This review originally went live in 2007, and we're updating and republishing it to mark the arrival of N64 games on Nintendo Switch Online.
Tiny Japanese developer Treasure has a back catalogue packed with classic titles, but one that sticks out more than most is Sin & Punishment. Released in the twilight days of the N64 console, this unique on-rails blaster pushed the hardware to breaking point with massively detailed levels, intricate character and enemy models and – most importantly – action that was so fast and furious it made your eyes hurt just trying to keep up with it all.
It wasn't until its Virtual Console release in 2007 that this hectic shoot 'em up became available to anyone in the West with a Wii — it never saw release outside of Japan on Nintendo's 64-bit machine, a crime against video gaming if ever there was one, because this was the perfect swansong for the console.
If you're after a reference point to get a better idea of what Sin & Punishment is about, think of Star Fox crossed with Space Harrier and you're almost there. It's a little reductive and unfair to even compare Sin & Punishment with other games as it's so original and innovative, but you get the point. This title may rely on tried and tested shooter elements but it's the way everything has been fused together that makes the game so damn good.
Sin and Punishment is the futuristic story of Saki, a man who is out to protect Japan from a double threat. Due to a food shortage the government of Japan has been developing a new species of animal for the public to eat. Unfortunately everything goes to hell in a handbasket when the creatures mutate and begin assaulting everyday folks all across the land of the rising sun. Enter the Armored Volunteers, a "peacekeeping" force who want the mutant animals dead, but have their own devious plot in action.
While the story is a nice sci-fi thriller with some great little twists, it's a bit confusing at times. Those who just want to riddle their enemies with lasers without any filler will be happy to know that every cutscene can be skipped by the press of a button. Though it can be pretty entertaining, so you may want to abstain from skipping anything your first time through.
The game is peppered with standout video game moments, including chasing bosses down claustrophobic tunnel systems and taking on an entire enemy armada whilst gliding around on a piece of shattered masonry. Sin & Punishment is also full of neat, subtle touches; on one stage the viewpoint switches to a side-view akin to Gunstar Heroes or Contra.
Sharp shooters will want to take advantage of the game's dual options when it comes to gun slinging. A blue ring will lock on to target and let players rattle off round after round of less powerful blows. This is a player's best option if they are new to the title or are struggling with its controls. Switching to the red ring will put players in full control of the aiming cursor, but will also do more damage when the target is found. Being able to switch between the two shooting techniques is a great addition to a title that can often feel a bit overwhelming at times.
The insane amount of action throughout the story mode is Sin and Punishment's best aspect. It is a nonstop barrage of bullets, lasers, missiles, and deadly assailants. And how does one deal with such obstacles? By blowing them up, of course! As Saki you'll run and gun your way through different environments, racking up points for destroying enemies and doing so with speed and precision. The game forces you to use different tactics to defeat advancing enemies more quickly and with more force.
The visuals in Sin and Punishment are some of the best from the Nintendo 64 era. Characters are are a bit blocky, but look crisp and fluid during gameplay and the various cutscenes. Enemies and environments are nicely detailed and the game does a decent job of keeping its frame rate on pace through its ever-changing landscape of warfare. It might not wow you with any specific stand out visuals — certainly not my modern standards — but the game has a polish that is missing from many games of the early '00s.
Like Goldeneye and Mario 64, Sin & Punishment was built around the N64 pad, allowing for pinpoint accuracy and total control, and you'll really want to use that controller to get the most out of the experience.
To put it simply, Sin & Punishment is a true classic. It's a practically faultless shooter and up there with the very best of the N64's output. There's even some translation work featured on menus and cutscenes in the Virtual Console and Nintendo Switch Online versions of the game. Make no mistake, this is worth checking out if it (understandably) passed you by back in the day; it really is one of the finest games from one of the finest developers.