Sin and Punishment: A Flawed, but Worthwhile Shooter
Superficially, Sin and Punishment is not unlike a lot of Treasure's other offerings. A lot of time is spent simultaneously running and gunning numerous enemies in the hopes of reaching a level's end. In addition, the convention of a small, but memorable cast of characters used to tell most of the game's story is implemented once again. And of course, the battles are of a grand scope. To say that the game is therefore similar to Treasure's past offerings is hardly a stretch. However, it still stands on its own quite well, as it mixes several unique elements to create a brand of on-rails shooting not quite like anything else.
The most emphatic of these elements is that of Sin and Punishment's wonderfully diverse settings. Each stage takes place in completely different areas, which range from underground lava flows to desolate cityscapes to even beaches. To top it all off, every area plays host to epic, large-scale battles with plenty of things happening at any given time. As if that wasn't enough, though, the ways in which the battles are fought, much like the stages, vary from area to area, with each stage playing host to a unique method of doing so. In one moment, players could be fending off beastly bugs and other unsightly creatures by slowly creeping through a New York subway, while another will have them fighting Gunstar Heroes-style in a side-scrolling stage. This flair for individual style in the battles, as well as the usage of completely unique areas throughout the game's entirety, help make Sin and Punishment easily memorable long after finishing it.
What helps the game succeed in those regards, though, can be mainly attributed to the game's graphics. Put simply, without the help of the Nintendo 64's expansion pack, Sin and Punishment is one of the system's best-looking games. Not only does everything look sharp, considering the system's capabilities, but it all holds up very well. As mentioned earlier, there can be plenty of action on the screen and, thankfully, Sin and Punishment's frame rate is up to the job. It stays smooth even in very hectic situations, enabling the action to occur as it was intended. The graphics are also the piece which help make the levels feel cohesive and connected to each other. Even as players switch from one area to the next, the style in the game stays consistent, providing a reminder that, even if some of the gameplay has changed, it's still the same game. Plus, the game actually does a good job of making the scenery just as attractive to look at as the action on the battlefront.
To complement these characteristics, Sin and Punishment's sound design is also unorthodox for a Nintendo 64 game in that it uses a relatively prolific amount of voice acting. It may not be the only game on the console to do so, but it's one of the few where every line of dialog is vocalized. While the quality of the acting itself may be solid at best, the fact that quite a bit of it was crammed into an N64 cartridge is an achievement in and of itself. Oh, it's also in English with Japanese subtitles, as if there weren't enough elements which set the game apart from its brethren as it is. The other parts, the game's sound effects and music, aren't quite as unusual as the voice acting, but they get the job done, if nothing else.
The controls of Sin and Punishment also do a good job at keeping things relatively intuitive. Movement of the characters is done via the d-pad, while the control stick is used for the targeting cursor, the shoulder buttons are reserved for jumps, and the Z-button for shooting, as well as sword swipes for up-close encounters. It's a setup which, while fairly unusual, doesn't take long to get accustomed to and means that little fumbling ultimately takes place. In addition, there are two methods of aiming with the A and B-buttons, one which involves locking onto enemies and the other having manual aiming. Which method is picked affects how much damage each shot does, although that's about as deep as the differences between the two go.
If there are areas in which Sin and Punishment could have improved, though, then they are most certainly in the game's difficulty and breadth, or lack thereof of both. The problem with the former is that it's overly easy, especially considering the genre in which it inhabits. Many of the enemies, even the bosses, can be taken down with ease. This is compounded by a liberal dosage of continues and health packs, which ensure that it shouldn't take no more than several tries to pass a stage, should one actually manage to die. For a game which has epic battles throughout the entire story, it just seems odd that the difficulty wasn't upped a few notches. In fact, it's completely possibly to beat the game without ever having to restart from the beginning. It's simply that liberal in its generosity. The bigger issue, however, is in the latter. Getting to the end on the default difficulty doesn't take much longer than an hour, even if the stages themselves don't feel overly brief. Although it ensures that Sin and Punishment doesn't wear out its welcome, the addition of a few more levels could only have been to the game's benefit. Just because the game may feel highly arcade-like in nature doesn't mean Treasure should have felt obligated to keep its time allotment just as meager.
Even with those issues, however, Sin and Punishment is still a game worth playing or even buying. As one of Treasure's few forays on the Nintendo 64, it's an excellent one which does a superb job at showing off the system's capabilities. With a combination of extremely diverse gameplay, great, rock-steady visuals, and voice acting, Sin and Punishment leaves quite a favorable impression that never fades during the brief playtime. It may have some serious problems with difficulty and brevity, but because those are really the game's only hindrances, it still comes out as quite an achievement and as one of the Nintendo 64's most memorable games in its roster. Gamers from that era, as well as on-rails shooter fans, shouldn't hesitate in picking up this gem, regardless of its cultural roots.