I enjoy 2D platform games as much as the next gamer. I’ve played my fill of Mario, Sonic, Commander Keen, and Jill of the Jungle. Now that I’ve established some semblance of “cred,” I’ll admit I really didn’t think the genre could be advanced any more than it has been. It seems like Playbrains set out specifically to prove me wrong with Sideway New York, and let me tell you- they succeeded.
Let’s not mince words. Sideway is stunning. It’s colorful, it’s well animated, and the seamless melding of 2D and 3D is impressive. Playbrains set out to create a world that is familiar yet filled with the fantastic, and that’s exactly what they’ve achieved. The attention to detail is incredible. Little things like special animation for a boss character’s gold chain go a long way towards suspending disbelief, and allowed me to get lost in this title.
The story is not this title’s strong suit, but that never really seems to be the point here. I always prefer a more fleshed out narrative in my games, but while playing Sideway I was having too much fun to really be bothered by the fact that the protagonist is pretty generic, and plot is pretty thin. However, I’m not thrilled that there is no ending per se, just an obvious set up for the inevitable sequel.
Sideway’s 2D/3D hybridization is not just for show. Many of the game’s puzzles hinge on the idea that the world flips and changes based on the character’s current location. What that means is the floor can become a wall in an instant, giving you access to locations otherwise unavailable. It’s difficult to put into words, and it takes some getting used to, but after a short time, it becomes second nature to proceed through the world. The feeling of really understanding how the developers want you to play is reminiscent of when you finally figure out how everything works in Portal/Portal 2. Instead of just scratching your head when confronted with an unfamiliar problem, you really begin to progress and discover creative ways of solving it.
Again, it’s easier to see Sideway in motion to understand just how seamless the transitions are:
Playbrains was also clever enough to make sure you have a steady stream of power-ups and new abilities available to keep the gameplay from becoming repetitive. The learning curve also seems appropriate. You’re given a new attack or ability which you can test out for a bit, and then the challenges ramp up as you use this ability in conjunction with others to solve even trickier puzzles.
As much as I enjoy Sideway, I did encounter a few issues which hopefully can be addressed soon. The frame rate seemed to dip on occasion. While it was never enough to really pose an issue gameplay wise, it made the pacing feel more sluggish at times, and was really a distraction. That being said, I found the controls to be responsive, if occasionally a little sticky. This caused a few problems in areas where timing was critical, but that also could be lack of skill on my part. I also encountered a glitch where a crate I was trying to move into position disappeared through the floor, preventing me from moving along. Reloading the checkpoint didn’t fix the error. Instead, I was required to restart the entire level. I didn’t encounter any other bugs during my playthrough.
Sideway also features an enjoyable soundtrack by Mr. Lif. My only issue with the music is that there simply isn’t enough of it. I often heard the same two or three songs multiple times during a level. A little more variety would be welcome.
Sideway offers a good deal of replayability as well. There are numerous hidden items scattered throughout the levels, requiring more thorough investigation once you have access to all of the power-ups. Considering the main campaign takes about five hours or so to complete, it’s nice to have a reason to go back and play again.
Sideway New York is definitely worth checking out. It’s innovative, well designed, beautiful to look at, great to listen to, and a blast to play. You’ll be glad you stepped into the word Playbrains created, and you won’t want to leave anytime soon. Sideway is available on Steam and on PSN. It’s normally $9.99, but right now you can get it for the bargain price of $8.49.