December 24, 2009

Sin and Punishment: Successor to the Earth

Refresh Rate 01
Sin and Punishment: Successor to the Earth
Runtime – 7:52
Developer – Treasure
Publisher – Nintendo
System – Nintendo 64 / Virtual Console
Released – November 21, 2000 / October 1, 2007

*Text transcript available after the break

Sin & Punishment
Treasure’s Sin & Punishment remained an import secret to North American gamers for nearly a decade after its release, largely owning to a market wisdom that views it as a relic from the past capable of little more than a cult status with an old guard still hungry for the games of a niche studio.

While we can question the reasons of cause and effect, there’s no doubt that the emphasis of the industry has shifted, largely toward an idea of open worlds feeding a greater sense of immersion. Those raised by the earliest releases of a company like Treasure are left to accept new definitions of what constitutes a core gaming experience, making a game like Sin & Punishment a straight-forward affair, a rail-shooter aiming to quench an endless thirst for quarters rather than offering the deep narrative experience the market allegedly moved toward.

Where this leaves a greater sense of tactile interaction remains a mystery, depending on who you ask of course.

There was a time when Sin & Punishment would have served as the poster-child for videogames, a game of visual stimulation and control, which nurtures an enhanced instinctual reflex with action that synchronizes the player with the rhythm running through the core of it. It’s about being over-stimulated with sensations, of being lost in a field of sound and color and learning to break it all down faster, interpreting and decoding everything around us in time to catch the tip of a bullet carrying all those elements. The art is in the movement that gives proof of life and meets that challenge.

When we’re done with the arts and fancier concerns, our ability to perceive and react is where our evolution waits and remains a central building block of the medium, not so we can live within the eye of the storm, but so we can become one with it and live on the line between the rational and the chaotic.

Sin & Punishment

While Sin & Punishment may not directly resemble any previous Treasure release, it is rooted in themes of evolution, mutation, and cult fantasy deviations that permeate so many of the studio’s releases. Perhaps no two Treasure games are created equally, and yet every title they create carries the same spirit of exploration wrapped in reflections of the culture they emerge from.

Sin & Punishment trips the slipstream rift to present a civilization in turmoil and desperate to solve social problems, tapping science fiction themes running through the best works of other mediums. Japan is being overrun by mutating creatures meant to solve the country’s problem, and instinctively the solution for defense becomes a group known as the Armed Volunteers, who fight against these invading “ruffians” while also turning the country into an oppressive police state.

A resistance movement calling itself the Savior Group emerges, led by a prophet named Achi, and everything slides into anime eccentricity as Achi’s blood enables members on both sides of the fighting to use bizarre powers and transformations. Beneath all of this conflict is the bond between Saki and Airan, which proves key to their survival as the story unfolds.

Treasure’s interest in developing a more visible and cohesive narrative within the genre is ever present, along with their resistance to prolonged explanations that deviate from the tactile interaction players sign on for. Ultimately the justification for the plot of a treasure game is found within the action, which within Sin & Punishment pulls at the threads running through the plot.

Stages evolve just as the characters within them, continually augmenting the rhythm, leading toward a final stage where players are given a glimpse of how Gunstar Heroes would look today, taking all the controls learned and bringing them back to a side-scrolling genre to apply new ideas to that old war horse of gaming, and show that there is plenty of room left for growth.

Sin & Punishment

Treasure is a company invested in challenging themselves as much as the audience, each new work evolving ideas of control, reflex, pattern recognition and interaction. A bullet isn’t simply a bullet that one avoids, but is a character of its own with new levels of play opportunities waiting to be discovered, and thereby furnishing the game and the genre with a greater potential.

Here the player is able to reflect many bullets back at the enemy, using the targeting reticule to direct those shots, and despite the rail can also run from side to side, rolling and flipping to avoid enemy attacks. On a classic controller, all of these controls and abilities are delivered via no more than three buttons, a thumbstick and the d-pad.

And yet for all these pretty and partially cohesive words, Sin & Punishment is a niche title, and the type of game we see less and less of as the industry widens its focus.

But my lamenting tone isn’t indicative of a sense of entitlement, even if gamers who cut their teeth on these experiences were the earliest supporters of the industry during its infancy. Rather, taken together these words are simply a recognition that the book was never closed on those experiences, and that it in fact remains open to new ideas for developing a style of game that creates an intense intimacy between the screen, the controller, and the player – a crystal clear moment of purpose and play. And at a time where we can create realistic worlds but remain largely clueless toward a sense of purpose for those player’s within them, no releases of this caliber should be marginalized and ignored without an investment of your time.

And while we wait for Nintendo of America to make good on their word and bring us the sequel that promises to make all these things true, and validate the original promises of the Wii from so long ago, there’s plenty of time for you to revisit the original, or discover it for the first time.


  1. Ah, Sin and Punishment. For years we couldn’t enjoy this game since it was released at the end of the N64’s cycle and Nintendo decided not to bring it over here. As soon as it was available on the VC I downloaded it and I have to say those were some of the best 4 hours of gaming I’ve enjoyed in all of my gamming experience.

    I’m looking forward to the sequel, and I’ll definitely give Sin and Punishment another go on the VC a week before in preparation.

    Comment by EdEN — December 27, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

  2. This is one of 3 games that I’ve ever downloaded on the VC. This game rocks! Part 2 is even better!

    P.S. Jamie, why are there only 4 articles on the main page, and I have to hit the “all articles” link in order to see new posts? Also, I’ll be sending out those Disgaea presents I told you about soon, I just got back home from the holiday.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — January 4, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

  3. Ujn! Welcome to the party! We was probably trying to do something fancy-smancy with the frontpage, but if it reverts to allarticles by next week I wouldn’t be surprised. Glad to have you back from vacation :)

    Comment by Jamie Love — January 4, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  4. I played this on an emulator before the wii was released and was absolutely blown away. Treasure is one of those special developers that may not strive to make “artistic games” yet manages to do so through sheer ingenuity and applied thinking, not to mention just strait up cool ideas. The air craft carrier sequence gave me chills the first time I played it.

    Excellent work! This is the closest thing to proper coverage, let alone critical thought, that I’ve seen for Sin and Punishment. Love it.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 24, 2011 @ 3:49 am

  5. Thanks, I nearly forgot it was here. Was checking out your site, are you a tDR fan?

    Comment by Jamie Love — November 24, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  6. You know, I’ve never really articulated it until now but yeah, I would say I am. I only know them for wipeout though. It’s unfortunate what happened back in 2009 but Ive heard there is still work being done under the tDR name to some capacity.  I am curios why you ask though, I’ve never gotten the impression that my work was much like theirs.

    Comment by Jace Boechler — November 24, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

  7. Might have been some of your pieces that use lettering. Could have been I had a head full of tDR because I was rewatching some videos yesterday and then looked at your love piece. Really like oneway too.

    aforementioned video

    Comment by Jamie Love — November 25, 2011 @ 4:08 am

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