Sumioni: Demon Arts|
I've always been a fan of artistic gaming presentations like the stark depressing mood of Limbo and the colorful Japanese sumi-e styling of Okami. It's the sumi-e art style that heavily inspired Aquire's newest side-scrolling release, Sumioni: Demon Arts, for the Vita. This is easily one of the most gorgeous titles to grace the Vita's OLED screen that I've seen so far.
The story takes place in Ancient Japan which has been plunged into chaos due to the wicked inclinations of a few men. Tengan, under the command of his virtuous master, attempts to quell their ways. Unfortunately the inkmaster wasn't able to stop them and evil prevailed leading to Tengan's banishment to a penal colony. It was only a short time before betrayal set in amongst the wicked and in retaliation Seimei used the hate that spurred inside him to call forth darkness into the world which changed him. Tengan, in his old age, decided to try and stop Seimei the only way he knew how by summoning an inkdemon named Agura no Sumioni, who reluctantly isn't at all interested in saving the world. With the proper motivation by the two Inkgods, Shidou(lion) and Yomihi(bird), Agura must race against time to stop Japan from being consumed in darkness.
Sumioni first appears to be a standard hack n' slash action game using the buttons. That quickly changes when you tap into your skills as an inkdemon using the Vita's front and back touch capabilities. By swiping on the touchscreen you use ink to create platforms to get over obstacles and reach items while dispatching enemies with the buttons. This is an awesome gameplay mechanic that fits perfectly into the artistic design as well as adding some really cool attack elements into the game.
For starters, standing on your created platforms will make you stronger allowing you to dish out some serious damage. The effect however wears off if you fall to the ground which can happen if your not careful as the platforms fade over time. However if you draw a thicker platform it will take longer to dissolve which I found crucial during a boss stage or two. Besides creating platforms you can use ink to attack enemies in a number of ways such as pressing the LB button and drawing simple patterns over your targets and hitting LB to activate fire attacks. You can even tap and hold on a spot to create a ink cloud to send down lightning on your foes.
The most important ink based power is summoning one of the two Inkgods to your side for a limited time. They are extremely useful during boss fights or levels that involve taking out towers to finish the level. To summon them you have to tap their respected symbol and then recreate the same pattern in a one round bout of Simon-says with ink. The lion god features ground based attacks and a devastating vertical energy attack while the bird swoops in and attacks and used energy discs.
Using ink to help you defeat those in your way is not without its limits as you have a limited ink supply. You can resupply it by picking up ink jars or you can use the back touchpad to refill your ink when Agura is standing still. By rubbing back and forth quickly on the back panel you will regain ink, you just have to be careful when you do it. There is also another tool at you disposal that is extremely useful against certain energy attacks by both common and boss enemies. By tapping the orb in the bottom right corner of the touchscreen or the easier Circle button you can switch to a water mode that you can use to literally wash most energy attacks off the screen.
The presentation of Sumioni: Demon Arts is by far the best part of this Japanese adventure. The backdrops are vibrant while featuring locales drawn in the signature Japanese sumi-e art style seen in real world Japan. Everything from the gigantic bosses to the smallest enemies comes to life with well created ink art. The art of ink brushing is also beautifully captured in Sumioni as well. Depending on how hard or light you press on the screen when you make your platforms you will be treated to realistic looking brush strokes. Depending on how long your ink gauge is you can create more elaborate or a greater number of brush strokes at one time.
The main character of Agura, the Inkgods Shidou and Yomihi and of course the bosses are the most detailed and vibrant parts of Sumioni: Demon Arts. Agura and his Inkgod duo pop of the screen making them really easy to see. The bosses themselves are usually colored in the tones of the backdrop but thanks to the sharp outer lines they stand apart from it and are more in the foreground. The story for Sumioni: Demon Arts is told through moving slides that are just as vibrant as the gameplay itself. Sadly there is no vocal narration to the story or characters, which would have made this experience even cooler. The sound department does feature some really good background music and attack sound effects as well as realistic ink and water sound for the touch functions.
For all Sumioni's solid visuals and gameplay mechanics, it does suffer from a lack of cohesive functionality. There are several different types of levels to go through such as running from a giant adversary or defeating a bunch of enemies and a tower at the end. Unfortunately there is little variance in the enemies and the same tactics work on almost all of them. Only the bosses require real tactics to beat so the difficulty is uneven.
The real cool and equally annoying part is that there are 6 different paths and endings to Sumioni: Demon Arts. While this is fundamentally cool and it challenges you to get better scores on each level they don't really explain this at all in game. I only found this out by reading a footnote in the included digital manual after finally beating the first tier. To get to the lower tiers you have to 3 star the required level to move down the ladder. However there is no autosave and if you save after every level you have to basically start the game over again to try and get it right. The upside to making it to the lower levels is that the enemies and obstacles get tougher and requires the player to refine their tactics to get through alive. There is also no level select so the whole experience plays out like a slightly easier ode to old school side-scrolling platformers.
I have to say that Sumioni: Demon Arts is easily one of my favorites on the Vita despite its less than stellar inner workings. The combat while limited is greatly more enjoyable thanks to the ink based attacks and platforming. It adds a new level of interacting with the game and achieving your goals. The need to get proficiently better through trial and error halts the storytelling a bit but once you get it down and figure out how to progress to the lower tiers it isn't all bad especially for the $20 dollar price tag. If you’re looking for a challenging platformer with a lot of style then I definitely recommend downloading Sumioni: Demon Arts for the Vita.