TheIndieJar: Oniken Review
My knowledge of the NES era is very limited. In my youth I didn’t have video games, and my only contact with them was through my my mate’s Sega Megadrive or Gameboy. If, like me, you were born after the NES then Oniken by Danilo Dias and Pedro Paiva is the perfect chance to learn.
The gameplay is very simple; the sword wielding Zaku can jump, slash, and throw grenades while power-ups increase the range of his sword. Most enemies can be taken out in a couple of hits… the problem is staying alive – not getting shot is quite difficult and will get rid of your three lives quite quickly.
My experience with Oniken went thusly: first I jumped around like a maniac avoiding lasers and thought “this is alright.” Then the pain came. Little pixelated Zaku flashed and flinched while he was repeatedly thrown into flames or shot due to my pathetically mistimed jumps. That first level claimed many lives, as trial and error became my only weapon. Slowly I worked out when the enemies would appear and what their attack patterns were. There was even a secret passage leading to an extra life! It became a simple matter of avoiding the pits of fire and killing turrets.
After the first section was over this whole procedure was repeated for the next. With six levels and three sections each, persistence is a virtue demanded by Oniken. The bosses are lots of fun; first getting murdered by them and then discovering the fastest and most efficient way to be rid of them – it makes you feel like a badass old-schooler.
Don’t get me wrong, the journey is a frustrating one. The game is difficult because of control limitations and makes you work hard to move and attack at the right times. The platforming and fighting controls are tight, it’s just that on occasion there will be a small area where death won’t find you and only your skill can put you there. This game will give you no leeway. The easiest bit is probably a mini-boss where you fight a polar bear that is chasing your jet bike - inexplicable enemies just for the hell of it.
If you have ever dismissed modern games as too easy this will be for you. The 8-bit asthetic is perfect, and if you put it next to any game on the NES then it would be impossible to tell them apart – from the simple animation of the tiny sprites to the pixel art cut scenes that string together the missions with a basic good-guys-versus-bad-guys plot.
JoyMasher have done really well with the character design, both bizarre and brilliant with mohawks, skulls and giant caterpillars all over the place. The music adds depth with simple repetitive tunes that keep pace with what’s happening on screen. This includes some cool sounding boss music and some terrible sounding victory music.
Oniken has done extremely well to couple the feel of an 8-bit game that I expect will trigger strong nostalgia in many. The difficulty is a moot point. As I type this I am impossibly stuck on the end boss of mission 4. The amount of swearing it has generated is beyond that of Super Meat Boy. Perhaps it was a good thing that games got easier because it isn’t fun to be stressed out. On the other hand it is also a good thing that Oniken was made as a reminder that this style of game can still be entertaining.
- Convincingly 8-bit
- Controls are nice and tight
- Interesting bosses
- It’s fun to know you can finish a level
- Rock hard
- It’s frustrating to know you can’t finish a level
Despite it’s faux-aged look Oniken is still a really well-made game. It’s look and design emulates NES games perfectly. Fun to play even when you lose, up to a point. I stopped having fun at level 4 after 3 hours of repeating the level perfectly to the end where the boss would absolutely ruin me. As Lee would put it, “Aww Oniken! Fuck that game!”.
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