To be truly innovative in the video game world one must think outside the box. Playbrains, on the other hand, decided to think outside the portrait with its latest side-scroller Sideway: New York.
In this platformer players control Nox as he battles his way through the street art-covered cityscape of New York City. His friend is kidnapped by a villain named Spray, and it is up to you (and, if you play co-op mode, a friend) to stop him and his minions. As you play through the level you will earn new power-ups and abilities that can be used to defeat your enemies, which range from the average slide kick and gliding technique to a floor stomp that can kill your opponent in one smash.
It's all these different moves that makes it a tad difficult to remember which button does what. While there is a control map to show you exactly which one performs each maneuver it doesn't help you out during split-second decisions (which happen more often than not). While each of these power-ups are impressive to watch they would be far more enjoyable to accomplish if it didn't involve having to play finger Twister with the PlayStation controller. Despite the difficult control scheme the overall gaming experience is quite unique.
Sideway: New York is presented in a 2D side-scrolling style within a 3D landscape. What that entails is that while the gameplay aspect is in 2D the worlds and buildings that are presented within the third dimension. In some scenarios you'll be running on one side of a building, jumping up, then suddenly find yourself fighting off the enemies on the top of the roof. This may sound like the average platformer, but what makes it stand out is that because you and the other characters are presented as paint on the Big Apple's walls they will always be seen as flat personas. (It's very hard to describe, so the video below should give you a better understanding.)
The characters are very vibrant, combining the styles of Shepard Fairey and Ed Hardy in some cases. One-eyed globs that shoot slime, minions that draw other creatures that wish to kill you, and scuba gorillas (yes, you read that right!) are just some of the characters that you will come across in this title. The crazier characters show up during the boss battle, many of whom are quite inventive. In one case you will come across a psychotic bunny that pukes up smaller bunnies that will attack you in droves. The only character that I found to be disappointing was the Knuckler, whom you will find near the end of the game. His 3D presentation contrasts every other character found in Sideway: New York, and its overall appearance looks more like something you'd see in a shovelware PS2 title.
In spite of that character the look of Sideway: New York is quite stunning. Its style stays true to the spray painting characteristics found throughout the game, and will certainly make many fans of street art happy, whether they're just into crazy letterings spray-painted onto billboards or the politically-charged pieces of art by Banksy. Its soundtrack by Mr. Lif is catchy, bringing to mind the classic hip hop styles of Grandmaster Flash and Naughty By Nature. Unfortunately there is a limited amount of music in the game, so expect a lot of heavy repetition. (It's a shame that PlayStation owners can't switch to their own personal playlists that they upload onto the PS3.)
Players can expect to beat Sideway: New York within seven hours, which is a decent amount of time for a $10 game. You'll also be encouraged to go back to older levels and use the powers you earned later on in the game to reach items and collectibles you couldn't the first time around. Online features are only limited to a leaderboard, where you can compare your score with others from around the world. (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Be warned: like in the brilliant game Rochard the game ends on a cliffhanger, hinting on a sequel that will probably take place in Tokyo.
- Visual presentation out of the ordinary
- Innovative characters, boss battles
- Memorable hip hop soundtrack...
- ...but songs get repetitive fast
- Control scheme is a bit complicated
- Knuckler boss battle is kind of ugly
Sideway: New York has its flaws, but its overall presentation makes it a game that any PS3 owner should try. Download the demo first, and if you really like what you've seen I suggest buying the full game. It takes a gameplay style that's been done similarly for over 25 years, and gives it a unique spin. Let's just hope we won't have to wait too long for the next chapter in Nox's story.
FINAL GRADE: 7.0 (out of 10)