Spike's new 2D platformer, Sumioni: Demon Arts, seems to be taking a lot of cues from 2006's Okami from an aesthetic standpoint. You have your sumi-e art style for the background, cell-shaded characters and enemies in the foreground, the Japanese folklore setting, and even the gameplay bits, where you have to use ink to affect the landscape. But whereas Okami is an epic adventure game, Sumioni sticks to being an arcade-style action platformer with multiple branching levels for added longevity.
Before you start a stage, you are shown a level roadmap displaying where each stage branches. Getting an excellent rating on a particular level can get you access to another path leading to newer stages and a longer journey. Yes, you can actually blaze through and finish the game within six stages with a decent rating. If you play your cards right, however, you will go through 13 stages and see the real ending. Players will be given the option to either save their progress or restart their run if they wish to check out what's on the other pathway.
Players control main character Agura no Sumioni by using the left analog stick or D-pad to move left and right, with dashes available by double tapping the corresponding control. Attacks are performed with the square button, while a spinning jump only needs you to add a midair jump. Pressing down and the square button while in the air makes Sumioni perform a downward thrust with his spear.
We had problems getting used to the fact that pressing up on the D-pad or left analog stick makes him jump. Since the jump command is also mapped to the X button, it not only feels redundant, but can also cause players to accidentally jump when they mean to simply move the main character onwards. We suffered plenty of unnecessary injury due to this odd control scheme during our play.
This quirk aside, the touch-screen controls are perfect. We had no problems summoning platforms on the fly by drawing a straight line on the screen, be it to help our demon reach higher parts of the stage or to push spiked wheel traps away from our path. We could also clear out unneeded sumi ink platforms by tapping the water icon on the bottom right of the touch screen.
Pressing the left trigger pulled up the technique screen, which not only provided a breather from the action, but also gave us access to other fancy moves. Drawing lines while on this screen made flame waves appear instead of platforms, and this was extremely useful for killing off multiple enemies, as well as breaking down certain giant bosses that we couldn't touch during one of their wide-screen area-of-effect attacks.
To help us out through the tougher bits of the game, we first brought up the technique screen and then tapped the bottom right icon. We then proceeded to follow the drawing gesture onscreen, and voila: instant gargantuan flying bird! The bird, called Yomihi, can shoot out blue crescent projectiles and do charging attacks, as well as shoot out a giant purple laser beam before disappearing.
Activating the bottom left icon and performing the requisite gesture will summon a four-legged beast companion called Shidou, who follows your every move and lunges at anything in its path. Shidou also erupts into a blue laser beam before exiting stage left, so you have to find the perfect opportunity to unleash it and its bird counterpart. We suggest you do this for the end-of-level boss fights against the towering contraptions and demonic folklore beasts, since you can use them only once per stage.
Each stage comes with two types of objectives: go from start to finish and kill off the boss, or survive until the top right counter reaches zero. The stages aren't too long, and, with the exception of some of the end-game bosses with higher hit points, most can be completed in less than five minutes.
One of these late-stage bosses, a giant eyeball, fires a one-hit kill laser beam. The only way to avoid being killed is to save up ink and build an ink platform while it's sizing up its attack. Stages restart from the beginning if you lose all of your health, but the fact that each level is so short only makes it a minor hindrance.
So far, Sumioni: Demon Arts seems to be a nice, quick 2D platforming game with an inventive art mechanic, perfect for old-school gamers after something old-fashioned and bite sized. While the Vita title is already out in Japan, North American players will have to wait until March to get their hands on it, and a European release has yet to be announced.