Cecil loves a crusade. He’s come back from the actual Crusades, capital C, having murdered countless Turks, and now he’s bringing some of that energy back to his hometown of Sinwell. Almost as soon as he’s passed through the gates, he’s cleansing it of sinners. Clearly, Cecil is a riot at parties.
You play Cecil, but don’t worry: you’re not meant to like him. He’s approached by the local clergyman, Uriel, with a proposition. The town of Sinwell has fallen foul of the plague, and hundreds are dying. Uriel, without the benefit of 20th Century hindsight, believes the cause of the plague to be the Seven Deadly Sins, and he asks you to root them out and halt the pandemic.
Cecil, it turns out, has the uncanny ability to hop into people’s minds, which makes him perfect for the job. Once he has identified a sinner (Cecil is extremely judgmental and can pick up on the smallest sin from fifteen-seconds of dialogue), he can squeeze into their heads, defeat the demons he finds there, and return with the Apple of Knowledge that has been growing like a canker within. The sinner is absolved, the plague is momentarily paused, and Cecil can move onto the next.
I’ll admit that I didn’t expect the main gaming touchstone for Saga of Sins to be Altered Beast. I got plenty of flashbacks to buying a Sega Mega Drive and ‘rising from my grave’. Because you don’t play Cecil in these mindscapes. Instead, you play your choice of beasts, with werewolves, griffins and gargoyles – among spoilerific others – being switched between with a tap of the shoulder buttons. The fact that Cecil turns into monstrous creatures is a hint to whether Cecil is actually righteous in this task.
Each beast has a different set of abilities, some more useful than others. The starting beast, the werewolf, begins to feel a tad vanilla once you gain the others, as he’s only capable of firing a single fireball, as well as howling to explode glass structures. The gargoyle initially feels duff, until you warm to its constant flamethrower that, once upgraded, basically creates a ‘win’ buffer around you. No one’s getting through it. And the griffin officially retires the werewolf forever, as it has three fireballs for the price of one and it can cling to walls. Who knew that griffins > werewolves?
You’re then playing some simplistic platforming levels with these beasts. And much like Altered Beast, it really is simplistic. The main character is sizeable, so they take up a lot of the game screen, and the enemies are big too, so there’s very little wiggle room for intricate platform sections. Most of the time, levels have you traipsing up, down left and right around conventional maps with the odd complication, like a constantly rising platform or a constantly moving raft. In terms of pure layout, Saga of Sins isn’t massively varied, and it ends up being one of the bigger foibles. It’s very hard to recall a given level layout.
Saying that, Saga of Sins does play the beat trick of including innocents for you to mindmeld with. These levels aren’t overrun with sin, but are instead pint-sized puzzles related to their character. A fool requires you to play the game backwards, while an enlightened scholar needs you to find a way to reach the absolute top of the screen. Often it’s a case of buying the right unlock from Saga of Sins’ fairly simple skill tree, other times it’s more difficult than that.
And while the sinful levels aren’t overly varied, Saga of Sins knows how to dress its levels to make them feel a little different, even if it is just smoke and mirrors. Because the levels often reflect the sinner. One memorable level theme is when you swan dive into the mind of a proud painter. You arrive with his portrait as a backdrop, but as you travel further and further down, the portrait warps into an ornery beast. There’s a bit of Dorian Gray to it, and it’s rather well done.
We should spare a paragraph to talk about the art style too, which won us over almost immediately. In content it reminds of Hieronymous Bosch, with flashes of grotesque horrors, but in execution it’s a game made out of stained glass windows. The frame of the screen puckers like you were viewing through a mottled window, and everything is constructed from thick black outlines and large blocks of colour. It fits the game’s theme like a silken glove, and it’s original to boot.
There’s a story in Saga of Sins, but its twists are so glaringly obvious that they flash like the giant cross on a Las Vegas chapel. Are you doing God’s work? Is Uriel who he claims to be? Is a place called Sinwell truly normal? We’re not paying out on accumulators if you manage to get all of those bets right. Still, there’s a neatly oppressive tone, which at least makes you feel grubby as you cleanse the town. A judgmental devil who sounds like he’s voiced by Paul Bettany gives you a kicking after each level, and we quite enjoyed the idea of being berated just as we were successful.
We haven’t played many Old Testament platformers with a hint of Altered Beast, so Saga of Sins tops that particular league table. But against all our other criteria, Saga of Sins is merely passable. It’s not got enough dynamism to be a strong action-platformer, it’s not got enough variety to grip us for the full runtime, and it’s not offering enough surprise to make the journey worthwhile. Chalices are raised to the atmosphere and art, though, which fit Saga or Sins to perfection.