Sumioni: Demon Arts has recently hit the PlayStation Vita and it is a bit of a mixed bag. Leading up to the release I was actually pretty excited about it as it looked very Okami-esque and it looked pretty different from any other title that has appeared in the Vita’s short lifespan. There are some great concepts in the game however they are met some with some lousy execution. I really wanted to like Sumioni: Demon Arts but there are too many things working against it for me to really be able to recommend it.
The graphical style in Sumioni: Demon Arts is pretty amazing with its watercolor painting-esque visuals and the use of ancient Japan. In this title you assume the role of the demonic Agura. Agura is an “inkdemon” that has been awakened to try and save Japan from utter destruction. There are two other “inkdemons” that will assist you throughout your journey whenever you choose to summon them. You summon them by utilizing the Vita’s touchscreen and by drawing on the screen where they tell you to. Assuming you do this correctly the other inkdemon will appear and will aid you in your fight for a limited time. When you summon an inkdemon you use some of the ink you have which is one of the main gameplay elements of the game.
Along with a standard health meter there is also an ink meter that you need to keep an eye on. Basic combat in the game is done with the buttons, however, you will need to heavily utilize your ink powers as well. By utilizing the Vita touchscreen you can simply drag your finger across the screen and you will draw yourself a bridge to advance in the level or perhaps avoid enemies that you don’t want to fight. If there is a portal at the top of the screen that you need to destroy you simply drag your finger upwards on the screen to draw a platform and then run up to the top of the screen and destroy it. There are, of course, other uses for this as well. Buy pushing in the left shoulder button the action on screen will freeze and it will give you a chance to set up some attacks. If you have a large group of enemies charging towards your position you can simply draw a vertical line down the screen near them and then resume the action. What happens here is that the line you just drew turns into a wall of fire and your enemies can’t get past it (or, at the very least, they are weakened if they do get past it). This was a strategy that I utilized a lot when fighting bosses as it allowed me to simultaneously keep my distance and still attack. All of this is well and good but it drains your ink meter really quickly. You might be asking, how do you get more ink? Well, there are two ways. When you defeat an enemy he might drop some ink that you can pick up or you can use the Vita itself. When your character is standing still simply start rubbing the Vita’s back touch pad and you will refill the ink meter. The fact that you have to be standing still is annoying simply because you might be involved in a big boss fight where you really don’t want to be standing still and rubbing the Vita. It is actually a pretty cool concept however the execution could be better.
I’m sure this is probably sounding like a pretty cool game right now but this is when the other shoe drops, so to speak. As I stated above I was really looking forward to this title but it let me down in a lot of ways. The game features six different endings, however, I was able to get the first one after playing the game for only thirty minutes. The way that you get the other endings is dependent on how well you score on certain stages. There are levels where the story branches in two different directions and the direction you take depends on how well you do. If you only do well enough to get one out of three stars then you will most likely be sent down the first route. If you are able to get all three stars then you will be sent down the second route. There is a level tree that you can look at that will show you which levels branch off so you can at least be prepared as long as you are paying attention. While on the surface it might seem like it gives this game replayability it really is just annoying. There are going to be people who have to play a stage over and over again to try and see if they can get a different outcome to the story. Worse yet is the fact that there is no stage select in this game. If you are on level six and you don’t accomplish your goal and your game gets saved then you have to start all the way back at the beginning in level one. While you should get back to level six fairly quickly it can still become repetitive and boring to continually have to go through the same levels over and over again. Adding to the frustration is the fact that none of this is explained to you as you are playing the game. When I received the first ending after only playing the game for thirty minutes I was incredulous as I thought that was it. I started going through the game again and I just happened to score well enough on one of the branching stages to go down a different path. Since they didn’t bother to properly explain this mechanic to anyone there will definitely be people who only play the first route and miss out on a big portion of the game. The gameplay mechanics, while initially fun, can become irritating after a little while as well and you will quickly become frustrated by having to stand still a lot of the time as you refill your ink meter.
Sumioni: Demon Arts had a lot of potential but none of it was realized. The aspects of the game that are fun are overshadowed by some of the design decisions. The game features 30 levels but I doubt a lot of people will see everything this game has to offer. There will undoubtedly be people who love this game and will do everything they can to see all of the different endings and unlock all of the trophies. For me this will probably be a good game to play on a plane when you don’t have anything else to do. This game is by no means broken and if you want to invest the time you can see everything the game has to offer. They just put up too many obstacles in your way for the average gamer to do that. The $20 price point doesn’t help matters either. If this game was only $10 then I could recommend it more easily. At $20 you are probably better served to look at other titles that will give you more for your money. Since there isn’t any demo available you can’t try it out for yourself before buying so I would recommend watching the trailers to see if it is something you might be interested in. If this game seems like something you would enjoy then go ahead and give it a shot. Just remember what you are getting and set your expectations accordingly.