these shortcomings is to miss the point of “Star Successor,” a sequel to a Japanese Nintendo 64 game that didn’t get its first U.S. release until 2007 on the Wii’s Virtual Console. Like “Deathsmiles,” which I reviewed earlier this week, this is a game about shooting lots of stuff and scoring a ton of points, then replaying it and trying to beat your score.
You play as one of two characters. There’s Isa, an effeminate boy with a taste for thigh-high boots, and Kachi, a girl with thigh-high boots who appears to have the same haircut as Isa. It eventually becomes clear that Kachi only appears to be a girl. She’s actually a sort of alien in disguise. Isa, originally sent to kill her, had second thoughts, either because of her nonthreatening, inquisitive nature or the fact that she’s got some cute clothes he hopes to borrow. Anyhow, they’re both on the lam from Isa’s bosses, who’ve sent several fashion-forward assassins known as the Nebulox to hunt them down.
Though “Star Successor” plays out in three dimensions, it’s still what’s known as an on-rails shooter. (The genre is so named because the player-controlled character progresses through levels automatically, and the player is never given full control over level progression.) You’ll run or fly, using Isa’s jetpack or Kachi’s hoverboard to move around, avoiding danger with jumps and a “dash” maneuver as you blast away. Kachi’s more tuned for rookies, with a reticule that locks onto targets automatically as long as you keep the trigger button held. Isa allows for players to point the Wii remote anywhere and fire at will.
Even though “Star Successor’s” graphics often look muddy and dull, the action moves at a steady pace and the game never slows down or feels glitchy. You’ll guide Isa and Kachi through a diverse set of creative worlds, ranging from an underwater adventure to a spooky nightmare set in a forest. All the while, a dynamic, pulsing soundtrack sets the scene, though it doesn’t sound as crisp as it ought to.
The game features a number of mid- and end-level boss battles that could trip up more casual players. A Nebulox assassin in the third level, for example, requires players to perfectly time dodges and counterattacks, even on the “easy” difficulty. Because “Star Successor” lacks mid-battle “continues,” players who die start over at the beginning of the fight, with the boss at full health. It’s possible some players might get stuck on a boss, lose patience with trying to memorize attack patterns and quit. In “Deathsmiles,” if you die during a boss fight, you can continue right where you left off, slowly whittling down the boss’ health. It’d be nice if “Star Successor” included an even easier mode that allowed anyone, regardless of skill, to finish the game.
Like “Deathsmiles,” “Sin & Punishment: Star Successor” is worth the $50 asking price if you’re the sort of person who likes replaying a well-made, short game in the hopes of improving your score and achieving a zenlike mastery over its levels. While its visuals and audio can be a bit lacking in spots, they’re certainly good enough. (It’s possible the graphics suffered a bit as a tradeoff for the game’s fluid frame rate.) The game’s playable with the remote+nunchuk combo, a GameCube controller, any of the Wii’s classic controllers or the Wii Zapper. I’m guessing most folks will feel comfortable with the standard Wii controller’s point-and-shoot feel. The idea of playing with the Wii Zapper just feels silly.