If you want to find innovation and creativity in great abundance, you should log on to the PlayStation Network. Downloadable titles have really come into their own this generation; bigger files are easier to deliver via increasingly faster online speeds, and developers are given free reign to experiment with fantastically cool ideas. A great example of a game that excels in the areas of artistic expression – packaged within an expanded side-scrolling format – is Sideway: New York . It’s just one of those titles that deserves attention.
The game is visually pleasing and compelling, as the environments are well designed and the animations are fluid. The entire palette is mostly attractive and although some of the enemy designs seem a little uninspired, the special effects and excellent use of color drives the adventure forward. As you progress, taking on cartoon-y yet often challenging enemies, exploring walls and rooftops, and “tagging” your name, you're met with a consistently impressive presentation. The atmosphere is singular, if only because the level design concept is unique.
Sound will be the most subjective element of the game, as it’s heavy on the hip-hop and a combination of techno/dance mixes (artist Mr. Lif is featured). Admittedly, this really isn’t my thing but it’s a perfect fit for the style and even if you’re not a fan, it’s well implemented and appropriately enhances the action. I just wish they’d use more than one track for one level. Some levels can feel a little long towards the end of the game, and one repeating track may not have been a good idea. Beyond that, the effects are crisp and overall, the audio is on-point.
Sideway is aptly named. It’s a little difficult to explain so check the gameplay video below; in short, you basically stick to walls as you move. “Stick” is an inaccurate term, though, as it doesn’t feel “sticky.” You move as you would in any other side-scrolling quest, but you’re like a piece of paper or a picture that came to life on the wall. So for example, if you jump up to the roof, the roof will become your background; you won’t actually be standing on the roof. …okay, like I said, it’s tough to explain but trust me, it’s a great idea.
And like everything else in the game, it fits. I never really thought a developer could turn the basic idea of graffiti into a video game, but if you toss in a relatively simple platforming and 2D combat mechanic, thinks work out nicely. You play as Nox, who sets out to rescue a female friend of his who has gone missing, and somehow finds himself in an alternate dimension. It’s where he’s seemingly part of the wall, and an evil tagger and graffiti master needs to be stopped. It’s strange but surprisingly engaging.
You can jump, slide, and quickly spray your name in certain places, which will let you stand atop your name like it’s a platform. That’s just a small sample, too. New mechanics will come to light as you play, and you can always punch and attack from the air with a downward strike. The gameplay is a combination of dealing with meddlesome foes and exploring your perspective-challenged world. Finding all the items and special tags is difficult, so you’ll probably have to play through levels multiple times to reach the 100% mark.
However, this leads me to one of the game’s small problems, in my eyes. Because it’s super linear, there are times when you simply can’t retreat. Therefore, if you miss a special hidden section, there’s just no way to get to it unless you start the level over. Sometimes you can go back and nab what you missed but other times, if you fall into another area for instance, you’re done. Just keep moving. That got a little irritating but it also forced me to play slower and pay closer attention to my surroundings. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
The control and camera can be iffy, though. Occasionally, when you switch rapidly between walls, the camera races to catch up but it’s not always fast enough. On the flip side, this is really only an issue if there’s an enemy lying in wait; I just started hitting the attack button automatically any time I switched walls/perspectives. It’s not a big deal but at the same time, I shouldn’t have to do that. And the control when attacking feels a little…slippery, I guess. Nox rushes forward with the ground attack, which gets somewhat disconcerting.
Lastly, the story is there but it’s borderline meaningless. No, you play this one for the sake of playing, although that isn’t a critical drawback because it’s wicked fun. The co-op feature, which lets someone play with you, is fantastic, especially when later levels begin to feel overwhelming. The co-op can’t erase a few of those minor mechanical issues but that’s okay. I can cope. The innovation and imagination behind this production, combined with a gameplay format that keeps me coming back for more, is great.
You’ve never really seen a game like Sideway: New York before, which is the biggest compliment I can bestow for SOE’s latest. The music, style and atmosphere give it a singular, welcoming flair, the clean visual presentation is appealing, the progression and pacing feels right, and the challenge is worthwhile. The camera and control isn’t perfect, and missing hidden stuff (especially when you see it later) can be frustrating, but the end result is very positive. For something fresh with an attitude all its own, try Sideway .
The Good: Clean, well designed graphics and presentation. Slick, fitting soundtrack and effects. Solid combination of gameplay elements. Co-op works extremely well. Very creative and even addictive.
The Bad: Camera and control are a little erratic. Story doesn’t add much. Linearity sometimes feels restricting.
The Ugly: “Aw, I see it now…and I can’t go back. Damnit.”