October 14, 2011

Review – Sideway: New York

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Mister Raroo @ 1:03 pm

Review Sideway New York
To my amazement and despite some initial concern, Sideway: New York didn’t make my head hurt. The main hook of the game is that you play as a character sucked into the 2D world of graffiti art, making your way from one point to another by moving along, up, and over 3D buildings. It’s an atypical game design concept, and quite difficult to explain in words. Imagine sliding a Shrinky Dink through a maze that runs over all sides of a box and that should give you a start.

Thankfully, what I figured would be a confusing, infuriating nightmare turned out to be clear-cut and easy to navigate. Color me impressed.

Review Sideway New York
There isn’t much story to speak of in Sideway. You play as a street artist named Nox, who finds his “totally just a friend” Cass captured by an evil graffiti monster, Spray. The only way to get Cass back is to become street art yourself and maneuver your way through New York neighborhoods by navigating across the faces of buildings. It’s a simple set-up to what is possibly the ultimate parkour game.

If you’re worried that you’re going to get all turned around playing Sideway, don’t be. The game perspective and gravity shifts according to where you are on a building at any given time, so at no point do you become disoriented. Slide up the side of a building and onto the roof, and suddenly everything shifts so that the edges of the roof become “top” and “bottom.” Before long you’ll pay little attention to what section of a building you’re on, which allows Sideway’s core gameplay to make anyone even remotely familiar with platforming games feel comfortable.

That platforming brings to mind some classic side-scrolling action games of yore. The basic progression through levels is reminiscent of the Mega Man series, especially in regard to enemy placement and the amount of jumping you’ll do. However, controlling Nox is more akin to the Donkey Kong Country games, as he has a liberal jump and his movement feels a little loose overall, which can at times be problematic when trying to gauge the trickier platforming sections. This can be especially annoying in the occasional instance in which you turn a corner to come face-to-face with an enemy and Nox’s movement doesn’t allow for a split-second response, resulting in a cheap death. All the same, the frustration factor is low thanks to an abundance of checkpoints throughout the levels.

Nox is no pushover and has a wide assortment of moves at his disposal, many of which are initially off limits, making you appreciate them all the more once they become unlocked. As you progress through Sideway, Nox will learn to slide, attack with a diagonal jump kick, lob gobs of paint, double jump, slow his descent by sliding along the wall, perform a ground pound, break down barriers with a forward thrust, and more.

Knowing which moves are the most effective against the game’s different enemies will be instrumental in your progression. Nox can also leap into cannons to blast himself to new locations, jump on trampolines to propel him higher, and move blocks around to open up new pathways. Moving blocks is a bummer, but everything else adds nice variety to the stages. Some areas even have puzzle solving elements, such as turning valves to shut off streams of water or flipping switches to shut off currents of electricity.

Despite Nox’s wide repertoire of moves, control is about as simple as possible. A huge plus is that many of the moves are context-sensitive and share a button, allowing you to focus on navigating obstacles instead of fumbling with the controller. For example, you’ll use the same button to color in platforms so you can land on them, swing from a grappling hook, and push and pull blocks. It all becomes second-nature very quickly.

Review Sideway New York
Getting a handle on Nox’s newfound abilities is especially necessary when engaging in boss fights, though I must admit, I sometimes found these encounters to be too much of a breeze for my tastes. When I polished off the game’s second boss on my first attempt, my four-year-old son, who was watching and cheering for me, turned to me and said, “That was too easy, Dad.” Truth be told, the bulk of the boss encounters are disappointing, and feel more like an afterthought than something the developers focused a great deal of their attention on.

Of course, this is probably the case, as the game’s stage design is obviously where the bulk of development effort went. The fact that I never got lost while progressing through the game’s complicated paths is a testament to the straightforward, seamless planning of the levels. Interestingly, I began to question just how much faith the developers had in players’ navigational abilities, because the game is littered with arrows pointing out where to go next. However, I also discovered ignoring the arrows and doing a bit of exploring was to my benefit, as there are collectible Score Tags and Secret Tags (think Donkey Kong Country’s bananas and K-O-N-G emblems) on each stage that will boost your score when grabbed.

Yet even with the various hidden areas throughout the stages, Sideway never quite feels like it takes risks with its level design. Granted, the stages get significantly more complicated the further you go, but the game is surprisingly on-rails, and I felt like I was being led along more than forging forth on my own. On the flip-side, at no point did I become bored. I was always anxious to see what each new area had in store, so perhaps the developers made the right decision to rein things in to the point they did.

Review Sideway New York
One area the developers did go nuts with is the visuals. Sideway is an absolute joy to look at. The various New York neighborhoods represented each have a distinct visual flair and only get better as the game progresses. One of my favorite spots is Chinatown, which features glowing lanterns illuminating shadowy buildings set against a night sky. It’s beautiful.

The camera work is stellar, too, with dramatic angles that not only look pleasing to the eye but generally help you focus on finding the right path to take in order to solve a puzzle or reach an exit. Also worth mention is the character animation. Nox and his adversaries all appear to be 2D sprites, and they move in a fluid manner full of life the likes of which can’t be replicated with 3D polygonal graphics. One wonderful little graphical touch happens when Nox rockets upward after bouncing on a trampoline and a graffiti pair of wings is left behind on the wall near the top of his jump. I love that!

Review Sideway New York
Sadly, sound is another story altogether, specifically in the case of music. I mentioned how the boss fights feel a little tacked on, but the soundtrack is much worse. While the choice of hip-hop music fits the theme of the game perfectly and the songs themselves are quite good (Mr. Lif is awesome), the implementation leaves much to be desired. The same handful of music tracks play over, and over, and there is a short gap of nothing but street noise between songs. It’s jarring and I was very disappointed that the development team couldn’t find a way to better meld the music with the rest of the experience. By the end of the game I was absolutely sick of the soundtrack. At least Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” is mercifully absent.

I’d love for Sideway to expand into a series of games set in different cities. Imagine what could be done with the likes of Sideway: Tokyo! But even if New York turns out to be a standalone game, it’s a great one. If only Nox’s controls were slightly tighter and the development team had dared to color a little further outside the lines, Sideway: New York could have been an all-time classic. As it stands, it’s still an extremely solid platformer that is dripping with style and heart. And, best of all, you won’t need to have a bottle of aspirin at the ready to enjoy the game!

Play Brains, Fuel Entertainment

Sony Online Entertainment

PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network), PC (PlayStation Network Reviewed)

Singleplayer, Local Co-op

Release Date
October 11, 2011


*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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