Ranking the top 101 Nintendo games: No. 13, Sin and Punishment: Star Successor
This underlooked gem is one of the very best games on the Wii, Nintendo or otherwise.
I’m ranking the top 101 Nintendo developed/published games of all-time, and you can read about the thought process behind game eligibility and list construction here. You can keep up with the rankings so far through this link.
Treasure has a fantastic library of games developed over a couple of decades, but their sequels are rarely the source of said library’s standouts. It’s not that their sequels are bad or anything, but there tends to be some issue or another that makes games like the Game Boy Advance’s Gunstar Super Heroes worse than the original Sega Genesis classic, Gunstar Heroes. This is not the case with the sequel to Sin and Punishment, though. Sin and Punishment: Star Successor is a noticeably better game than the original, which is saying something considering that the N64 release ranked 28th on this list. Star Successor, released for the Wii in 2010 and once again co-developed with Nintendo, is one of Treasure’s top-tier releases, one of the absolute best Wii games, and, as you can see by where we are in this project, one of the finest Nintendo games developed in their over 35 years of console history.
Sin and Punishment: Star Successor feels like a Dreamcast game, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It feels so out of place in Nintendo’s library in a way it wouldn’t have in Sega’s, but there it is: Star Successor is not just published by Nintendo, but co-developed by their SPD crew, who is at least partly responsible for more than a couple of your favorite Nintendo favorites that were decidedly not like Sin and Punishment. If not for its length, which is enormous for the genre, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Star Successor as a port of an arcade game, like so many Dreamcast classics were. It oozes arcade sensibilities in its vibes, its difficulty, in the way the story progresses, but no, it’s a home console original, its point of origin the Wii, not a port from another console or from arcades like so many of Star Successor’s cousins.
I say cousins, rather than siblings, because Star Successor is a rarity among rarities, an on-rails, bullet-heavy, never-stop-firing action game, and one that released after the industry had, for a time, seemingly moved on from putting full effort into that sort of thing. And yet, there was Nintendo, working on a sequel to a game best known as a pricey import and Virtual Console release, for a system unfairly derided by Real Gamers, who were afraid of ever seeing colors besides brown and gray, as for kids. There’s an IGN UK review from its original release that said, “Forget bullet hell — Treasure has created an awesome slice of bullet heaven,” — and while that’s corny as hell and I laugh about it whenever I remember it, it’s also absolutely spot-on. A lot of folks missed out on Star Successor,, both in its original Wii release and in its Wii U Virtual Console release, but that’s their loss. One they can, and should, still rectify.
Star Successor took every issue the harshest critics of the original on-rails arcade shooter had — game length, control scheme, graphics, difficulty, music, voice acting… well, comparatively, anyway — and tweaked them until they were in a place you couldn’t reasonably complain about them. There is no shame, even from difficulty-obsessed folks, on “only” being able to complete Star Successor on Easy, which is significantly harder than Easy in the original game, but features infinite continues to compensate. Never mind Hard mode: if you play Star Successor on Normal the first time through, you’re only hurting yourself. This is a game meant to be played again and again, but you need to learn patterns and gameplay tricks before you can start worrying about perfecting your scores. Easy should be considered Normal, Normal should be considered Advanced, Hard should be thought of as more of a “well, we warned you.”
An oddity from the original Sin and Punishment is that it was about an hour long, the length of a shoot-em-up on the longer side for the genre or something like fellow on-rails standout Star Fox 64, but it also featured saving not just in between stages, but for checkpoints mid-stage, too. Probably so that, if you were frustrated or didn’t feel like replaying a stage right then after failing, you could get back to it later without starting over, but still, as welcome as it was it felt a little out of place in the genre. In Star Successor, though, where the game is twice as long from a stage perspective and around 3-4 times as long, time-wise, to get through, the save system is not just welcome, but necessary. Less so on Easy, but on Normal and Hard, you will absolutely stand up in disgust — likely directed at yourself rather than the game, for failing to dodge or properly time a charged shot — and want to walk away for a bit. If that sounds like a nightmare, well, remember what I said about there being no shame in only being able to complete this game on Easy. Treasure is known for layered, complex, difficult arcade action, and Star Successor is among the finest examples of that style in their oeuvre.
Star Successor, like the original Sin and Punishment, is an on-rails shooter where your character moves around on a 2D plane while aiming into a 3D background full of enemies. There were lots of enemies in the original: there are more in the sequel. The jump from the N64 hardware to one with the power of two GameCubes stacked on top of each other is noticeable not just for the graphics and the nearly flawless 60 frames per second arcade action, but because Treasure and Nintendo SPD flooded the screen with enemies. Waves and waves of popcorn enemies used to goose your multiplier, scores of legitimate threats shooting lasers or bullets or missiles at you, bosses that take up the entire screen or send out attacks that’ll do that for them… your screen is very rarely empty, as there is always something to dodge, to shoot, to deflect, and, more than just sometimes, all three of those are present at once.
You no longer jump, like in Sin and Punishment, but you instead fly. You can fight on the ground if you want (or if it’s safer to do so at that moment) but your characters have jetpacks for a reason. You’ll fly around to avoid obstacles, to get closer to a specific enemy, to move through Star Successor’s version of platforming puzzles. You can also dodge, like in the original, and you end up invulnerable while you’re doing it. This ability does not make the game easy, necessarily, as you have to time it just right, or you’re still going to be susceptible to damage, and after you wasted some time not shooting. You have more leeway with the timing required to deflect rockets and missiles and objects back at enemies using your gun that is also a sword than you do with the dodge, but you’ll have to master both if you expect to complete the game. Like with the original Sin and Punishment, bosses are designed to test not just what the stages themselves taught you, but they force you to apply that knowledge in new ways, on the fly, and in much more challenging circumstances.
You get to control one of two characters, or you can play with a friend in co-op and use both at once. The first, Isa Jo, is the son of the original game’s protagonists, and he fears that he’s inherited more from them than just their ability to accurately fire a gun. Kachi is more of a mystery, both in origin and in motivation, one Isa has decided to protect instead of kill as was his original mission. The group that gave him that mission now hunts them both in a story that is both less batshit and easier to understand than the original, but also just inconsequential enough that I’d rather talk about the controls instead. Just know that it’s all voice acted in a superior way to in the original game — even if the voice acting is still not necessarily what you’d call Good even by 2009 standards — and the vastly improved character models help with the look of the cutscenes, too, since they better match the lovely concept art of this game’s universe.
As for those controls, the N64 scheme made a lot of sense, but you had to be willing to let it make sense, and many people were not. It didn’t help that the game was not designed for use with the Wii’s Classic Controller, but that’s what the majority of people who were playing Sin and Punishment used for it, since it got its first international release on the Wii’s Virtual Console as an import title. Sin and Punishment: Star Successor was developed from the ground up for the Wii with its various controller options in mind, and thanks to that, it controls in an infinitely superior way, even for people who didn’t mind the setup of the original title like myself.
If you use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination, then Sin and Punishment plays like a hardcore lightgun game that also has you dodging and flying around with the Nunchuk. This is my preferred method of playing, since the IR capabilities of the Wii really lent themselves to this kind of game, which is how it ended up with ports of House of the Dead 2 and 3, as well as an original House of the Dead title and two on-rails, lightgun-esque shooters set in the Resident Evil universe. Star Successor blows each and every one of those away, and I say that as someone who has and enjoys each game I just referenced. That the game requires so much more of you than just aiming and pulling the trigger is a large part of that, but it’s also just that Star Successor’s action and setpieces are significantly better, too.
You can use the Classic Controller (Pro or standard), or the Wii Zapper, or even a GameCube controller instead of the Remote and Nunchuk, but as well as those methods work, the one advertised on the box is the way to go. For me, the Remote and Nunchuk combo is the best combination of accuracy and speed — both in your ability to aim as well as your access to all of the buttons necessary for staying alive — of the four methods.
There are three different ways to shoot. The first two are carried over from the original S&P: you can aim freely and cause more damage, or lock on to enemies for more accurate, but less powerful, shots. There’s a new wrinkle in Star Successor, one you must familiarize yourself with, and that’s charged shots. You can shoot charged shots as many times as you want, but there is a cooldown to them. So, you will have to learn to balance firing off a charged shot and then dodging, while shooting regular shots to take down whatever the charged shot didn’t take care of, while you wait for the next opportunity to charge up and fire. The charged shot is no joke, as it does major damage to bosses and can clear an entire section of the screen of standard enemies, but you need to stay alive long enough to fire it off: you aren’t firing while you charge, and the enemies aren’t about to stop firing at you or populating the screen while you wait, so you need to move, and move, and move some more.
Scores can be absurd in their size, but you also need to stay alive long enough for that to be true. Each successful kill adds to a multiplier, which maxes out at x10: take damage, and not just your health, but your multiplier is reduced. When you die, it’s game over, and your score is reset once you continue. Like with Star Fox 64, you can complete Star Successor without doing a very good job of it. More importantly, like with Star Fox 64, you’ll be compelled to keep playing until you can do a great job of it. Whether that’s getting through the whole game without dying, completing it on the hardest difficulty, or simply posting some eye-popping scores you’re satisfied with is up to you. You’ll be hooked, though, if you let yourself slip into the mentality the game requires.
Bosses. That’s where Treasure so often shines, in the design of their bosses. Star Successor is basically a love letter to this much-heralded element of Treasure games, in that it often feels like just one boss fight after another, with the non-boss portions of the game sometimes feeling like a breather even though they themselves are action-packed. So many of these bosses are unique, with powers and environments that would be described pretty succinctly by Knives Out’s “It makes no damn sense. Compels me, though” meme. This guy? Well the battle begins with him wearing a suit while floating over the ocean without the use of a jetpack like yours, but don’t worry, then he turns into a dolphin and you have to correctly identify which murderous dolphin is him from the bunch that keep leaping out of the water. Or the side-view boss fight that isn’t about shooting so much as it is about floating in the air while deflecting attacks from their katana with your own sword, and then smashing them while they’re stunned from your defensive move. Or the boss fight you have that takes place seemingly inside of a dream dimension you’re trapped in where the pain you feel remains very tangible and real. Or that stages do not limit themselves to things like one mid-boss per stage, but instead just throw you from one boss to another sometimes rather than in-between-boss segments, with the checkpoints being in between these various bosses and sometimes their stages. Your high scores are very much in danger in these segments.
Treasure’s boss fights are historically wonderful, the designs of the bosses themselves and their transformations a glorious ode to their imagination, and Star Successor is like, 60 percent bosses. The overwhelming volume of them has not diluted their quality nor dampened the experience of facing off against one. Instead, it feels like a gauntlet within a gauntlet, and you’re going to want to fight your way through both.
Sin and Punishment: Star Successor is up there with the very best action titles Treasure has ever developed. It’s a game no one ever expected to exist in the first place, but the N64 cult classic sold enough on the Wii’s Virtual Console that Nintendo and Treasure got to work on delivering an experience that is better in every conceivable way. Star Successor is one of the very best games from its year of release, and from plenty of other years, too. It’s one of the very best Wii games, Nintendo or otherwise, and it’s right here at number 13 on this list, approaching the very top tier of anything with Nintendo’s name on it. If you have a system that can play it, then get it. If you like arcade games, if you like Treasure games, if you like shooters, you will not be disappointed by that decision.
This newsletter is free for anyone to read, but if you’d like to support my ability to continue writing, you can become a Patreon supporter.