Sumioni: Demon Arts Review
Sumioni: Demon Arts is a PlayStation Vita exclusive and reminds me of Okami on the PlayStation 2. I love Sumi-e, “ink wash painting,” in other words, and I simply love the way Japanese developers have used this art form to bring some of the most beautiful looking worlds in gaming. Sumioni: Demon Arts is a side scroller, a platformer, an eye-candy trailblazer for the PS Vita.
Developed by Acquire Corp., Sumioni: Demon Arts is a gorgeous looking game and is available on the PSN for $19.99. I can go on and on about it’s impressive graphical quality, but, after Okami, this is the only game to have brought an impressive ink washed world featuring great platform mechanics, beautiful backgrounds and monsters. So, after many years, this is my only opportunity to play a game conjured from the same technology and it better be good.
I fire up the game on the PS Vita and I immediately get transported into a dream world. Man, I love the way Acquire’s designed the game backgrounds and characters. High quality art lies everywhere as if it was so easy. The game is set in ancient feudal Japan, a world that was ruled by deceit and apparently, evil. Sumioni literally translated from Japanese means an Ink Demon. The game puts players in the shoes of Agura, an ink demon, summoned after being woken from a really long slumber to help rid the land of deceit and evil.
The first thing I noticed was that the combat was pretty fluid, neat and straightforward. Use direction keys or left analog stick to move around while the X Button allows him to Jump and Square  Button allows him to attack. While Agura’s trusty bisento can get you through most trouble, the game allows us to use ink to draw on the screen. Like mana in other games, Sumioni requires that you collect ink to refill your ink gauge allowing you to draw platforms to jump on, make fire or lightning to kill enemies and invoke summons or ink gods by drawing patterns when prompted on the screen. Ink can also be refilled by rubbing the back of the Vita’s touchpad.
While there are so many things that you can do, the game allows you to master these controls quickly allowing you to use your mind on solving puzzles instead of figuring out the controls on the system. Although the mechanics are brilliantly designed, Sumioni features a story that could have done really better if the developer could have presented it well. The game is spread across 30 stages which branch into 6 different endings depending on your performance in every stage. The developer’s execution of narration is told through still images and scrolling text. I’d have loved CG additions or cut-scenes that could have really helped progress the story in a better way. I wasn’t immersed in the game’s story but, since I love the way the Japanese do their stories, I found myself engaged sometimes even though it wasn’t really a top class presentation.
After about 20 minutes into the game, the game begins to tell me that it is very monotonous. I found myself going through very un-inspired level design following the same run left to right, hack n slash enemies formula that started to seem pretty boring. The only obstacles I ever came across were either towers or spikes of varying length. I could destroy towers or draw platforms to get over spikes. I found myself losing interest at this stage and my excitement was no where close to the fun I was having a while ago.
I found myself looking at the game’s ending in about an hour. What the fuck? Ok, there were 6 different endings to the game. But, I didn’t expect it to be this quick! This feature might not help increase it’s replay value. If the game awards 3 stars at the end of each stage, it may be possible that you could be following a different path. The game drags you deeper into it’s story line however, if you fuck up on one stage, you cannot replay that stage. Now, since your performance was not up to the 3-star mark, the game branches you into another ending. Sumioni also doesn’t feature the ability to restart a particular stage. If your save allows you to go back to the place from where you can improve your ratings, you’re in luck. Else, you’ll need to restart the game. Muster your courage if you’re willing to go deeper into the game’s story. Be warned, the more deeper you go, the more powerful foes will be waiting for you.
While Sumioni makes players work hard to learn more about the story, the monotonousness and the unavailability to restart a stage to better ratings make this a frustrating affair. I unlocked 3 endings and I had had enough. I loved the game mechanics, I loved the world, the monsters and the beautiful bright colors, the controls and the responsiveness of the game. However, I couldn’t really appreciate the effort the game had me put to get deeper into learning more about the story, over utilizing so many elements that make this a repetitive chore. Poor execution and level design ruined what could have potentially been one of the best platformers.
All in all, Sumioni: Demon Arts is a great example of visual creativity and responsiveness. The title clearly stands out mastered in the PS Vita architecture. While gameplay and graphics stand out as the strongest aspects of the title, poor presentation and overall game design destroys the foundation. The developer is more than capable to deliver a solid immersive game but, I believe poor funding didn’t let the developer go all the way nonetheless, this game is a brilliant effort from Acquire Corp. Well, seeing that I couldn’t find anything motivating to continue the game, I promptly hit the exit. But, honestly, if $19.99 doesn’t really burn a hole in your pocket, you might want to give it a chance.
Positives: Brilliant Graphics and Gameplay, responsive, innovative
Negatives: Very short, repetitive levels and gameplay, cannot restart stage
Developer: Acquire Corp.
Publisher: Sony | XSEED Games (Localization)
Release Date: 20th March 2012 (NA) | 9th Feb 2012 (JP) | TBA (EU)