By Cheng Kai . October 21, 2011 . 2:01pm
When SumiOni comes out for the PlayStaion Vita next year, it will let players summon mythical creatures by drawing Chinese kanji characters – Flame of Recca style – while in ink brush mode, an Acquire representative explained. That’s in the final game, not in the build of SumiOni (literally "Ink Demon" and inspired by Japanese Sumi-e ink paintings) that I went hands-on with.
To conjure the docile-looking ink phoenix in the demo, all I had to do was go into brush mode and tap on a virtual button located in the upper-right corner of the touchscreen. Simple solution? Sure. But, this was a demo that was only 20% complete.
Brush mode is where you unleash the full potential of SumiOni’s ink powers. Hit the L trigger, the game pauses and you’re free to draw or write anything you deem fit as long as your ink meter is not completely expended. Hit L again once you’re done to unfreeze the action, and all the on-screen ink will simultaneous combust into flames, scorching any foe foolish enough to run willy-nilly into it.
Moving SumiOni around, including jumping (tilt upwards), is controlled entirely with the left analog stick. The demo version did not appear to have a jump button. While not in brush mode you can also tap and slide your finger across the touchscreen to draw ink platforms you can walk on. Ink platforms were primarily used in the demo for collecting otherwise out-of-reach ink flasks that replenish your ink meter immediately. You’d want to collect every single one you see as normally the ink meter refills at a glacial pace.
Apart from scaling heights and crossing treacherous terrain, ink platforms can also be used to restrict your enemies’ movement as well, which can be vital to keeping SumiOni out of harm’s way. In the demo, "harm’s way" generally refers to enemies of the most basic nature: sword cronies and support archers (with one exception, I’ll touch on later). While I could take out these pesky small fries with simple sword swipes, performed either by tapping the touchscreen or by pressing the square button, I soon found this to be a pretty clumsy endeavor. Because your melee attack range is fairly short, running into enemies while attacking happens a lot more often than you’d expect. Better to trap them behind steely Sumi-e walls and safely pile on the damage.
I breezed through most of the demo level without much difficulty. Until I came face-to-face with a gigantic roadblock – quite literally so – in the form of a traditional-looking Japanese castle… augmented with giant spinning blades. You know, the wacky sort of stuff only evil emperors can dream of. Sword minions emerged from the front entrance, while archers and cannons perched on levels two and three showered SumiOni with their love… of arrows. I took the logical action any sensible gamer would do: enter ink brush mode, smear my grisly thumb all over the wretched obstacle, unpause, and watch it burn with great relish. Japanese castles are mostly constructed with wood, so fire beats wood, am I right?
I was convinced that I had "solved" the predicament at hand. But just in case, I made quick work of the opposing ground forces, positioned SumiOni right in front of the castle’s entrance, and mashed that square button as if my life depended on it. SumiOni couldn’t swing his blade up and down very fast, but it was rhythmic and stead. As if he were practicing Kendo in front of a brick wall.
Meanwhile, a potpourri of projectiles rained from overhead. But very few of them would actually hit SumiOni on target, so I didn’t bother with any counter-measures whatsoever. Pot shots that barely grazed my avatar almighty, really. Though in hindsight if I drew an ink platform above SumiOni, that probably would have been the end of it.
I was too busy being mesmerized by the dancing flames that unfurled. There’s something about those fire effects that draws you in. Funny how bonfires can make you feel, even if it’s a virtual one.
But when the fires died down and the smog clouds cleared away, my nemesis looked like it barely took a hit – even though I had pummeled it with everything I had. There was no indication whatsoever. No feedback to indicate that what I had been attempting was on the right track. Mega Man games have a simple boss health bar lets you know what weapon is effective. In Monster Hunter, it was a "tell" among with other behavioral traits, like limping or they’ll begin to use more powerful attacks. But, I had observed no such feedback from the SumiOni demo.
The only reason I knew that I was supposed to keep pounding away at this seemingly impregnable fortress are the brief flashes of white light that appear every time it was struck. Just to be doubly sure, I tried checking to see if perhaps SumiOni was supposed to leap over this annoying obstacle in a single bound. I painted several long strokes that let SumiOni climb up to the castle’s traditional-looking rooftop.
No dice. This was a boss enemy that I had to take out.
A second hypothesis then popped into my head: maybe this boss here works like the car-thrashing bonus stage in Street Fighter IV where you need to do damage to various parts of the boss to take it down. I followed through with that for a short while, but once again I was none the wiser; it did not seem to make a difference regardless if I mounted my attack from ground floor or went higher up. At this point, perhaps sensing my frustrations the Acquire representative kindly advised that it may be a good idea to backtrack a little, grab the ink flask floating in mid-air, and use the refill to summon the aforementioned phoenix to do my bidding. Without the refill, I wouldn’t have been able to summon the phoenix, which takes about half to three-quarters of your ink bar to activate. I had exhausted the ink meter in my obsession with watching virtual Japanese woodwork burn. Even with the help of my humble ink familiar, the castle managed to take quite a bit more beating before finally admitting defeat. Stage clear.
The demo lacked any real sense of depth. And there’s a very good reason for that: much of SumiOni’s story and game script are still yet unwritten. The demo was more like a proof of concept, if anything.
More important, SumiOni (the game) left me wanting more. I could imagine the gameplay possibilities, and can’t wait to see SumiOni (the character) can do. One of my favourite Nintendo DS games was Kirby: Canvas Curse and SumiOni felt like an extension of the same concept, but gives you a much bigger canvas – the PS Vita’s 5" multi-touch screen. As well as a yet-to-be-disclosed use for the rear touchpad to paint the town red with.