Co-authored by Peter Garcia
|In 2000, Nintendo released something rather unNintendolike--a fast-paced shooter-on-rails, developed by cult game maker Treasure, set in a grim apocalyptic future and starring two fearless teenagers with guns. It launched to wide critical acclaim and is regarded as one of the finest N64 games ever made. But it only came out in Japan.|
Why was that? .....well, it didn't sell very well in its country of origin. Plus, this was 2000 and the N64 was just about dead, so Nintendo decided not to waste any more money on it and stick to developing the surefire hit Gamecube and its destined-for-greatness launch title, Luigi's Mansion.
To make things more irritating, Sin and Punishment was planned for a US release from the very beginning. The Eastern version has already been localized with English voice actors (really, only the text is Japanese). Fortunately, the fact that the game was already translated makes it easier to understand. Unfortunately, it's your typical post-apocalyptic anime mess, meaning you can't understand the plot ANYWAY.
Now that Wii has its Virtual Console, people have been asking for Sin and Punishment to finally be made available. After seeing it, however, I think it's going to need more than just a ROM dump. Everything in the game is controlled by a target reticule, even the menu screens:
If you've played the Wii yet, this should look familiar to you. Sin and Punishment is exactly the kind of game that could be perfectly adapted to the Wiimote. It would feel awkward just stuck with a stick. I'm not sure how much recoding is needed to change controllers, however. If the process is too expensive to bother with, that would be a shame.
|For an extra touch of irony, they
could make S&P available on July 15,
2007---as that's when this game's apocalypse is supposed
Due to the world's population explosion, scientists create an artificial species of animal as a new food source, to be mass-marketed on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. However, this backfires and mutated forms of this species, known as 'Ruffians', begin attacking people and spreading off the island. Darn.
To contain this threat, the United States sends armed volunteers to Japan, led by a young man, Brad, who has strange powers. Though this is where the story of most action games would end, placing you in control of Brad against these beasts, S&P goes a bit further. Backed by a corporate weapon supplier, the Armed Volunteers take advantage of their situation in an attempt for power, using their militant strength not just against the Ruffians but also to suppress the people of Tokyo. Guantanamo on sci-fi steroids.
Riots break out on the streets. Among those that oppose the Armed Volunteers is a Savior Group guided by Achi, a strange young woman with psychic and healing abilities. Wounded Japanese turn to Achi for help, being promised salvation if they join her cause. Among the members of the Saviors are a brash teenage boy named Saki, who hunts Ruffians, and a girl mechanic, Airan. Saki is armed with a DOLPHIN police gun (small wonder where they got that name) that doubles as a close-range melee weapon due to a light-saber sword attached to the grip of the gun. But the mechanics don't really matter as long as you can shoot lots of stuff endlessly. The game remembers how many things you shoot, and by the end you've registered upwards of 2500 kills. That means Saki, Achi and Airan kill something on average every 1.2 seconds!
The Armed Volunteers continue to battle these rebels, while the Ruffians creep through Japan, ever closer to Tokyo...
A little unusual for an action game, Sin and Punishment has a relatively extensive story that changes throughout the game, being told in cut-scenes between levels. In typical Treasure style the story is overblown and a little bizarre, with some expected anime influences. It tries to take itself seriously, but sometimes struggles doing so with poor voice acting and awkward cut-scene direction, even though it sets up gameplay sequences pretty effectively.
The game opens as Saki runs across a luminescent orange field, shooting down flocks of beetle Ruffians and great centipedes that arc through the sky. With few terrestrial obstacles and passive, flying enemies, this stage serves as a good way to familiarize with the game mechanics. Saki automatically runs across a preset track, though he can strafe to the left and right with the C-buttons, (double)jump with R, and use the analog stick to position a targeting reticule on enemies, with Z to fire. This means that, unlike rail-shooters such as Star Fox and Panzer Dragoon, aiming and movement are completely separate, so Saki may attack one area of the screen while moving in the other direction. After destroying a large centipede, the screen fades to white.
"Saaaaki! Oh Saki! Good mooorning, Saki!"
Stirring from his dream, Saki awakes to Airan and Achi. Achi has bad news: the armed volunteers have murdered one of their groups, and they must reach a transport and escape Tokyo. Breaking out into the streets, the first 'real' stage begins as Saki guides Airan and Achi to their escape.
Armed Volunteer troopers go down quickly as Saki blows up gasoline canisters and street arches, demonstrating the frequent interactions and targets found in the environment. In a homage to the NES Contra game, the troopers have constructed a large mechanical wall with a weak point in the center. Here the melee capability of Saki's gun is introduced: whenever an enemy or projectile gets close enough, the sword lets out an audible BEEP, and a quick tap of Z slashes the sword, causing MASSIVE DAMAGE to nearby foes and hurtling projectiles back to their origin, in this case detonating the wall.
Beyond that, Saki's in for a surprise as a flock of Ruffians soars through the air -- they've reached Tokyo! Treasure's programming finesse is aptly displayed, as more Ruffians pour over the wall at Saki's feet without any trace of the slowdown or frameskipping so common in late N64 games. Lumbering over the wall, a GIANT ENEMY CRAB appears, reminding players that bosses are not special enemies to be saved for end-level confrontations, but merely par for the course.
Arriving at Shinjuku station, the team rides an elevating platform to the waiting transport on the roof. As the platform ascends, enemies assault Saki with the clockwork pacing distinctive of Treasure level design. Saki may have to literally double-jump across lasers strafing his platform, simultaneously fire down troopers leaping through the air, then (BEEP!) point-blank an incoming jet-ski, before rolling away from a trooper who has just lept behind the platform. It's like what old arcade games like Cabal always wanted to be, and though difficult, it feels genuinely possible to survive without getting hit.
Reaching the roof, Airan and Achi scramble to the transport, but a giant quadrapedal Ruffian blocks Saki. Demonstrating the versatility of the mechanics, the boss resides directly in Saki's own 2D plane of movement (rather than in front of it), transforming the battle into a side-scrolling fight. Dodging its electrical charges, Saki runs close for a melee blow, knocking the beast back and eventually clear off the roof!
Then Kachua, Brad's second in command of the Armed Volunteers, steps in - Saki's just destroyed her research project! Using telekinetic powers inherited from Brad, she hurtles her own troops and vehicles through the air, in a fight that plays more like a bonus game than a boss battle. Defeated, Kachua tumbles off the roof, calling Brad's name as she initiates the last of her power, transforming into a massive beast!
Skyscrapers shake and crumble as her horrendous insect-like form raises from the ground amid a quickly growing pool of blood that Saki begins to drown into. From the transport, Achi calls out to him to transform and confront Kachua. So Saki has special powers too? Indeed he does, and morphs into a steel mutant dozens of feet tall!
A Power Rangers style fight then ensues above the remains of Tokyo, before Kachua at last sinks into a lake of blood. But it's too late to save Saki! With his new, animalistic instinct, he loses control of himself and his identity, swatting Achi and Airan's escaping transport as if it were a fly. Unable to transform back or do anything other than seek Ruffians, Saki begins marching out to sea and towards the Ruffian nest in Hokkaido.
From an armada of ships off the coast of Japan, Brad watches the destruction of Tokyo and vows to avenge Kachua's death by killing Saki. Meanwhile, Achi teleports herself and Airan to temporary safety in the belly of Brad's aircraft carrier. There they overhear Brad's order to defeat this new 'beast'. "...Beast?" says Airan, who rips off her overcoat and pulls out a DOLPHIN gun -- it's time to go after Brad!
Airan plays the same way as Saki, blasting her way through a series of traps in the aircraft carrier, saving Achi from an escaped Ruffian near the end. Reaching the commanders' room, Brad brandishes his own DOLPHIN, and it's time for a sword fight (easier than it sounds - you just have to mash the Z button). Knocking Brad out the window, he escapes aback his personal airplane, revealing that it was, in fact, Achi who gave Brad his powers. With no time for Airan to question her faith in Achi, she has no choice but to give chase to Brad, before his armada closes in on Saki.
But how to give chase? Achi uses her psychic ability to rip a metal platform right out of the aircraft carrier, and then literally pilots it through the air while Airan single-handedly takes down Brad's entire armada. Thus begins one of the coolest levels ever in an action game, the level Sin and Punishment players always talk about, and the level those that haven't played the game should rightfully feel jealous of.
For nearly fifteen minutes, the dislodged platform whirls dizzyingly through the air in one of the most seamless and technically robust scenes ever fed to the N64. By the end, you'll have taken down a myriad of planes, boats, and soldiers, Ruffians flying through the air and leaping onto your platform from the sea, fourteen helicopters, six sentry mechs, four destroyers (each with two turrets and three missile launchers), two VTOLS, the aircraft carrier, a humongous airship, Brad and his personal five aircraft, and if that weren't enough -- a Star Destroyer.
With the end of the Armed Volunteers, Achi pilots their platform over to Saki, still walking through the sea to Hokkaido. Achi says that to restore Saki to human form, they must put him to sleep, open his chest, and have him accept Airan in his heart. Confused and appalled by this, Airan screams at Achi, "SHUT UP!!"
Instantly Airan appears in a dully lit, orange subway car in New York City next to a crying boy calling her "Momma"! Well, that's peculiar....
With this child in tow, Airan heads to the front car to figure out what the heck just happened, battling new mole, hyena, and flower-shaped Ruffians through successive cabins. At the front of the subway she encounters Saki, assimilated with Ruffians across his body, while the young boy shouts out "Papa!" Saki tells Airan this is Achi's vision of the future, where Ruffians have taken over the world. Airan realizes there must be a brighter future, where they are husband and wife and their young child can grow up safely. A flash of light.
Back with Achi next to Saki's transformed body in the ocean, Airan realizes they must do as Achi says. Slicing his chest and digging for his heart, Achi for the first time reveals her real intent to Airan: that there are other enemies, far away, and she must build an army to fight them. She first passed her blood to Brad, but he was selfish and reckless with his newfound power, using it to breed Ruffians. Then Achi had passed her blood to Saki; from the beginning of their battle, her purpose was to train him to grow stronger, a participant for her future war. Waking Saki up, she asks him to accept Airan. But Saki teleports away.....
Note: you're not alone, I got lost paragraphs ago. The Garcia guy partially credited with writing this article gave me all these details.
"Good morning, Airan!" Waking up on a beach, Airan realizes she's next to a nearly restored Saki, only slightly mutated yet from his transformation. Clearly, Saki has accepted Airan but refused Achi. Control reverts back to him as they seek shelter on the island of Hokkaido.
Being the origin of the Ruffians, the creatures on the island are especially large and powerful, including a huge octopus and a spider seemer fought through a building in a three-part battle. Resting for the night, Saki and Airan set up camp near the building, wondering if Achi will follow them. Hearing a Ruffian on a nearby road, Saki leaves camp. Returning later, he finds Airan has been abducted -- surely by Achi! Saki has no choice but to fight into the heart of the Ruffian nest in search of them both...
The final level thus begins, and may be the most conceptually imaginative of all: Treasure seamlessly turns the game from rail-shooter to a Contra-like run 'n gun where the player controls the scrolling, even though the controls never actually change. Impressive set-pieces abound, including two perfectly paced chases that make extensive use of the melee attack. By the end of the level so many Ruffians swarm that it's almost mind-bending, including Centaur and human varieties, each one exploding with the "Get A Bonus!" award normally only reserved for mid-boss enemies. Finally, Saki reaches a shrine of sorts where the Ruffians are all bowing their heads... to Achi!
In a metaphysical final scene, Achi insists that she needs Saki to rule a new world, one not destroyed by the people that it had fed. She rockets into the sky and begins assimilating a version of the Earth to replace the current one, while Saki transforms again, this time with Airan in his 'heart', making a promise to the real Earth: "I understand. I am of THIS planet."
The final battle begins, and it's.... Missile Command, the arcade targeting game from the 80's! (Actual game version on right.) Meteors rain down from Achi's new world, and just like that game, you must target them before they hit the real Earth along the bottom of the screen. Hit meteors are deflected back, damaging the fake Earth . If you're REALLY good, you'll hit every single one, garnering the elusive "Perfect Bonus" for an extra five million points.
In the end Saki successfully repels Achi's attack, as she's then seen floating out into deep space. Saki brings Airan down to safety on some rocks by the sea, and they contemplate the future together. It's only the beginning: they agree to take on the Ruffians together and choose a better path for the world. And eventually, you know, they have to have that kid.
Overall, Sin and Punishment is one of the easier Treasure shooters, but as you can see from those videos, that doesn't make much noticable difficulty difference to the average game player. It'd eat me alive.
If Nintendo staunchly sticks to a plan of only giving each region its own games on Virtual Console, this article may be as much S&P as you'll ever get. The game is rare, and might not be worth the eBay money it takes to bring it home. It's not that the game is bad; it's that it's over in a maximum of 50 minutes. It'd make a lousy $50 purchase, but a terrific cheap download. So, like I said, this is prime Virtual Console material...if Nintendo ever wisens up and figures that out.
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|...check out one more YouTube video.
The statement that it only came out in Japan is
technically false....because it also came out in China,
on Nintendo's iQue system. iQue was an attempt to take a
bite out of rampant Chinese piracy by releasing an
official modified N64 in that country.
You'll notice nothing has been translated, though...and for people that spoke neither Japanese OR English, this import was a waste.