The 2D platforming genre is one of the oldest genres in the video game industry. Even though it almost faded into obscurity with the advent of 3D gaming, it has made sort of an unexpected comeback the past couple of years. Thanks to a couple of major hits such as Braid, and the infusion of other aspects such as physics and puzzle elements, 2D platforming is becoming a major player once more. It is a little hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but it can be done. Playbrains has done just that with the recent PSN exclusive Sideway: New York.
Sideway tells a tale as old as video game time: evil guy takes girl and underdog hero gives pursuit. In this case, you play as Nox, a local graffiti artist who happens to hang around the various Burroughs in New York City. Nox’s sweetheart Cassie is taken by the evil Spray. Spray controls the painted world that exists within the artistic creations of graffiti artists throughout the Big apple. In order to get her back, you / Nox are going to have to dive into this unknown world of paintings-come-to-life and maneuver your way around some extremely tricky levels and a slew of bad guys standing in your path.
On the surface, the game appear to be nothing more than a typical platformer akin to classics such as Super Mario Bros. It’s once you see things in motion that you start to understand just how different Sideway is and how it will change the way you look at platformers, at least during this adventure. This game challenges you to think about the world around you from every perspective, literally. It is all about maneuvering on a 2D plane within a 3D world. since you are sucked into the painted world of graffiti, any and every surface that can hold point becomes a traversable landscape. This includes not only the walls of buildings but also their roofs, the ground, and any other surface that can hold a design.
It is truly a thing of beauty when you see how this all comes to life within the game. Nox can transition from surface to surface in the world seamlessly. When you reach the corner of a building’s wall, you will continue to travel around the corner onto the adjacent wall. The same thin occurs when you jump towards the sky; hitting the top of the wall only leads you to the surface that is the roof of the building. This is a very hard effect to describe in writing and something that you just have to see to understand but trust me, it looks really, really cool. This feature becomes especially useful in opening up a variety of alternate paths throughout the game world as you play; some objects and areas may seem unreachable at first glance but you will soon discover that you can manipulate the environment a bit by approaching a surface or area from a particular direction. For example, a rooftop surface may be oriented one direction when you approach it from wall A, but the orientation is different when you enter is from adjacent wall B. You have to play around with things to “get” the concept, but once you do you will truly understand how you need to look at this game world differently in order to get the most out of it.
The art design of the game only enhances this “coolness” of these visuals as nearly everything is depicted as paint that has come to life. All of the characters and enemies that you will interact with are animated as if they were freshly painted and move with a liquid-like flow; it is like they are being painted on as you play the game. this doesn’t apply to the environment around you, just the graffiti elements which are brought to life.
As you proceed through the tricky world of graffiti that has come to life, Nox will gain a wide variety of attacks and moves to help you deal with the various enemies and environmental obstacles placed in your way. You start off the game being able to simple run, jump, and punch but by the end you will have gained powers which enable you to grapple onto objects, perform diving and dashing kicks, and use paint to create platforms which help you reach higher ground. These are just a few of the many powers that will be awarded to you slowly during your adventure. You will find the game at its peak when you are literally flying from surface to surface wiping out lines of enemies without blinking as your entire arsenal will eventual flow together and create a fast paced and exciting experience.
The only area where the moves don’t really end up flowing as well as they do most of the time is within the game’s various boss battles. Most of these battles brought the game to a grinding halt compared to the breakneck speed that developed during the actual stage gameplay. The problem is that the game doesn’t alway indicate to you “how” you need to defeat a boss. These aren’t your typical bounce-on-the-head style enemies and many require special conditions or manipulation of the environment in order to beat them. A lot of times, the game tells you what you need to do, but I encountered numerous occasions where the tip or detail regarding their defeat didn’t trigger until I reloaded my last save. this led to numerous deaths and a ton of frustration on my part. At first I thought that this might have been a logical design decision but then found through subsequent playthroughs that the clues were given at completely random times. Very frustrating to say the least.
One of my favorite aspects about the game is the push to go back and revisit completed areas later in time. There will be sections in the early stages that you will not be able to reach until you gain the appropriate powers and abilities. The game challenges you to collect a variety of collectable tags and paint cans throughout the adventure but there will be many that aren’t available to your on your first pass through an area. If you are the kind of person who just has to collect and see everything that a game has to offer, than you will be replaying earlier stages over and over which each new power that you earn just so that you can nab every last one.
Unfortunately, another one of the game’s strongest assets actual ends up being a detriment in the long run. The game has an excellent soundtrack which features new and original material from the one and only Mr. Lif. The Boston-born MC is known for his politically-fueled lyrics but his efforts in Sideway are examples of hip-hop in its purest form. The tracks are great but unfortunately the variety wears thin over the course of the game. There just aren’t that many tracks and you will be less than halfway through the game before the tracks start being repeated. It is truly sad that their overall quality is hampered by the lack of quantity because in the end the game suffers.
Another area where the game is hampered a little bit if the tacked on cooperative multiplayer feature. while it is fun to play along with a friend, they become nothing more than an assistant as the game focuses solely on the primary player. If one player leaves the screen and proceeds to the next surface, there is no indication as to where they want and the second player is simply left behind. This makes it really hard to keep track of one another considering the tricky world around you and multiple paths that you will be utilizing. As a result, the cooperative feature just feels like something that was tacked on as an afterthought rather than a feature that was planned and thought out prior to implementation.
Despite a few hiccups along the way, Sideway: New York still stands out to me as one of the most original and enjoyable 2D platformers to date. All of my gripes are quickly brushed aside when you get into a groove on a stage and are literally flying from surface to surface and enemy to enemy. It’s fun and quirky and the manner in which you interact with the world is one of the most original concepts that I have seen used in a game in ages. As long as you can get past the occasional technical hiccup and repetitive music, you are in for a great time.