Sin and Punishment 2 looks like what would happen if a music visualiser developed sentience and tried to kill you. It envelops you in sweeping patterns of bullets, elegantly criss-crossing lasers and lens-flare, a deadly visual cacophony that puts you into a comforting trance as you flit defensively around the screen. But hidden behind these familiar graphical patterns is a deceptively innovative and flexible shooter; developer Treasure plays with your expectations and your instincts, and Sin and Punishment 2 comes out feeling at once like a genre greatest hits compilation and completely fresh.
Depending on which mood you catch it in, it can echo Bangai-O, Ikaruga or Space Harrier, but its own personality always shines through. A large part of the appeal is the glorious, inventive insanity of the levels, particularly the boss design. Each of the game's seven stages is wonderfully distinct, only occasionally throwing up a staple environment like a factory or a volcanic landscape or the final extraterrestrial battle with an enormous spaceship. The rest of the time it's completely off the rails. Some illustrative phrases from my notebook, jotted down whenever there was a five-second gap in the bullet assault: "forest of the testicle-mace golem", "magma guinea-pig and the baffling cranes", "four-pronged whale assault", "moonlit battle with the giant stonefrog", "cactus-hatted sand leeches".
Most of the time you're running into the screen on a 2D plane, but the camera angles are creative and the game sometimes turns you on your axis and becomes a side-scrolling shooter for a while, or zooms out to offer a panoramic top-down view. The elven main characters, Kachi and Isa, have been freed from the floor since the original Sin and Punishment, pulling out a hover skateboard or jetpack to float around the entire screen.
Thanks to this new freedom of movement, bosses are now screen-filling affairs, and there are at least three of them in every single stage. Their attacks often take up half the screen. You must learn to use your evasive roll, and the tiny window of invulnerability that it provides, to dodge everything from massive claw-swipes to explosive cherry-blossoms to projectile tadpoles. B fires a constant stream of bullets, tapping A locks on to a boss' weak-point or particular enemy - locked-on bullets, though, have less power. Most importantly, tapping B brings out a sword for a melee attack that can deflect missiles and damage nearby enemies.
Each character has their own charge shot, too - Kachi's can target multiple enemies, Isa's is one focused explosion. It's absolutely non-stop madness from start to finish, which is about six hours including frequent deaths (less if, for some reason, you choose to play on Easy). As you would hope and expect, Sin and Punishment 2 is a relentless, non-stop sensory assault from start to finish. Everything that you touch (or try frantically not to touch) explodes. Robots, giant eagles, bulls, birds, vehicles and fish all explode. Even human enemies, once you've shot them, fall over and then explode.