(WiiWare)

Game Review

ANIMA: Ark of Sinners Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Time to repent

Recent history in the WiiWare platform hasn’t seen an over-abundance of must-have, exciting releases. There is little surprise, then, that the release of ANIMA: Ark of Sinners was met with some optimism. With trailers giving an impression of an old-school Castlevania style of gameplay, a lot of gamers’ interests were piqued. The question to answer is whether this is a blockbuster to renew faith in WiiWare, or a sinful let-down.

It is clear, immediately after launching the title, that Anima Game Studio has placed a great deal of emphasis on storytelling. From the stylish opening screen to details of the game’s lore being visible in unlockable ‘monolith’ records, the plot and environment were obviously key focuses for the developers. Based on the world of the Anima: Beyond Fantasy RPG, the storyline itself is reasonably interesting though not groundbreaking, with a moody, gothic tone that will appeal to fans of the genre. The plot tells the tale of the scantily clad Celia, and is told through well-drawn pictures and accompanying text, though we did notice quite a few spelling and grammatical errors. The developers may be based in Spain, but it is a shame that the English translation has these errors, as it does detract from the otherwise positive impression of the story-telling.

The positives continue with the general presentation. Graphically, this game is one of the better looking efforts on WiiWare — although Celia looks a little blurry, there are some attractive enemy designs and well-constructed background landscapes. The variety of locations is a bonus, while they all maintain an interesting palette of a city taken over by evil. The sound is reasonable, with music perfectly suited to the storyline and environment. The music does loop a fair bit, however, and Celia’s yelps and grunts can be annoying after a while.

What really counts, though, is the gameplay and controls. In terms of the controls, these are simple and easy to pick up. You’re given the choice of playing with the Wii Remote held sideways or the Classic Controller. Moving with D-Pad, there are only three buttons used; on the Wii Remote you use 2 to jump, 1 to attack, and A to initiate ‘Neokinesis’, a mode that uses accumulated energy to give Celia greater strength and power. On the Classic Controller you use A, B and Y respectively for these commands, and either control method is simple to pick up. The game is at pains to tell you that attacking with your sword is not simply a case of manically tapping the button, but provides a long list of combo moves that can be achieved. In the levels themselves, you simply slice statues with your sword to pick up health and Neokinesis energy orbs to help you progress. On paper it is well structured and looks promising, but then you actually play the game.

The problem with the gameplay is simple: the controls and movements of Celia lack refinement and precision. An important part of any 2D sidescroller involving combat is tight, reactive and reliable gameplay mechanics, but Anima: Ark of Sinners falls drastically short of delivering these requirements. It is difficult to express to those who have not experienced the game, but the control of Celia is exceptionally difficult to master. For one thing, her movements, attacks and jumps are all sluggish and suffer from a slight lag from command to action; jumps in particular making it seem that the setting is actually the moon, not the mysterious city of Ark. The awkward jump is exacerbated by tricky platform sections, some of which require precision timing. Falling into pits is a regular occurrence as a result.

The actual combat, which makes up the bulk of the experience, is the worst part of the gameplay. While the idea of combos and different moves is nice, executing them is something else altogether. Whereas Celia’s attacks are slow, enemies often seem to be quicker to the draw, inflicting painful combos that you are incapable of escaping. Considering that most enemies take a lot of hits, combat sections can be a war of attrition. If, for an inexplicable reason, the last blow of your combo fails to land, you are left helpless against retaliation; there is no block move, and the only dodge mechanic involves crouching, facing the opposite direction and hitting jump. As enemies become stronger and faster the level of challenge becomes unfair, cruel and cheap. One section demands that you fight enemies and dodge deadly rays of light at once, and the unsatisfactory controls means that sections like this require many, many attempts.

Considering the genre of this title, the problems with the controls drag the whole experience down. We spent many hours playing this game, and the number of cheap deaths and falls caused a lot of frustration, with the air often turning blue. We started to develop a style of play that allowed us to progress, slowly, by finding a way to beat the controls and overcome its shortcomings; it isn’t supposed to be that way.

The bad controls and unfair design are exacerbated by the general difficulty as a whole. The developers have included four difficulty modes, including an unlockable ‘Hardest’ mode, but we found ‘Normal’ excruciatingly difficult — anyone who unlocks and defeats this game in the hardest setting deserves a medal. Even on the ‘Easy’ setting we died many, many times. In fact, the only difference we could see in easy was that you could hit multiple enemies at once; in harder difficulties you can only hit one enemy at a time, so two enemies close together will always get a hit in.

We’re not suggesting challenge is a bad thing — far from it — but difficulty should be based on clever game design and dangerous enemies, whereas the difficulty in this title comes from poor controls and unfair enemy AI. Even though death merely puts you back to the start of the current area, it becomes common to play the same section over and over again, becoming more and more frustrated. Even worse, if you enter a new area with low health, when you start again it doesn’t regenerate, making troublesome sections even worse. Even with the insurance policy of six save files, some sections will haunt you and block progress.

Conclusion

Anima: Ark of Sinners is a game full of good intentions. It is clear that the developers wanted to utilise storyline, lore and artistic flourishes to draw gamers into the Anima world. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself is fatally flawed: laggy, slow animations make the poor controls unreliable, while cruel enemy AI and level design make matters worse. Even on easy difficulty, progressing through this game is a long, laborious process. The principles of this game are sound, but the execution makes the game a disappointment, and enough to drive any gamer to the confessional.

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User Comments (34)

The_Fox

#1

The_Fox said:

Too bad. Ridiculous main character aside I was hoping for a decent Castlevania knock-off.

Link79

#2

Link79 said:

Fail. Major Fail. Sorry Anima you blew it.
Castlevania this is not.

Omega

#4

Omega said:

That's a real shame. Everything I heard about this game is confirmed by this review. I still think that the graphics design, cutscenes and everything looks really fantastic. But what good is graphics when the game is not fun?

FonistofCruxis

#5

FonistofCruxis said:

I was hoping for this too be a good game but after the videos and impressions I've seen, I was expecting a score like this.

TheGreenSpiny

#8

TheGreenSpiny said:

This sucks. I had high hopes for this one. It looked cool. Why hell do people release so many Wii games with awful controls? I've played so many games ruined by awfull imprecise controls (cough! Okami cough!) on my Wii. When the hell are people gonna learn that controls are the most important part of the game?

SennaKurosaki

#10

SennaKurosaki said:

Scantily clad female heroes are always an important plus point, however the game itself must be good. Too bad this isn't the case. If Anima Game Studio is smart they fix these difficulty and control issues a.s.a.p. and re-release it. Bad controls are unacceptable and frustratingly difficult or annoying game-play is no fun. And games have to be fun! Duh! Obviously!

Jnes4

#11

Jnes4 said:

Aw, and I was actually looking foward for this when it was first anounced ! :(
It had an interesting premise, but then again, the main character looks... in the nicest term I can put out, "over the top".

Crunchy_in_milk

#12

Crunchy_in_milk said:

Dang, and I was really looking forward to this ever since I first heard it was like Castlevania. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to wait for Konami to make a new Castlevania for 3ds.

JayceJa

#14

JayceJa said:

exactly what i expected, it looked pretty terrible from the first trailer, pretty with no substance

Henmii

#15

Henmii said:

It's really a pity! I wanted to download the game, especially since Sidescrolling platformers are so scarce on Wiiware. But it looks like I better can forget about this game. A shame!

Bassman_Q

#18

Bassman_Q said:

@8- Okami had terrible controls...?

Well, you do have a point when it comes to combat in the game (it was pretty bad), but give the game a chance; I'm glad I did. I stopped playing cuz of its strange controls and lack of knowledge on where to go, but then I picked it up a year later and completed it a few months afterward. Definitely among my favorite games of all time. :)

Vinsanity

#19

Vinsanity said:

This should be converted to an eShop game and release on the 3DS. Who honestly still has their Wii plugged in? I know I don't; and it was, easily, the system that got most of my playtime last year. 2010's Holiday Season was amazing for Wii. In retrospect, Nintendo probably should've held onto games like Epic Mickey, Sonic Colors, DKC Returns or Kirby's Epic Yarn so that we'd have had something to play THIS year.

melechofsin

#20

melechofsin said:

@Vinsanity - yeah, sure. So you actually played sonic colors, epic mickey, DKC, goldeneye, KEY, and all these releases, and then unplugged your Wii? I know have dozens of retail games on the Wii that I still have to play (if I want to finish all of them, it will take a few years actually) not to mention the huge number of VC games (wasnt FF3 just released?), and what d'ya know, they even release Wiiware. I'm good actually. Oh yeah, and kirby, skyward sword, and the others around the corner. They will release Xenoblade as well.

PALgamer

#21

PALgamer said:

Such a same. And to think I shared the news on this game over here in NL.
Sorry guys :(

WiiLovePeace

#22

WiiLovePeace said:

Wow, that was a suprise, I thought this was a winner for sure. Still gonna pick it up, as I always try games I think I'll like, despite what reviews say.

CanisWolfred

#23

CanisWolfred said:

@Vinsanity

Um, unless they have a TV that only supports one console, and even then, I'm sure plenty of people still have their Wii plugged in. Some people play games slower than you do, some people play games even after they've beaten them, some people have more games than you do, and then some people just like to leave their Wii hooked up because plugging and unplugging it is a hassle.

DrDaisy

#26

DrDaisy said:

Damn! I was looking forward to this game, too. Then again, I don't think it was ever actually confirmed for a U.S. release, so I probably won't get the chance to play it anyway unless I buy British Wii.

MakeMyBiscuit

#29

MakeMyBiscuit said:

Here's hoping they provide a patch for the controls. If any game could use one, this one could.

Hopefully the developers are paying attention to the reviews.

AVahne

#30

AVahne said:

Hopefully they either patch it, or they make a sequel that isn't rushed and full of problems.

Bass_X0

#31

Bass_X0 said:

I played the demo which was okay. By the time it ended I didn't really want to play anymore. I didn't hate the controls but I imagine they would cause problems later.

SKTTR

#32

SKTTR said:

I beat the game in 10h 30m. And despite the physics being a bit slow, and the game being extremely difficult at times (even on "NORMAL"), I somehow liked it. It's a challenging oldschool 2D beat'em up, "open world", with platform and adventure elements mixed in. The interesting (and good) story, as well as the beautiful scenery kept me going, even though I often wished there were items like health potions, or heart containers or something that makes it easier on you but there are no RPG elements at all.It's nice that there are plenty of checkpoints and save points, and when you die you get a bit of your energy back so you're never stuck with a lack of energy for too long.
Still, I lost hundreds of lives but finally made it, just with probably a combination of skill, will, hope and luck. Only real sinners ready to punish themselves get this far so this game truly deserves the title Ark of Sinners. :P

7/10

Omega

#33

Omega said:

Finally bought the full version. Bad things first: When I first played through the game it crashed 5 times(!) and only turning off the console helped. I've rarely seen a game crash that often. But that may be coincidence and I think the game is not therefore bad. (Note: The US-version was updated and has a few improvements but the European version not! [As at September 29th 2012.])

Contrary to what some reviewers say, the controls are not broken. It did not take long for me to get used to them and have fun with it. It's not overly complicated, you only use a two button control scheme for jumping and attacking (plus another button for rage mode). And there are a few easy to memorize combos that can be performed. Classic Controller is supported.

You will die a lot in this game during combat but due to how great it is to explore the stunning areas, it never becomes frustrating. There are no confusing mazes where you can get lost for hours and the very few puzzles are easy to figure out. Even finding the eighteen monoliths that tell you the story of Ark, the place where the game takes place, is not hard. (There is only one monolith that is tricky because you need a special move to get over to it.)

Another reason why this game is not frustrating is, whenever you lose one of your unlimited lifes, you start again at a checkpoint nearby. You never repeat long difficult paths and there are more than enough save points where you can save your game to one of the six slots. There are also breakable statues scattered all around the game to replenish your health. And most enemies leave energy orbs behind after defeating them. You can never get in distress for long. I often thought that it's almost too easy at times.

The final boss section isn't too challenging either. Though the game throws merciless waves of enemies at you, this isn't too much of problem. If you die, you don't have to repeat the whole section but only the last wave you reached. If you reach the final boss and die, you can try the boss as long as you wish without having to deal with the mob ever again. Nevertheless, I must admit that the last boss is not exactly easy (it took me a dozen attempts). But with enough tries you can and will finally bring him down.

It's a beautiful looking game, which is reminiscent of Castlevania, with amazing artwork, exploration, small puzzles, an interesting story and cutscenes and a lot to love about it. In the graphics department it can easily compete with the great names in WiiWare history like Chronos Twins DX, Lost Winds, NyxQuest, Dive: The Medes Islands Secret & Co. It may even surpass some of them.

The music is also nice. Although played in short loops, it fits perfectly to the mood of the game. Think of the Latin choirs in Goth metal bands like Tristania or Sirenia and you have an idea.

If I had bought this as retail title for the Gamecube, I would not regret the purchase. It's astounding what some developers can squeeze into 304 Blocks. Ark of Sinners is something that I would rather expect on a CD than as a downloadable title. Despite the doomsayers, for me one of the best WiiWare titles I've ever downloaded and I'm glad that I was not deterred by some reviews.

MakeMyBiscuit

#34

MakeMyBiscuit said:

With the slow down in ood e-shop games I decided to rediscover great games already in the WiiWare library and downloaded this game and it ROCKS!!!
I had NO problems with the controls. I am using the Classic Controller Pro. Plus it looks great and sharp via component cables. As Omega said it looks like the game issues from before have been fixed. Because of this, I wish this game was re-reviewed. Both it and its game developers deserve a better score. I would say and 8-9 easily!

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