Reviews

Lumbarjack – Sideway Spraycation

Sideway: New York is a platformer with a unique core mechanic, and I’m sure the devs would want me to say it has “urban attitude” or something similarly PR-speak… but I won’t.

I like quality platformers, and I can appreciate good graffiti, so Sideway must be right up my well-lit NYC alley…

Much like the Super Mario Brothers film, Sideway stars a protagonist who has been taken from the real world and dumped into some strange other place that looks familiar, but inherently isn’t. There’s some nonsense about a damsel in distress, and our hero(es – there is multiplayer) has to return to the real world to find her, and he can only do this by using his wits and his graffiti skills. The princess is in another spraycan.

This other world is unique because whilst it is entwined with the real, 3D world, it is a mazelike 2D realm that is laid over the physical structures. It’s a metaphor you see, for the paint? In much the same way that graffiti artists live a second life on billboards and the sides of buildings, Nox is a tag-flat sprite confined to walls, able to interact with both the physical world and the graffiti world in his quest to return to the real world.
It’s a genuinely interesting mechanic, but play the game for five minutes and you’ll see that this fantastic mechanic is wasted on an otherwise mediocre game.

 

For a game steeped in graffiti culture, there’s no interesting faux-graffiti on display, and no genuinely interesting uses for, or of, the culture. There are bombs that act as platforms for you to stand on, and when you attack there are stylized arrows and effects that come off your person, and that’s it.

[Actually, I think a better graffiti platformer would be a parkour game where you have to use your spraypaint to put up bombs which act as barriers stopping interdimensional demons from coming into the world through boring, blank walls. Mirrors Edge with a splash of Sideway and a soundtrack that could put Skate and GTA to shame – that’s what you could do with graffiti culture in a game. Contact me – let’s do it.]

Sideway should also be far more visually arresting than it is. The term ‘bomb’ for a large, intricate piece of street art comes from the word ‘bombastic’ meaning high-flown or over-the-top (I’m making this up), but instead of big, bright, interesting visual design, Sideway gives us a thoroughly boring real world made up of browns and greys with tiny bits of colour sprinkled throughout.

And then there’s the level design, which is far too restrictive. With the way the 2D levels are confined to the boring, 3D ‘real’ world, there are never any genuine surprises, and no chance for you to ever feel like you got somewhere secret or figured something out all on your own. Everything is carefully signposted and your little vandal is strictly channeled through the level’s architecture.

The enemies are also rather bland. In a world that is half-mundane and half-living-graffiti, literally anything could be possible – instead we get green blobs, yellow blobs, birds that drop bombs, etcetera, etcetera. What about some vicious beasts brought about by the brain damage caused by huffing too many paint fumes over the years? How about twisted demon cops trying to catch you for vandalism? How about subway cars out for vengeance? So much potential, all of it wasted.

And last but not least, corporate sponsorship and advertising within the game. Even if the world had been interesting and unique and managed to draw me right in, the huge [REDACTED] logos spraypainted everywhere would have pulled me out again.

Sideway isn’t a bad game at all, it is neat and well-made; it just isn’t interesting enough to earn the label of “good game” either. I’m sure some people will enjoy it, but all I can see is a series of wasted opportunities with an interesting core mechanic and a relatively un-mined subculture. Chances are, you’ve got a better platformer to play.

Recommendations:

  • Controller – Sideway is a console port, so it plays nicely with a controller. Platformers are almost always better with a controller, so this should be a no-brainer by now.
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