Can JoyMasher bring some more feelgood nostalgia value to the Nintendo Switch? Find out in our Oniken Unstoppable Edition review.
There have been a decent smattering of 8-bit-inspired retro throwbacks in recent years. Games born from a love of classics such as Ghouls n’ Ghosts, Castlevania, Metroid, and Ninja Gaiden. Brazilian studio JoyMasher made two such games in the past seven years, and both are headed to Nintendos’ hybrid console. Starting with a port of 2012’s Oniken, now packaged as Oniken: Unstoppable Edition.
Oniken‘s influences lie squarely with Ninja Gaiden in a visual sense and a bit more Castlevania for mechanics. The question is, does it learn from the shortcomings of that era and modernize where appropriate? The answer? Not entirely as it should.
Oniken has a brief smear of a plot to tie together its six levels. We’re transported to a dystopian future where an evil corporation rules the world, and you play Zaku, a Ninja Mercenary billed as humanity’s last hope. How? Well, let’s just say it involves a lot of hacking, slashing, and blowing shit up. Standing in your way are a host of goons and extravagant boss fights. Oh, and a difficulty setting best described as ‘extremely challenging’.
Zuku wields a sword, for the most part, a sword you can upgrade for more damage and reach as you go. Given how deadly the game can be, having extra reach soon becomes a must, as merely touching an enemy on higher difficulties can lead to near-instant death. He’s a tad slow to react despite being y’know…a ninja. As a result, there are lots of failures, learning of patterns and hit ranges before making progress. Satisfaction is there to be earned, but the frustration comes for free.
There’s some small mercy from the punishment. You’re able to sacrifice your power up to go into ‘Berserk Mode’ which essentially lets you do stupid amounts of damage whilst taking less. It’s tough to make it count, but when you do, it obliterates all and sundry in a laughably simple manner. It’s a brief respite rather than game-breaking, though it would be nice if it was a little more balanced in gameplay terms to begin with.
Lucky for Oniken it has plenty of character. The level design shifts and changes in new and enjoyably daft ways, with the futuristic landscape being home to some pretty intriguing vistas. If Oniken gets anything right about the 8-bit era then its in the presentation. This is an impressive-looking update of the classic 2D side-scroller design. Sharp, bursting with color, and far more joyful than the gameplay suggests. Even the soundtrack feels like it was ripped straight from childhood. Both sight and sound are limited in a tribute to the era, and it absolutely works.
Coming back to how Oniken plays, it is clearly trying to be a loving homage to 80’s side-scrollers, but it misses the point in how it uses its challenge. Rather than have proper structure and reliance on muscle memory as the games of that era did, Oniken often relies on cheap and nasty death traps that are very much designed to be ‘tough’ instead of challenging. Yes, you can ‘beat’ it and muddle through, but there’s little warmth or enjoyment to it.
On the upside, playing it on the Switch’s handheld mode in bursts does alleviate some of the frustration. The only problem there being the Switch already has plenty of 8-bit games of higher quality both old and new to play. So, pretty or not, it’s hard to recommend Oniken to all but the most ardent retro gaming fan.
Oniken Unstoppable Edition review code provided by the publisher.
Oniken Unstoppable Edition available now on Nintendo Switch and PC. Available later in 2019 on PS4 and Xbox One.