There’s something incredibly heartening about the re-emergence of the 2D platformer, a genre that seemed doomed to obsolescence with the advent of polygonal 3D. The likes of Super Meat Boy and others have allowed the genre to re-assert itself of late and now another fine example of this revival has appeared with PlayBrains PlayStation Network title, Sideway: New York.
The story concerns a graffiti artist called Nox who, along with his crew, (and this reviewer can confirm that, as a male of a certain age, there are no words to describe how lame it feels to have to type that…), are looking for his missing girlfriend, Cass. Suddenly they find themselves transported into the world of Sideway and it’s here that they’re confronted by the sinister Spray and his minions, who have designs on swapping dimensions and look set to invade the real world. Luckily the skills Nox and his gang have are compatible with the new environment they find themselves trapped in, thus beginning their adventure to get the girl and kill the bad guys.
While the games title expertly sums up both the two dimensional nature and the locale, it soon becomes apparent that Sideway is keen to do things a bit differently. Movement along 2D planes is gleefully mixed up and happily throws the rule book out the window in the process, playing with what it considers a flat surface. Nox can jump up onto the floors of rooftops and then back down the sides of buildings as it continually plays with the perception of space and the characters relation to it. It might be 2D, but the way it treats what many consider the norm would do the creators of Portal proud.While this approach can induce a bit of a sore head as the brain tries to adjust to its demands, it soon becomes second nature.
With any platformer, controls are king and thankfully Sideway excels in this department. Jumps have a certain float to them and once the player is used to this, they’ll throw Nox around with precision and accuracy. A crucial aspect is that the d-pad can be used as well as the analogue sticks, thus catering for those who are hard-wired from years of playing platformers in a more traditional layout. To this reviewer, this feels like the proper way to play Sideway and is at its most intuitive when used.
The slow drip-feed of abilities compliments the action, meaning there’s a nice balance to progress. As harder enemies appear, Nox gains extra abilities to combat them or is prompted by one of his crew in how to use what has been learned so far to his advantage. Players will effortlessly switch from lobbing graffiti grenades to air dash attacks or swinging like Donkey Kong from vines with ease, but are never left feeling over-powered as even the smallest flying enemy can deliver a killer blow.
The animation and attention to detail on show is superb, as one might expect considering the inspiration of the subject matter. For a character on a flat plane, Nox exudes attitude as he constantly bounces on his heels, ready for action. The way that backgrounds pop with detail and vibrancy, the way the enemies explode upon fatal contact in a mess of paint, or the small touches like the rumble of overhead trains which cause the screen to shudder, all add to an authentic experience; a confidence in the world created and paying homage to the source material and scene.
The soundtrack is classic mix of old skool (sic) hip-hop beats with a contemporary slant, and while some will be running screaming “hipster!” in the opposite direction, it fits the action beautifully, accentuating the on-screen action. Even those without a love of KRS-One et al will find themselves nodding along and enjoying the superbly crafted mix with some beats, especially the stage select screen, reminiscent of the peerless Jet Set Radio back in the day.
With its presentation and panache Sideway: New York is a rare treat which shouldn’t be passed up; a skilful blend of 2D platforming that keeps the player engaged and caters to the casual as well as more dedicated audience out there.