Sideway: New York ReviewJoe Shaffer
Deep within the concrete jungle dwells a young man named Nox. This street smart youngster has found a way to rise above the hustle and bustle of the big city by creating lively street art, much to the chagrin of certain viewers. Although the city was full of tough critics, his worst enemy was not an ordinary passerby or a constable. Rather, Nox's opponent was from a dimension within paint-stained urban walls known as Sideway, the home of the villain Spray. This megalomaniac has taken it upon himself to nab Nox's girlfriend, Cass, and let his spray paint thugs deal with the hero as he enters their realm.
You may have noticed two things in particular about Sideway: New York's story. For one it's nothing new, as save-the-maiden storylines can be found on just about every gaming platform. To utilize such a premise these days, you'd either have to be brilliant, lacking in any sense of creativity, or plain lazy. However, Sideway gives us a little promise when delivering its setup by placing the action in an unconventional setting with an unlikely hero. It's as if the developers at Playbrains were trying to reassure us that we'll be handsomely rewarded for humoring them in this outing.
That might seem to be the case at first, especially when you behold Sideway's awesome art style. Drawing inspiration from urban art, the game thrusts you into a 2D platformer displayed on the walls and surfaces of a 3D city environment. You guide Nox, presented as a graffiti-esque sprite, as he traverses bricks, plows through fences, battles across rooftops, and charges along billboards in search of his sweetheart. Throughout his adventure, you will encounter all of the usual platformer tropes, reimagined in the game's graffiti style: tags serving as platforms, spray characters acting as aggressive monstrosities, and junky doodles and gang tags replacing spikes. To surmount these obstacles, you'll need a light amount of platformer skill and a decent command of the game's numerous abilities and techniques. For instance, you'll cross most dangerous "gorges" with Nox's Peach-like glide, which allows him to descend slowly following a jump. You'll also crush paint walls with a devastating tackle, grapple onto cartoony octopuses, and even create tag platforms to reach loftier heights.
Although Sideway's style is its most talked about feature, what I found most impressive was the game's overall stage structure. Each level winds across several buildings, seldom remaining on a single wall or surface for very long. As you advance, you might find yourself ascending a wall and eventually jumping around the corner to the rooftop surface, where the camera angle will seamlessly shift to accommodate a new perspective. After that, you might leap onto another wall, descend into an alley and eventually work your way across a wooden fence, or even cross a makeshift bridge to access another rooftop. Each time, you'll find the camera shifting without missing a beat. Each level also sports a generous number of branches and hidden nooks and crannies with all manner of collectibles to snag, effectively challenging you to attack your old scores and complete times.
Were I to base my rating on the game's style and mechanics alone, Sideway would pass with flying colors. Unfortunately, as a longtime player of the genre, I've come to expect more than flashy visuals and passable control response. After all, I can get that from any number of games in this extensive (and sometimes overdone) genre.
Where Sideway goes wrong is not in the realm of stage structure, but overall level design and difficulty. Not taking my meaning? Each stage is convoluted and windy, but also extremely easy. In other words, you'll find few tricky spots where you have to time your jump just right or troublesome areas that beg for intellect. Most platforming scenes are rudimentary and common as dirt, featuring floating platforms, just out of reach foes, push-block puzzles, patience challenges (like one that involves waiting for streams of water to disappear before continuing), and so on. We've seen these for decades now, and recently we've seen them adapted in fresh, face-crushing ways. Sadly, Sideway only presents them in their most basic forms, forgetting entirely to challenge its players.
What further dampens the difficulty is that the game grants you infinite lives. Don't get me wrong, I'm not so hardcore that I inherently dog this feature. It worked for titles like Super Meat Boy and They Bleed Pixels; games that are so insanely difficult that playing either without infinite lives would lead to a major aneurysm. Sideway, on the other hand, is already so easy that you shouldn't require an unlimited number of chances to succeed. Thanks to this needless feature, the game plays like an old school platformer with training wheels.
Although the art style is cool, it's not enough to carry the game. By about the fifth level, you'll likely be desensitized to the flashiness and will be left wondering when the game is going to shell out substance to support its style. Worse, you're confined to the same tired environment throughout the experience. Since this adventure takes place in New York, you won't see much more than buildings, fences and billboards. Imagine if the entire campaign of Super Mario Bros. 3 had consisted of only one world theme instead of eight. I think it's safe to say that SMB3's style and visuals, no matter how innovative and lively, would grow tiresome after a while. Such is the case here with Sideway.
It's disheartening to discover a game as visually brilliant as Sideway: New York, only to realize that it's little more than a genre exercise dressed up to appear unique. Apart from the art style, very little about the game is actually new, and even less is entertaining. But that's games that emphasize style over substance for you.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.