You get a lot of information about Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies from its title. It will punish you. A lot. The Successor of the Skies bit, though... ignore that. That makes no sense.
It punishes you because it's a Treasure game. Treasure, as all proper hardcore gamers know, is the cult Japanese developer behind arcade shooter classics Gunstar Heroes, Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun, a game so rare Kensington and Chelsea estate agents accept it in exchange for two bedroom flats. Probably.
On-rails shooter Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies isn't as punishing as previous Treasure titles, but it'll still grab you by the scruff of your neck and head butt your nose into your brain with each increasingly difficult, and barmy, stage. And that's just on normal.
But, and this is the crux, it's huge fun, immensely satisfying and one of those games that, when you get good at it, transports you into the mysterious place known only as "The Zone".
"The Zone" is a weird alternate reality/dimension/black hole/Zen state of being/Nirvana place thing where gamers separate mind from body and achieve remarkable feats of video game wizardry. Brow furrowed in concentration, you stop trying to beat games and just beat them, a bit like Neo fighting Morpheus in The Matrix, except with more pew pew and less kung-fu.
Sin and Punishment transports you into "The Zone" for about five hours, give or take skill level and the difficulty you're playing it on. And while those five hours last, you'll want for nothing else.
The obvious reference point is Successor of the Skies' predecessor, 2000 N64 title Successor of the Earth, which you've probably never heard of because it was only released in Japan. A more Western-friendly comparison is ancient arcade shooter Space Harrier. You control a small boy who can fire an endless stream of bullets from his arm and fly about with a jet pack. You shoot into the background, aiming the on-screen pointer with the Wii Remote and dart about with the Nunchuck thumb stick. A quick evade, which makes you temporarily invulnerable, helps you dodge the millions and millions of enemy bullets, a sword slash reflects enemy fire for mega damage, and holding down the shoot button charges a powerful blast, which you can release for mega mega damage.
The game's control scheme is one of the best fits for the Wii I've ever seen. Moving the pointer with the Wii Remote is accurate, intuitive and perfectly in keeping with the 'aiming a gun and shooting at lots of enemies' premise of the game. This is one of those rare occasions where using two thumb sticks - one for movement and one for moving the targeting reticule - is worse than using the Wii Remote/Nunchuck combo. I know because I've tried to play Sin and Punishment with the Wii Classic Controller. It's balls.
Treasure's absolutely nailed arcade shooting with Sin and Punishment. As the developer has proved so often in the past, the best ideas are often the simplest ones. There is a clearly defined mechanic at play here: one eye is on the background, looking after aiming and firing, the other is looking at the foreground, looking after dodging the seemingly impossible to avoid stream of bullets. It's when you find yourself meeting the challenge set by both of these mechanics simultaneously that you enter "The Zone". And, quite possibly, go cross-eyed.
As you'd expect from a Treasure game, the gameplay is constantly in flux. The camera is always on the move, hurtling along at an often break-neck speed and dragging you along for a rollercoaster ride through a science fiction world packed with eye-catching monsters, backgrounds and, of course, bosses. But things get really interesting when the camera shifts back and forth so that you're playing a side-scrolling 2D shooter, or, in another section, a top down 2D shooter. Some of Sin and Punishment's best moments are when it feels like a "best of Treasure" compilation game. That would be awesome. Treasure should do that.
Despite the nature of the gameplay, Sin and Punishment never feels repetitive. That is of course in part due to the slick gameplay, but a lot of it has to do with the level design. Each stage is markedly different. One level sees you flying through an armada of enemy space ships and robots. Another is set underwater among giant fish things. Perhaps the best level, though, is set in someone's dream - a bizarre, trippy jaunt through a darkened forest packed with nightmarish concoctions that could only have come out of an ever-so-slightly disturbed Japanese mind.
Sin and Punishment's bosses, though, are best. Easily the most challenging parts of the game, boss fights often seem impossible at first; fuelling that rage quit fire in your belly that leads to chucking the Wii Remote at your telly and smashing your teeth in with the Nunchuck. But then you breathe, have a think, and realise that they're actually quite doable and definitely not unfair. You realise that in order to win, you need to sword slice a projectile back at the boss, for example, or concentrate fire on a certain weak spot, or, in one memorable boss fight that's more of a mid-air sword-fighting duel than a blast-a-thon, forget shooting all together and instead concentrate on perfectly timed swipes and evades.
The bosses are often mental. Proper mental. There are lots of tentacles, birds, dolphins, frogs and other pulsing, seeping, very Japanese beasties. Each stage is punctuated by a few of them; mini-bosses at first, then big bosses, then ball-busting end of level bosses. Some of Sin and Punishment's best levels are basically half-hour long boss fights - epic scraps in which the same boss pops up every now and again, cheekily toying with you like a cat would with its dinner, savouring the moment safe in the knowledge that, at the end of the stage, it'll rip you limb from limb and there ain't a damn thing you can do about it.
Despite its many qualities, Sin and Punishment isn't perfect. By sheer virtue of the amount of stuff flying about on screen, the game looks good. But the cringe-worthy cutscenes are so ugly you wonder why Treasure didn't cut them out all together. Given that the story they tell is so embarrassingly crap and the voice acting is so inanely delivered, you'd have thought someone somewhere would have put their hand up and, when prompted, sighed, "Let's not bother". And the game's a bit short, too. High score-obsessed enthusiasts will point to the online leaderboards as evidence that it has unlimited replay value. But for mere mortals Sin and Punishment's seven chapters feel threadbare.
Still, Sin and Punishment is a resounding success - one that's destined for obscurity on the casual friendly Wii - but a success nonetheless. It's a great example of what Treasure can do and a perfect fit on the Wii. Unique, hardcore and immensely satisfying, Sin and Punishment hits all the right weak spots. Go out and buy it.