Review: Sumioni: Demon Arts

At a glance, XSEED’s PS Vita debut game Sumioni: Demon Arts strongly resembles that of the PlayStation 2 classic Okami. From the logo down to the art style, it’s clear that Sumi-e played a huge role when it came to designing a world that oozed style and substance. Sumioni, as a result, is gorgeous. It’s also a side-scrolling delight that doesn’t stray too far from familiar conventions, but uses its aesthetic strengths to appeal to players of all kinds. Vivid colors, a dreamlike world, and soothing Japanese-styled music work together in harmony to weave an intriguing (and quite challenging) tale that finds its place on the newly-released PlayStation Vita – if you don’t mind paying a little more than usual for a game this short.

Sumioni is a story of betrayal. Tired of living under the rule of a crooked, morally decrepit Japan, a man named Tengan unwittingly unleashes a demon after looking to change the world he lives in. You actually take up the mantle of said demon (Agura), also armed with a magical paintbrush — the similarities to Okami certainly didn’t end with the art style. Instead of turning night into day and decorating bare trees with blooms, the magical paintbrush can create platforms. You may draw the platforms via the L button or summon forth magical, elemental attacks should you need to defend yourself. Thunder clouds, summons, and a myriad of other attacks are waiting to be unleashed, but all require ink that may be replaced via consumable items. In contrast, you can also erase platforms by switching to water rather than ink, which also works on offensive enemy assaults.

As you progress you’ll quickly find that there isn’t much to Sumioni aside from the very actions described above: fight off advancing enemies, work through the various traps placed throughout each area, and occasionally dispatch a few bosses with predictable attack patterns. You’ll burn through ink as if it were an irreplaceable commodity, and often deplete your supply on one or two traps and boss fights. Summoning godlike creatures to do your dirty work quickly becomes a crutch so that you may fight on to see the story continue to unfold. But despite its repetition, there’s something to be said about the smooth, strangely soothing gameplay. It’s easy to slip into a type of “comfortable” state when rushing along, creating platforms, felling opponents, and occasionally engaging in bizarre races to the end of a level.

With that said, Sumioni doesn’t have much time to fall into a groove. The longest segments actually fall between the game’s irrationally long and painfully boring story segments – a wall of scrolling text accompanied by some music – hooray! One playthrough (though not a perfect one, mind you) can be completed in as little as a half an hour. If you don’t score perfectly throughout each piece of a stage you won’t be heading to the lower levels of each area, though hasty players will speed through like a twister. There’s little reason to come back if you blow through and complete even extended areas your first time through though, making even the $20 pricetag feel a little steep.

But it certainly fits the bill for the “My First Vita Game” genre – it puts the system through its paces. And when you’re in the heat of battle during one of the game’s decidedly difficult bullet hell segments, you’ll realize that you’re playing a decent game. Poring through the Vita’s current catalog doesn’t immediately bring to mind any instant classics, and Sumioni likely won’t go down in the books as a must-buy, but for what it is it’s a serviceable platformer with gorgeous visuals and concepts that borrow from Okami and similar endeavors. If you’re looking for a quick platformer to tide you over until your next Vita purchase, give Sumioni: Demon Arts a look. Treat your eyes (and your wallet) until something a little meatier comes along.

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