The Vita has a few contenders for “greatest waste of potential” – Modnation not being online, Unit 13 having a generic ‘modern warfare’ theme and Ridge Racer deciding that a career mode was soooo 2011… but none of these can take the top spot from Sumioni. This game is so close to greatness, yet so very, very far, that it’s liable to cause your brain to explode if you think about it for too long.
Here are the facts that will cause spontaneous combustion:
1. The game controls wonderfully.
2. It has a neat mechanic (much like Max and the Magic Marker) whereby you draw platforms to maneuver about.
3. The art style is unbelievably good. Top 5 of the year, easily, and I’m calling that in April.
4. The game is boring as piss to play.
As you may have noticed numbers 1-3 don’t really jibe with 4, and that’s exactly the problem. Mechanically the game is fine, the drawing thing is neat, it looks amazing… so why is it boring? The answer is rather simple… it’s in the level design.
Bad level design is one thing – in fact, this generation I have come to expect bad level design. But this is beyond simply bad. Every single level in this game is the same thing, only with varying degrees of difficulty. You run right for about 30 seconds and then you fight a building. That’s it. Sometimes you have to jump over spike or kill dudes or do whatever – and that part is usually pretty fun. But it’s over in a heartbeat and then you are fighting the same goddamn building over and over and over. And these things take forever to freakin’ kill. So you mash the square button and you draw shapes to summon your demon pals and you mash and mash and dodge projectiles. Think the first “boss” in the original Contra (you know…. the building with the red dots and the gun on it?). You basically fight that like 9000 times, but instead of red dots to kill you just mash your sword up against the side of this thing until it dies.
This is where the game completely lost me. I was really into it when I first got it. The art is amazing, it felt good, but after about 90 minutes I was like HOW MANY FUCKING TIMES HAVE I FOUGHT THIS BUILDING?! If they had added some variety to the levels, used the drawing mechanic to get through some interesting platforming sections and fights, and had varied boss fights – this could have been a very capable game – if not a classic.
It also doesn’t help that the game is painfully short and built around the idea of replaying it over and over to get further. The world map requires you to have a certain score by a certain point to get to the next set of levels below it. If you don’t have that score you just finish up the row you are on and that’s that. It’s a silly design that only breeds frustration when you don’t make it down to the next level and are stuck repeating the whole thing over and over until you do. And then once on the next level you repeat the process.
Sumioni was a full retail title in Japan, somehow. It’s $20 here and even that is far overpriced. Content-wise it’s a 99 cent iphone game, except the art style warrants a few extra bucks being thrown in. If it was $7 like Mutant Blobs Attack I may not be as disappointed. It still wouldn’t be good (or hold a candle to Mutant Blobs Attack) but the whole package would at least feel appropriate. Right now I feel like it exists to lure people into buying it and filling them with remorse. That’s just mean.