While Sumioni looks great and controls well, however, a couple of design choices keep this title from jumping to the top of the must-have list for early Vita adopters looking to tackle a fully featured game at a bargain price.
In Sumioni, you play as Agura, a slothful ink demon who has been tasked with saving Japan from an ancient evil. You'll be aided in your quest by a bird spirit and a lion spirit, as well as the ability to paint and erase items in the world around you.
You'll guide Agura through levels that look like Japanese paintings come to life while battling archers, spearmen, guard towers and the occasional boss demon. In order to traverse the levels, though, you'll frequently have to rely on your ability to draw platforms into the world. This is done by simply sliding your finger across the Vita's touchscreen, and it works just as well as you would expect.
While you can draw in platforms and ramps to help Agura get around, you can also switch to a water technique that allows the demon to erase his mistakes or wash away projectiles before they have a chance to damage him. A tap of the left trigger enters a special mode where anything Agura draws turns to fire. This is also where you have the ability to summon your bird and lion companions, which join you on the field of battle to dish out massive damage. If that isn't enough to keep you busy, Agura himself has several attack options including charges, upward strikes and smashes. He also hits harder if he's standing on one of his platforms. Keeping track of all of these abilities is manageable in the first half of the game but, once multiple enemy types and projectiles start getting hurled your direction at once, it can become overwhelming.
Developer Acquire kept the Vita's portability in mind when designing Sumioni, as levels typically range from 30 seconds to complete to upwards of only a couple of minutes. There's a healthy mix of opponents and combat situations to deal with, but it's not hard to start falling back on the most useful attacks over and over. This goes double for some of the game's later levels; exercises in frustration with crowded screens that are far easier to muscle through than attempt with any sort of grace or fluidity.
One of Sumioni's most unique features is its level tree. Reaching the first of six endings will take you about 15 minutes as you haphazardly blaze through the initial six levels. Additional levels are contained on five lower tiers, only accessible by earning a three-star rating on certain levels. If you get a perfect score on level three, for instance, you will automatically drop down to the second tier of levels to continue playing. You can muck your way to the second ending or, if you earn a three-star rating two levels into the second tier, you'll find yourself moving down to the next tier.
While this structure is initially engaging, however, it quickly reveals itself as one of the game's greatest weaknesses. Sumioni asks you to save at the end of each level. This is annoying in and of itself, but the reason for such repetitive save options is that you have no easy way to repeat a level.
If you score anything less than three stars on a level that would take you to the next tier, you don't have the option to retry it for a better result. Your only option is to exit the game entirely and load your most recent save. There's also no ability to pick a level and play it for fun (or to practice for that three-star rating), which means you'll have to make a whole mess of save files if you want to easily jump into a desired level. I assume this design choice was to add some additional challenge to the game, but what it equates to is a whole mess of frustration when the levels get harder and all you want to do is find out what happens in that next ending.
The easy fix would be to allow the player to jump in from any level they've already perfected or, at the very least, allow them to instantly retry a level they didn't manage to three-star. While Sumioni's level tree doesn't ruin the experience, per se, it certainly makes it less appealing to keep pushing forward, and that's a big no-no in my book.
Still, the action is frantic, the mechanics utilize the Vita nicely and, while the levels all start to look a bit too similar, Sumioni is very easy on the eyes. It's a fun romp, especially if you don't mind jumping through unnecessary hoops just to get back in and play. But as a $20 digital title, fans of the Metroidvania genre could do a heck of a lot worse.
The Official Verdict: 3 out of 5
This review is based on a PlayStation Vita copy of the game provided by the publisher.