Sumioni: Demon Arts ReviewKyle Stepp
Sumioni is, if nothing else, absurdly beautiful. People will be quick to compare it to games like Okami, a comparison that isn't without merit. But while Okami was comparable to post-Ocarina Zelda titles, Sumioni feels more like The Adventure of Link, for better or for worse.
For me, it was better. The Adventure of Link was always my favorite title in the series, despite it being the black sheep. I realize I'm not exactly in the majority opinion when I say that though. However, while it has all of Zelda II's charm and heart, it lacks all of its feelings of exploration. Instead of a huge overworld that transitions to a side-scrolling battlefield, Sumioni places you right in the thick of things, in short, side-scrolling levels of the left-to-right variety, nearly invariably capped with a boss fight.
Unfortunately, those boss fights aren't particularly exciting. There are only a handful of boss types, and once you've fought one pagoda that constantly spews enemies, cannon fire, and sharp objects of death, you've fought them all. Luckily, play control is a breeze, with an Okami-inspired thick sumi-e brush. By swiping on the touch screen, you can create temporary platforms, set things ablaze, or summon both lightning and a pair of mystical creatures that will temporarily fight alongside your character, the titular ink demon. However, you're limited in the amount of cool tricks you can perform by an ink gauge that needs to be constantly refilled by rubbing the back of the Vita. It makes things pretty awkward to hold when you're trying to find a place to safely rub your ink back up. There's ink and health drops from enemies and the environment as well, but they're pretty rare, and you'll end up using your ink a lot faster than getting it back unless you end up giving your Vita a quick rubdown.
At first, I was ready to rip into Sumioni. A mere half-hour after starting it up and seeing the gorgeously-drawn opening cutscene, I was viewing the end credits. "Is that it?" I asked to myself... But luckily, it wasn't. Instead of giving you an overworld to explore, certain stages have branching paths. By performing well enough on a given stage, you can gain access to a new "tier" of stages to battle through, until you eventually face your path's end boss. By reaching the most difficult tier, you'll eventually unlock the true ending to the game. It's still not a particularly long game; you can finish it in a couple of hours, but the constant challenge of trying to do the best you can on every stage keeps it from getting old too quickly.
Luckily, the sheer beauty of Sumioni makes up for its few faults. On the Vita's huge screen, it looks like a Japanese sumi-e painting in motion, and some of the bosses in particular look fantastic, even if there are only a few different types of them. If there is any single thing that harms the package as a whole in my eyes, it's something that's not even developer Acquire's fault. The publisher, XSEED Games, isn't exactly a company overflowing with cash, and so this release didn't get a retail box like it deserves. A game like Sumioni needs its beautiful artwork to be tangible.
I don't know how well the game did in Japan, but there's one thing I do know. I know I want it to do well enough to earn XSEED a lot of cash, well enough for Acquire to develop a sequel for XSEED to release in the West and hopefully retitle it with something punny like Sumio-NI, and I know I want it to receive a lavish retail box plastered in some of the prettiest art I've seen in years, and definitely on the Vita.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.