We've not seen a shoot 'em up for some time now, and while you could argue that Sin and Punishment isn't strictly speaking a shoot 'em up, I'm going to ignore that, because it's an on-rails shooter developed by Treasure, who have shoot 'em ups running through their very veins.
Sin and Punishment never made it out of Japan, save for a Virtual Console release on the Nintendo Wii many years later. I'm about as on top of the Virtual Console as I am on top of the search results for 'interesting video game blog', so I needed to track down an N64 ROM in the age of Nintendo's No-Fun-Allowed piracy policy.
I eventually did, but it was of course in Japanese. I know a couple of numbers and about three words of Japanese, so these menus are trial and error. The top left seems a good place to start, and luckily for me, it was exactly where I wanted to go.
We are - I've since learned - a kid called Saki who fights for some vigilante-type group who are opposed to a volunteer peacekeeping force (no, really) trying to save Japan from getting swamped by a mutated genetically engineered species that was being raised as a food source. And the plot only gets more insane from there.
It's all an excuse to shoot ugly looking bug things and armoured threatening human things in an on-rails fashion, and as you might imagine, I have absolutely no idea how it controls.
The analogue stick controls your reticle and the Z-button can be held down for continuous firing of your weapon, which comes with infinite ammo for good measure. As you run through the dead grass of the opening stage, shooting the odd dead tree that crops up in your way, you can marvel at the giant insect that are just milling about in the air waiting for you to end their existence.
It's a fast game but it feels a bit pedestrian. Is this the easy mode? Am I going to get attacked at any point?
Every now and then, bonus icons will fall from somewhere - a downed enemy, I suppose - in the form of extra points or a time extension and so on. The running is done for you, so just sit back and keep shooting.
Soon enough, big threats do rear their ugly heads. If something warrants a health bar, one will appear, showing you how many shots you'll need to defeat it, rather than how much health it has, which is handy.
At some point, I pressed a face button and my weapon took on a soft-lock auto target form. Move it somewhere near an enemy and it will lock on as you fire your weapon, which was great to discover just before giant centipede things started appearing.
The lock-on did like switching to the dead trees whenever they came into view, though, so don't just assume it knows exactly what you want to shoot.
Mild peril dealt with, it was time for a cutscene voiced in English, which was a surprise.
It made absolutely no sense and starred some hideous looking folk, but it was in English should you want to try and follow along with the plot. There have been no intro movies or anything to explain the situation - maybe they were hidden behind another Japanese menu - so it really is a case of learning as you go, which was what I was doing in the game too.
In the city for the second stage, I learned how the environment can, in places, be destroyed to your advantage. Everything likes to blow up in the city, and if people are standing on something (volunteer peacekeeping force, remember), you can destroy it to fell all your foes in one attack - it even lands on the unsuspecting opposition below. In a fireball, naturally.
I then learned that what I strongly believe to be the C-buttons (because Lord knows what my current emulation inputs are these days) control the movement of your character around the screen, allowing you to dodge walls or, more usefully, incoming attacks.
It was all getting a little bit repetitive by now, and out of nowhere I noticed that my timer was dangerously low, and I still had obstacles that needed dealing with. Luckily, upon exploding like everything else, my timer was refilled to its limits and on my merry way I went.
Using the auto-targeting mode was like shooting fish in a barrel at this point, but Sin and Punishment knew how to up the ante and give me something more challenging.
I say ' more challenging', but I think I just mean 'bigger'. And it exploded, obviously.
My route through the city turned once more, and then it actually did get challenging.
This Colderon guy is all up in your face, armed with two huge swords and he's rather adept at using them. I was getting walloped by him left and right, and it was more or less at this point where my brain started to fail me with regards to the controls.
They're not hard - target, move, shoot - but they were tying me up, and I was losing life to this guy.
Eventually sending him flying, my next target was an attack ship of some sort. For a volunteer peacekeeping force, these guys sure do have impressive supplies. Sometime during this fight, I discovered another button to play with - the Left trigger can be used to jump.
Armed with this knowledge, I really ought to have no problems putting it all together and playing Sin and Punishment a little more like it was meant to be played.
Eh... I, uh... I think I know what happened there.
Many decades (well, two) of analogue stick enabled third person movement have conditioned me to use the left stick to move the player and the right stick to move the camera. Here, in the heat of the battle, when panic set in, with explosions going off and damage being taken, I realised why I was getting confused: my sticks were backwards.
I firmly believe that I would get further through Sin and Punishment were I to set up my inputs differently, but do I want to?
The game looks and sounds alright, and is perfectly playable, even in Japanese. I've got no idea what else lies beyond those menus, though. Different modes? Difficulty sliders? Multiplayer? Whatever does lurk in this title, is it enough to make me want to play through it and see where it goes?
I think the answer is probably no. I would imagine that it's a short game and that just pushing through it would allow me to see the credits, but to want to push through it would mean I want more of the gameplay, or want to know the plot, or both.
More of the gameplay, yeah, sure. I'd like to see what else you can shoot to the point of exploding. The environmental effects were nice, for example, but at the end of the day, it's all you're doing, shooting.
What about the plot? Given that it isn't explained up front, I went off to the Internet to read about it. It's bonkers. It's like it was hastily written on a notepad in order to tie up all the different ideas the developers had. It doesn't interest me much, but it might interest those of you who like anime, I suppose. It feels distinctly Japanese as plots go, put it that way.
Sin and Punishment then. It's not a bad game at all. I might play some more at some point, but it feels like one of those games where it's fun for the time you play it, and then you're done with it and never go back. Maybe saying that has already stopped me...
To confuse me even more, Treasure wanted players to hold the left two sticks of the N64 controller, rather than the more popular (thanks, Mario) right two sticks, promoting movement rather than button pressing. What on Earth have I mapped my right analogue stick to in that case?
Sin and Punishment, developed by Treasure, Nintendo R&D1, first released in 2000.
Version played: Nintendo 64, 2000, via emulation.