Oniken ReviewJoe Shaffer
I may be only person voicing this opinion, but the throwback fad has gotten old. While it's nice to see developers remembering the past, I've honestly grown tired of witnessing the same references rehashed ad nauseam. I'm aware that it's a horrible night to have a curse, that your name is Error, and that all my base are belong to you (sic, sort of). Can we please get over these overused head nods and work towards delivering fresh concepts, or at least refining the old ones?
As you can tell, I've become a bit bitter towards throwback games. You would think, then, my bitterness would prevent me from enjoying a truly well-made remembrance title. Heck, even I thought as much. However, I discovered the game Oniken while browsing titles on Desura, and decided to illogically put my contempt aside and give the game a shot.
...and boy, am I glad did!
Oniken is not like other 8-bit apes. It actually looks the part down to the finest detail, rather than sporting NES-ish visuals that are cleaner than your standard Nintendo game. Hell, if someone had told me that Oniken was an unreleased NES game, I would have believed it. Above all, the game's mimicry goes beyond mere looks and lovable 8-bit music. For it also stars a good old fashion sword-toting badass named Zaku, reminiscent of protagonists of yore. Zaku's story doesn't feature romance, internal dilemmas, complex allegories, or scenes of him shedding a few tears to show players how human he is. It pretty much consists of Zaku slicing things, some of which were living previous to their slicing.
Advancing through Oniken is pretty much what you would expect. Do you like dying a lot? Good, because this game is going to break your face. Repeatedly. Even though the mechanics consist of basic jumping, slashing, and tossing grenades, the game is tough as all get out. Enemies tend to surprise you by leaping forth from pits or unexpectedly rushing towards you, wearing down your health before you can reach a stage's conclusion. On top of that, you'll encounter plenty of high powered, multi-hit foes with a propensity for launching all out assaults. Dodging their ordinance can be tricky and will require a bit of practice, but with enough finesse you can eventually learn to master a level.
...only to begin the next stage, and proceed to have your face shattered all over again.
Part of what makes Oniken such a tough game is that the stages are pretty lengthy, as they're divided into three or four segments. On top of that, you only have a finite number of lives (but thankfully unlimited continues). Should you 'game over' any time before finishing a stage, you'll have to recommence at the first segment. This can be aggravating at first, but once you learn a level's patterns and layout, the going becomes much easier.
It doesn't help that the game also features some rough platforming, involving breaking branches, treadmills positioned next to beds of spikes, moving platforms, and a few automatically scrolling sequences. It's not uncommon to plummet into a pit, especially when you have to contend with other foes and their projectiles. Call me crazy, but this is the kind of junk I adore! These are the masochistic blastings I grew up with, and will continue to play time and again, provided that the control response is tight, as is the case with Oniken.
No 8-bit action game is complete without crazy moments and plenty of Dolph Lundgren-esque action-camp. Oniken has much to offer in those departments, including a scene where you must outrun a giant polar bear whose skin burns off, revealing a mechanized nightmare. There are many other unforgettable sequences, too boot, included an epic sword-to-sword showdown on a boat, a daring escape from a crumbling compound, myriad battles atop a speeding train, and a few high-tech jet ski missions.
Best of all, though, is that Oniken doesn't make many overt hat-nods. You won't see it outwardly kissing the butts of games like Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania, or rehashing the same tired references. This, ladies and gents, is how a throwback game should be done. Obvious remembrances can be funny and cute, but they're meaningless if your game doesn't play like the real McCoy. Oniken succeeds there, taking players back to the past without obnoxiously saying, "Heeeeey you guys, remember this nuance from [insert game here]? Wasn't that hilarious and awesome back in the day? I'm so cool."
No, Oniken, you're above that. Thank you.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.