There is a fine line between challenge and unfair nonsense. There are plenty of games that tread that fine line ever so carefully; games that straddle it, that hop between the two constantly over their playtime. With the resurgence of hard games, which is to say games that pride themselves on their difficulty, this line is becoming increasingly worn down, maybe even blurred. It is undoubtedly hard to keep the balance right, but nevertheless it is important to get it right, lest your game be more frustrating than it is rewarding.
Sinner: Sacrifice For Redemption is a boss rush game that is swathed in a coat torn from Dark Souls. It’s wrapped up in every aspect of it, from the familiar feeling movements to the crushing difficulty. One mistake is all it takes for your life to be over and your progress against that particular boss gone. It would be significantly less irksome if the bosses had fewer instant kill, wide range, almost instant attacks, but they are plentiful. It often makes this less about being able to read your opponent and more about dying to them until you realise where the safe zone is.
This irritation isn’t alleviated when you finally overcome any of the otherwise well-designed bosses, it just stays there, often feeling more like you got lucky than good. It’s a great shame, because the look of each one is unique and the ideas behind them are really intriguing. Each boss is one of the cardinal sins manifested. Gluttony is a big fat dude with a stomach that tries to eat you, but who can heal himself, while Wrath is a giant who happily bathes in a sea of lava, one who throws fire at you and attacks with clenched fists, swung wildly and destructively.
To get to each boss you have to sacrifice something; for the sin of envy you have to give up some of your items. These are permanent losses that will affect your game from that point onward, so choosing the order in which you fight the bosses is incredibly important. Sacrificing your attack power too early can ruin everything from that point on, but it is all down to how you play the game. If you don’t mind taking longer in each fight, then maybe that is the choice for you.
Despite the good boss design and the interesting mechanic, the actual fights often end up feeling cheap. Fighting an enemy with a giant health pool is fine, it just means the fight takes longer. When that same enemy starts healing, then effectively start teleporting around as well, it starts to feel like it is too unfairly balanced. Perhaps the greatest blasphemy of all of them is the turning circle of ever boss. You might think that you can sneak around the side of a giant lumbering entity as it launches into a flurry of attacks, but you’d be wrong. Even the largest boss can turn on the spot as if their legs are merely for show. Being suckered into an attack is fine – you got me, good for you – but simply rotating 180º while performing an attack is utter garbage.
Greed is possibly the worst offender for this, as he leaps up onto a tree stump halfway through. From there he does an almost arena wide attack that will poison you, then launches a barrage of his attacks at you in order to keep you moving. If you aren’t in the right section of the arena when this happens, you simply can’t escape it, meaning almost instant death.
A good boss fight should be achievable first time if you’re good enough. These tactics are underhanded and needlessly unjust and taint the game. This is Sinner’s greatest sin. This is exacerbated by the fact that the lock on is unreliable and the camera angle is not your friend. The camera is effectively fixed as it follows the boss around and keeps them at the centre of things. In the fights where there is more than just the boss to worry about, that often means you get blindsided.
Taking away the control of the camera simplifies things, but it also takes away your agency. If you die because you weren’t looking the right way then that is one thing; if you die because you can’t look the right way, well than that is something else entirely. By removing your agency in these mistakes, it makes them completely unfair, you can’t learn from a mistake that you literally can’t control.
Sinner: Sacrifice For Redemption has some inspired choices. The agony of choosing what to give up next and trying to work out what loss will hurt you least is really innovative, while the boss designs all stand apart from one another, each feeling as though they represent the sin that they have become. Unfortunately, it is let down by some of the design choices and difficulty that will you feeling unfulfilled. There will be some who love this game despite this, but it crosses over the line from challenging to unfair and sets up shop there. It is hard to recommend a game that doesn’t even feel like it wants to be played.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Also available for PS4, Xbox One & PC