"Change can be a scary thing when you don't know how to change back."
- Treasure, shortly before dedicating themselves to an existence of making games that have probably sent people into cardiac arrest
Sin and Punishment was a joint project between Treasure and Nintendo's R&D1, and was presumably an attempt at appealing to a more mature audience than most of Ninty's core offerings. It was well-received in Japan and apparently even accrued a small following in the States, despite not being localized at the time. It even featured full English voice acting, which may have played a factor in the demand overseas. When Nintendo eventually brought it stateside via the Wii's Virtual Console in 2007, it barely had any translation work done (the tutorial and menus were fully translated, which was more than enough to make it playable, but it makes it that much weirder that most of the in-game subtitles were left untouched). In any case, I'm glad Nintendo made the effort, because I might have missed out on a lot of great experiences later in life if they hadn't.
Indeed, Sin and Punishment wasn't just one of Nintendo's first experiments in delivering Japan-exclusive games to an outside audience - it was also the first imported game I ever played, or at least the first that I was aware of. I remember reading somewhere (I assume an issue of Nintendo Power) that formerly unavailable games would be added to the North American Virtual Console catalog and was excited to see what would make the cut. When Sin and Punishment dropped with that little Japanese flag next to it, I burnt the last few Wii Points I had been saving up and took the plunge. I knew nothing about the game. I just thought the title sounded cool as hell.
Verdict: It was, in fact, cool as hell. It also kicked my preteen ass. Even if it was a bit too hard for me then, it set me on the path to seeking out other games that I may have missed due to a lack of localization. Without Sin and Punishment, I might never have played games like Mother 3, Clock Tower, and Baroque. It's weird to think about, but I can probably attribute my love for video games as much to this little rail shooter I never even finished as I can to games like Ocarina of Time.
Anyways, I came back and got my revenge just recently - and just barely. I'm thankful I never let that rivalry go, because now I have another great game I can blab about.
The presentation of Sin and Punishment is delightfully stylish, though if you have any experience with Treasure, that probably isn't news to you. It stands alongside Majora's Mask in the "surprisingly dark for a Nintendo game" club - the demo opens with a group of rebels being unceremoniously executed in a hail of gunfire. The stages look great and there's a ton going on at any moment, which really helps to get your adrenaline pumping. It also runs well in spite of that, although there is the occasional frame dip when the action is at its highest. The enemy and character designs are definitely high points,
although I can't say most of the human cast made the cleanest transition to 3D here. They have very lanky and angular models with big hair, which hardly looks out of place in an N64 title, but they do appear just a bit freaky due to the somewhat gritty and detailed aesthetic the game as a whole has. The robotic animations and awkward voice acting don't help much in that regard. Everything else fares much better, with special note given to the Ruffians. They seem to fall somewhere between Zoids and EVAs in terms of design cues and are just a sight to behold.
Coupled with an intriguing but bonkers story that I'm not even going to get into, and a solid but sadly limited OST, you have here a game that immediately stands out against the N64's broadly bright and saccharine software catalog.
So here's the thing about Sin and Punishment: It's short. Like, really short. It's comprised of three stages which you can complete in about an hour. Those who are fans of shmups or rail shooters will be quite accustomed to a short runtime and will no doubt find this perfectly reasonable, but I think this will stick out to a lot of people for two reasons: One, Sin and Punishment is fairly easy compared to a lot of Treasure's more infamous offerings. Not that it is
easy (it's damn difficult, especially on hard), but the fact that you have a life meter combined with the game's relative generosity with regards to continues, the in-game timer and health/time pickups means that if you aren't getting completely stomped then you'll probably power through to the ending without too much trouble. Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun this is not. Secondly, there aren't too many reasons to replay it. Going for higher scores will be the obvious draw, but there are no notable secrets, alternative routes or extra modes to help keep things fresh. None of this makes Sin and Punishment bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the mileage you get out of it is largely going to come down to how much value you place in the intrinsic satisfaction of improving your runs. Considering you're probably playing it for free (or free-ish
), I'd say this is only worth noting if you are on the fence about buying a physical copy.
But even if it's only one hour long, it makes use of every minute. This game has no fat on it at all. Each level throws you into a chaotic battlefield, with plenty to blast, slice and evade. The experience is high-energy from top to bottom and keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Meanwhile, the narrative is presented to you through cutscenes that mark each shift in action. I found the story engaging, even if it had barely any time to develop. But it's good that it doesn't dwell on anything for too long, and if you don't have an interest, just mash start to jump right back into the action. It's a game that is first and foremost about the gameplay, which is always a joy.
The only real criticisms I can level at the game beyond the minor ones I've already mentioned are its somewhat awkward difficulty curve and the fact that the gamefeel is a bit off anywhere you can play it "natively". The first stage is what I would call manageable for anybody who's used to action games, provided you've come to grips with the somewhat unconventional control scheme. Shortly thereafter, the gloves come off and you're going to need to be at the top of your game if you want to make it to the end without burning continues. The aforementioned control scheme is definitely a part of the challenge, as unlike most games of the genre, you move right and left while making use of jumps and dodge rolls to escape danger. Hold down the fire button to spray shots from your Dolphin Gun or bump the button when an enemy/projectile is nearby to slash it with your laser sword. You can also switch between free aim or an auto-lock mode, and understanding when to use which is essential for maximizing your score. Here's a free tip: Your shots do more damage when using free aim. The constant inputs required along with the frenetic action make for a very hectic experience, and managing all of this can be just as frustrating as it is exhilarating. A tactile D-pad, easy-to-mash triggers and a quality joystick are essentials as far as I'm concerned, as is a setup that doesn't have a lot of latency (playing this on my Wii with a Gamecube controller did not feel great, and while the Switch's controllers are a better match in theory, the input delay definitely made gameplay clunkier). I haven't had the chance to play this on the N64, so maybe it just felt more at home on that funky controller, but I have my doubts. You can assuredly find something that works for you, though. Sometimes hitboxes are a bit unclear and the cursor moves just a tad too slow. Melee attacks don't always seem responsive. That's about all I can think of.
All in all, Sin and Punishment is a flawed but fun action game and I'm glad that Nintendo gave us an opportunity to try it out. It oozes style, is consistently entertaining and is an excellent pick for those that enjoy pushing themselves towards perfection. The final boss is a smidge underwhelming gameplay-wise, but it's otherwise one of the raddest endings to a game I've ever seen. I feel no hesitation in calling it one of the best entries in the Nintendo 64's library. Aside from Wii VC and Switch Online, there are also translations available for the original - not that it really needs it, but it's nice to have - so if you the fancy strikes you, by all means give it a try. At worst, it won't bite. At best, you'll have another new favorite to add to your list.