Sumioni: Demon Arts, the latest Vita game from developer Acquire, brings something completely new to the platform. Whether or not it is fun is another question entirely. The game has a solid foundation, but the difficulty and fact that you have to replay levels makes it hard to recommend this title. When this game is compared to other platformers in the earlier launch window, such as Rayman Origins, Sumioni: Demon Arts just doesn’t stack up.
In Sumioni: Demon Arts, Japan is under attack, and it is up to you to stop the invading force from taking over and enslaving the population. You play as Agura, an ink demon with a number of weapons and abilities at his disposal. You have a standard attack that makes Agura swings his spear at oncoming enemies. You can press the L-button to bring up your demon arts screen, and from here, you are able to use your ink magic. If you draw a line within the demon arts screen and press L again, the line you drew will burst into flames, dealing light damage to any enemies that touch it. From this screen, you can also summon an ink god to fight alongside you. To summon an ink god, simply trace a pattern the way you are prompted. Ink gods deal massive damage to your enemies, but they can only be used once per level.
At its core, Sumioni: Demon Arts is a side-scrolling platformer. The twist is that you have to draw the platforms as you progress through the level. At any time, you can draw a line on the screen that Agura can traverse across. However, drawing lines consumes ink, and you don’t have an unlimited amount of ink at your disposal. Defeated enemies will drop ink sometimes, but the best way to refill your ink meter is to stand still and run your fingers across the back touchpad of the Vita. This is an interesting mechanic that works surprisingly well. When you consider how important ink is in this game, having quick and easy access to a ready source is a welcome addition. Aside from using ink to create platforms, you will also need it for summoning ink gods and attacking. In this game, you will find yourself having to refill your meter often. Luckily, the controls in this game are responsive and work well, which is essential to a platforming game.
Simply put, this game is visually stunning. The graphics are heavily influenced by Japanese Sumi-e paintings, which gives this game plenty of character. The color is muted with heavy black outlines, but during certain attacks, you get big flashes of color that nicely offset the color palette. To go along with the art style, the character models in this game are nice and crisp, pulling the graphics together. Overall, this is certainly one of the most visually interesting games on the Vita to date.
Unfortunately, this game has a number of problems that prevent it from reaching its true potential. There are 30 different levels with six different paths, each leading to different endings. Normally, this would provide the player with lots of content to make your way through. The problem is you can’t choose which path you want to pursue; your path is determined by how well you complete each level. At the end of a stage, you are given a star rating based on how much damage you deal and how long it takes you to finish the level. If you manage to get a three-star rating during a specific stage, you will be allowed to advance to a more difficult path. If you get less than a three-star rating, you are forced to remain on the easy path. In the beginning, you will be replaying the easy stages until you master the controls. From there, you may progress to the second or third path, but the learning curve for each path is incredibly steep. Only the top tier of gamers will be able to reach the sixth and final path and view the best ending. Everyone else should prepare for a long and repetitive grind. Giving the average gamer access to more attacks, demon arts, and ink gods would have vastly improved this game.
The paths themselves are also an issue. There is no level select feature and no way to know exactly how well you are doing. If you make it to the end of the stage and it isn’t good enough to move to a different path, you will either have to start the game again or exit the game and reload your save, assuming you saved it before you started the current stage. This makes the game particularly unforgiving and makes replaying levels even more laborious than it otherwise could have been.
Unfortunately, Sumioni: Demon Arts is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have a beautiful game with a clever premise; on the other, you have an extremely limiting level progression system leading to more headaches than victories. Combining that with a limited arsenal and level grinding gives you a game that misses the mark. Underneath the bottlenecks and frustrations, there is the potential for a great game, but it just can’t seem to get out from under its burdens. An adventure with a linear path and more ink gods would have made Sumioni: Demon Arts the new standard for side-scrolling platformers. For the game that it is, though, it is difficult to give it our full recommendation, especially when there are better, cheaper alternatives out there.
This review is based on a review copy of the Playstation Vita version of Sumioni: Demon Arts by Acquire published by Xseed Games