In Japan the super deformed art style is actually a thing. I’ll admit that it actually kind of “cute” to see otherwise serious characters like Solid Snake or Ryu drawn in a chibi style. But it’s not my thing and I certainly can’t imagine playing something like SD Snatcher and taking it seriously. Syd of Valis is one of the few SD games released in the US and is certainly a novelty. But that doesn’t mean it is good. The reality is Syd of Valis is a bad version of a bad game and deserves to linger in obscurity.
Despite its name Syd of Valis is actually the Genesis port of Valis II, only cuddlier. The name is actually a mistake; the title in Japan was SD Valis but someone unfortunately thought dirty Americans wouldn’t understand what super deformed meant. Hence the name Syd of Valis. It would have been harmless if they didn’t decide to rename Yuko to Syd as well, causing confusion. Porting the game to the Genesis exposed it to a wider audience as not may owned a Turbo CD. But I’m sure the few who actually took a chance on it were turned away by its myriad flaws. This could have been a good game with a little more work.
Valis II was not a particularly pretty game and this is clearly an upgrade. The flat backgrounds of the original have given way to multiple layers of scrolling. While I wish they would have done something about the ugly color palette it still looks better than the original. The main reason for the game’s existence though is its art style. The squat sprites have small bodies and large heads and while jarring exhibit a large range of animation. Not all of the sprites are deformed; the bosses are large, often taking up a chunk of the screen. The game is clearly punching above is weight class as there is heavy sprite flickering at times. Sadly the elaborate cutscenes of the original are gone and in their place are brief talking head segments that further the plot.
For the most part there very few changes in your basic abilities. Your movement speed is faster than normal which is a dangerous combination with the game’s slippery controls. Yuko can no longer slide but gains the ability to attack upwards. In the slide’s place is a double jump which is far more useful. Instead of magic you have bombs although I never figured out how to use them consistently.
Yuko’s move set may be simple but further depth is added with the inventory system. Syd of Valis brings back the different suits of armor and weapons from the Japanese PC original. Each outfit modifies attack power, defense, and speed and the results are immediately tangible. Some like the speed suit are worthless since you crash head first into enemies left and right. Others like the Guard Suit help tremendously against bosses. The Final Armor is earned midway and makes the rest obsolete unfortunately. New weapons are gained every level and also increase in power at the midpoint. The cool thing is you can switch weapons and armor at any time, allowing you to tailor your experience with the game.
Too bad the game is completely ruined by its sloppy control. Yuko slides around no matter how little you move around and in combination with her speed the game is a mess. Despite the squished look there is still a decent amount of platforming that is frustrating due to the bad control. Any tight dodging required during boss battles is near impossible to manage, making these fights even more aggravating. It also doesn’t help that the level design is dull. In going with the SD look there isn’t enough room to create interesting levels, meaning most stages are a straight path to the end. The already boring levels of the Turbo CD original are simpler and in concert with the control make the game more of a hassle to play than it deserves. Shame too as all the elements needed to better the original are there but have been squandered.
The game is very uneven in terms of its difficulty. For the most part this is very easy. Because of the large sprites rarely will you ever see two or more enemies at once. Most die in a single hit and despite the wonky controls you’ll have very little trouble rushing to each boss. There are usually life restoring hearts before each boss battle as well and the game completely refills your life bar after each fight. Although uncommon you can even find a few extra lives lying around as well.
That being said when it spikes it comes out of left field. Most of the boss battles are brutal to the point I even wondered if you were supposed to lose. Many possess attacks that are impossible to dodge that are launched in rapid succession. Later in the game they even have two or three forms which is completely unfair. Switching suits mitigates it somewhat but it still crazy. Without the insane difficulty spikes you could breeze through Syd of Valis in less than thirty minutes.
It had potential to actually be a decent game but Syd of Valis completely fails in the end. Valis II was a bad game in its original form and this could have redeemed it. But between its sloppy controls, straightforward level design and ridiculous difficulty you are better off spending your time elsewhere.