Nintendo talks a big game about holding on to the "hardcore" market, but let's face it: hardcore just isn't what it used to be. These days, Mario and Metroid are supposed to be enough for even the most seasoned veterans, when once they were the most mainstream games in Nintendo's library. Sin & Punishment 2's eye-catching presence at Nintendo's booth served as the only island of hope for the hardcore gamers as we used to know them. The 12-foot wall, adorned with a tasteful, desaturated painting by illustrator Yasushi Suzuki, felt uncomfortably out of place, as a giant image of another plastic-grinned model leered from the left, pointing his Wiimote accusingly and throwing his head back in a hearty laugh at Sin & Punishment's expense. That's okay, Treasure, we still love you.
A rail shooter of a much higher pedigree than the many cookie-cutter Zapper-oriented games [on the Wii].
A sequel to the cult-classic released at the twilight of the Nintendo 64's life, Treasure's latest is a rail shooter of a much higher pedigree than the many cookie-cutter Zapper-oriented games being shoveled out on the system. Much like its predecessor, its design is built entirely around its platform's unique control scheme, and as such, the choice to make this a Wii game is welcome and appropriate – it wouldn't be the same game on any other system. The weakest part of the original – aiming with the analog stick – is finally solved by using the Wiimote to aim, and the nunchuk ably picks up the movement duties.
These controls are not a novelty. In what may be a Wii first, the sword-slashing (used to slice nearby enemies and deflect certain projectiles) is not performed by waving the controller, but rather by tapping the fire button, just as in the original. The sharp aim is a great improvement over the original analog stick, but this more precise control comes at the cost of the less powerful lock-on mode from the original. Having more accurate control has its drawbacks, too. Concentrating on fine aiming while also tracking bullets and dodging isn't easy without the ability to move your eyes independently of each other. After a while it gets easier, but there's a learning curve that might come as a bit of a surprise.
The bleak, adult atmosphere of the first game remains intact, thanks to the return of artists Yasushi Suzuki and Hiroshi Iuchi (also responsible for Ikaruga's art direction). The sharp background textures flatter the Wii hardware in ways it might not deserve, and the screen fills up with dozens of on-screen enemies at once with nary a hint of slowdown. The aesthetic looks like a medium between their previous two collaborations, with a futuristic metropolis of browns and grays lit subtly by colored lights.
At the start of the game, you choose between two characters, Isa and Kachi. Both look a bit younger than Saki or Airan, leading some to speculate they could be their progeny. While both have the same basic firing, Isa (the boy) has an explosive charge shot while Kachi has a lock-on ability that allows her to target multiple enemies at once, similar to Panzer Dragoon or Rez. While Isa's attack is more powerful, Kachi's is easier to use and has a faster recovery time, making her the stand-out character for beginners. Both characters now have the ability to fly; tapping the jump button in the air will start them hovering, which they will continue to do until you touch the ground again.
Everything else a hardcore gamer needs is still there. The scoring system and combo multiplier are intact, and the demo level is still a barrage of boss battles, small and large. The initial stage didn't strike us as anything as impressive as Sin & Punishment's aerial climax, but it has no trouble keeping pace with the earlier stages. Despite the early learning curve, the roughness we've come to expect from Treasure demos in recent years is no where to be found, and that's very reassuring indeed. Also encouraging was the fact that the demo killed almost everyone on their first go, so there's no reason to believe that Nintendo will force them to dumb things down for their darling casual audience. The team still has their work cut out for them if they want to rival the first game, but at least I can say they're on the right track.