Review: Sideway: New York

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Platform gaming hasn’t changed too much since the original Super Mario Bros.  Sure, higher resolutions, complex textures, 3D models in 2D environments, and complex inventory systems may add to a platformer, but the idea hasn’t changed over the years: Run to the right, jump or shoot an enemy, save the girl.  Platform gaming doesn’t necessarily need to be re-invented to become fresh again, as the original formula still works most of the time.  However, when a new idea or concept does come along, married to tight controls and a unique art style, platformin can feel fresh and dope and ‘2 legit 2 quit’.

Alright, you caught me.  I’m not hip to the hop of the OG ways of the street.  But I do know that Sideway: New York is one seriously cool title that brings platforming to the next level. Playing as Nox, you are brought into a world of graffiti and hip-hop, in the streets of New York, trying to rescue your girlfriend.  The catch is you ARE graffiti.  Somehow Nox has been sucked into the art on the buildings and has to jump over various 3D objects to get around or deal with enemies sent to stop him from saving his girl.

In addition to dealing with 2D graffiti art painted in Nox’s way, the 3D buildings that he runs across also pose as another potential puzzle issue.  By that I mean, running along one side of a building is the typical method of gameplay, but come to the edge of the building (or rooftop), and suddenly the camera and building shift perspective so that either the new side of the building (or rooftop) becomes the main plane for traversal.  Moving sideways across buildings and then suddenly finding Nox walking across the top of a building as if he was still walking on the side takes a moment for the old brain box to comprehend, but once it has, a radiant wave of, “Holy crap that is cool….why hasn’t anyone put this in a game before!?”, washes over you and suddenly you are hooked.

Throughout each level there are decals of little cans of spray paint to collect as well as power-ups and unique collectible decals to hunt for.  Some areas can only be reached after certain powers have been unlocked, giving the levels a Zelda-like design approach with the intention of replay in mind. There are plenty of items that can be seen but not necessarily reached without some planning and exploration, so gamers with OCD (or trophy hunters) will think they’ve died and gone to collectible heaven.

In addition to an art style that is inspired by graffiti, the music, based around hip hop grooves, immediately grabbed me and really submersed me into the game’s street culture world.  I admit that hip hop is not my cup of tea, but the original soundtrack created by Mr. Lif fits so perfectly with the visuals that I found myself boppin’ along and even stopped moving through the environment so that I could just listen and enjoy the music.  That being said, I wish there were a few more tracks created for the game, as the same songs repeated over and over became a bit much by the end.

Tone of the music changes as well as the art style as progress is made through the game.  Initially the levels are very reminiscent of a typical neighborhood block, but once the first boss (a mean bunny of all things) is defeated, the journey continues into darker, utilitarian-like levels, with a stop through Chinatown for an extra measure of quirkiness.  Of course, the further into the world you go, the harder the challenges and new enemy types become.  Some levels (or particular sections in levels) are downright maddening and high reflexes are a must. You better be ready to time every jump perfectly or death is inevitable.

Unlike other platformers, Sideway knows that the levels can be tricky and fortunately doesn’t count the number of lives a player has.  Instead, checkpoints are spread throughout each level and simply crossing them will save your current progress so if death does occur, re-spawning only sets you back a short distance. The re-spawn mechanism works really well, but I found myself compelled to move forward, because it was obvious where I made my mistake, and I just needed to adjust my timing to get through the particular section that was causing me grief.

In addition to a great visual feast, head boppin’ music, and excellent replay value, Sideway also includes couch co-op.  Two players moving through a level can be a bit crazy at times with so many moving components going on at once, but during boss battles, co-op lends an advantage to gamers. In particular, I found myself having a very difficult time beating the last boss (before the last boss) but my son joined up and the AI routine focused all targeting on him which allowed me free reign to attack the boss.  What took 10 or more failed attempts by myself in solo play, only took my son and I two tries before we moved onto the final level.

Sideway: New York is a fantastic downloadable game and is worthy of the price.  With an ending that ensures more areas are planned, I can’t wait to see what graffiti art style will be highlighted in future installments. The controls are perfect for quickly moving through the richly detailed levels, but you may find some moments of frustration as enemies at times feel a bit unbalanced against you. Music really brings the world to life, and couch co-op adds one more element of fun to an already rich, replayable game.  Fans of platforming should not overlook this new title.

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Pros:
+ Awesome graffiti art style
+ Plenty of collectibles for replayability
+ Unique 3D world puzzles in a 2D platform game style
+ Fresh, dope music

Cons:
– Overwhelming enemy balance in certain sections
– Boss battles can be overly challenging
– Couch co-op only

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 via PSN
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Playbrains, Fuel Industries
Release Date: 10/11/2011
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.