Sideway: New York Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on PC
Sideway: New York is a unique entry to the crowded platform genre. You play Nox, a young chap with street cred who is sucked into Sideway. That is, he becomes a 2D graffiti version of himself, able to interact with the urban art all around him. Water is Nox's Kryptonite, but there is also a wide variety of monsters and hazards to contend with in this peculiar new world. The reason behind all this? Cass, your girlfriend, has been kidnapped by Spray, the evil overlord of Sideway and you need to rescue her, defeat the big bad and in so doing ensure Spray doesn't achieve his goal of escaping to the real world where he can do even more damage.
The game fuses 2D platform action with a 3D world. Whilst you are a piece of graffiti art and as such unable to move anywhere other than along a wall, it is possible and necessary to alter your orientation as you move from wall to wall, rooftop to rooftop and so on. It makes for an interesting challenge in identifying how to proceed through the level when you reach apparent dead-ends, which actually only require you to find a ledge on a different plane, or jump over the wall to the roof. At first this is disorienting but after a while it becomes second nature to look for the unobvious route and make your way. A skilled player can theoretically breeze through sections later in the game once they understand how the game works, whilst early on things are very stop-start.
Despite Sideway: New York's hip and unusual setup, the game's structure is very old school. As you proceed from level to level you learn new moves, collect power-ups and meet the boss of each part of the Sideway version of New York (Times Square, the projects etc.). For the bosses expect to learn their attack patterns, identify their weakness and repeat three (or four) times. It's all very familiar. The power-ups are drip-fed throughout the game turning you from a guy who can run, jump and spray paint to somebody who is able to gain airtime, ground pound and slide into enemies amongst other moves. The new skills are well integrated into the game ensuring they're used often in regular levels and in boss battles. By the end you are very familiar with all of Nox's moves and each comes with ease. There is no real complexity in executing - just a matter of when, where and how to use a specific action.
Platform games live or die on how your avatar plays, and feels. In Sideway: New York, the way Nox moves has mixed results. The immediate feeling is one of control as Nox is very easy to manoeuvre, responsive and reacts quickly to your inputs. But the collision detection is ugly. Nox seems to have some kind of negative force-field around him meaning that you cannot just land on a ledge, or flash past a thorny bush. You have to be bang on the ledge with both feet; provide plenty of room as you float past an enemy and land right on the middle of the slimy graffiti's head. There are no pixel perfect jumps. At first it's just disappointing but in later levels when the platforming hazards increase and the difficulty of passing from A to B ramps up, it becomes frustrating. It turns the game from a potentially fluid celebration of skill as you slink your way through the levels pretending you're Mario in his 2D pomp, to a rage-inducing controller destroyer of a title. It becomes a struggle. The game can still be finished but it's wholly disagreeable and unfair. Sideway: New York is not a true example of man versus machine as its execution of the fundamental gameplay is lacking. Finishing it becomes a chore and although there is replay value built-in (throughout each level you collect graffiti tags, but many are impossible to get until fully powered-up) it's unlikely you would want to return.
Any appreciation of the overall presentation is destined to be a subjective one. An urban design ethic with a Hip-Hop soundtrack is not to everyone's tastes and if this isn't your thing the game as a whole is impossible to recommend. If you have no such problems, the presentation is rather good. The graphics are high quality and cel-shaded and the music is well matched. The single player game will take around three hours depending on abilities and as mentioned the game is designed to be replayed. There is also a drop-in / drop-out co-op campaign, which is the same as the solo game but working with your partner allows for different tactics and collection of more tags. You are also competing against your partner for the MVP (most valuable player) award after each level.
Any assessment of Sideway: New York has to be focussed on the platforming. Everything else is secondary. In this, Sideway: New York fails to live up to expectations, which are high given the new ideas and personality shown at the outset. A game should be theoretically possible to complete first time without dying given the required level of skill. In Sideway: New York this is not the case. You move from one platform to another as the orientation changes and something previously unseen hits you. Visual feedback is inaccurate and inconsistent, resulting in failure to make a given jump, or non-avoidance of a deadly obstacle. Sideway: New York attempts to innovate and head to the top of the pack in an already crowded platform game market but forgets that to succeed requires you to ensure you can walk, run and jump in the first place.