Monday 22 May 2023

Saga of Sins Review (Switch)

 Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Something akin to those so numerous yet forgotten shareware games of yore, Saga of Sins is experimental and old, naïve, and knowing. Through its stylised weirdness and deliberate wayward steps, sadly the gameplay doesn’t hold enough holy water to reach much higher.

Sage of Sins is a platforming-schmup-puzzler, with most of its successes being located in the presentation and tone flesh rather than a loadbearing skeleton of enjoyable gameplay. I watched the trailer and was drawn to this immediately. Something so aesthetically jumbled, camp, and schlocky really appealed to me. You play a bizarrely accented returning crusader called Cecil who is tasked by his priest mentor, Ulric, to cleanse his home of Sinwell of sin. Cecil does this through entering the minds of the inhabitants of the accursed medieval village and completing the platforming or puzzle tasks that lie within. This has a Psychonauts flavour to it, so the inner worlds seem to match the sin or person. This set up, to me, was ridiculous, morally incongruent, and all the better for it. Why not. Sure. Cecil, fresh from the bloodshed of Acre with his incessant mewling inflection, takes this method of social renewal with almost no pushback. I love it, genuinely. This feels more akin to the cosmic pulp or exploitative horror that can seem so narratively irrational to those fed on strenuously homogenised writing. To cap all this off, the world has a spattering of strangely voiced cutscenes, is decked in a stained-glass style, but with so many artistic hands that this is a collage of forms. Humans and monsters have no consistent style, culminating in a sort of crass Hieronymus Bosch-using-Photoshop thing that summons that aforementioned shareware vibe. What I’m saying is, is that it takes me somewhen.

Underneath all this is a frustrating, sometimes enjoyable, mess of a game that just revels in it’s own weirdness. The core of the game will see Cecil jumping into the villager’s minds and then taking the form of one of four creatures at a time. You start as a werewolf thing that shoots a blue energy ball. The other three vary in their abilities, so you can revisit (unfortunately) the same awkward brain-levels and access different areas. A bit like in the Lego-whatever games where you take R2D2 to the Well of Souls to get Tom Riddle’s diary or something, because The Joker can’t do it (I don’t know, I mainly read non-fiction).

The platforming is at once twitchy and leaden, peppered with tonnes of insta-death moments. There are just enough save points to make this bearable, and the levels are thankfully quite short on the whole. There are big gulfs of quite laboured dialogue and narration that start off joyfully weird and outstay their welcome. I really enjoyed walking around Sinwell and would have much preferred a game to be made around this sort of “hub” world, than the platforming focus. There is obviously so much zeal and creativity from the devs that I’m actually a bit gutted that it didn’t work out for me.

There have been some key decisions in the design of Saga of Sins that just hobble it for me. I needed this thing to end, and was glad when it did, but I did a lot of chuckling and enjoyed it. I can’t recommend it, but I will say that it had some magic of an early 90’s demo. A great palette cleanser between serious games, perhaps? Approach with caution, but there is the spark of real weirdness under some unfortunate execution.

Overall 4/10

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