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[Review] Oniken: Unstoppable Edition – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: JoyMasher
  • Publisher: Digerati
  • Release Date: 08/02/2019
  • Price: £8.99 / $9.99
  • Rating: PEGI 12 / Teen – Blood, Language, Violence
  • Review Code provided by Digerati

Introduction:

Oniken has you playing as Zaku, a mercenary ninja who’s been asked by resistance leader General Zhukov to fight against a cybernetic army known as the Oniken. Oniken is another retro-inspired 2-d action platforming game from JoyMasher who also released Odallus on the same day for the Nintendo Switch. Oniken takes all of the late 1980s action elements and mashes them together in an entertaining tribute to games from the era. The game takes place in post-apocalyptic world in the year 20XX where a group of human resistance fighters is battling the cybernetic force known as the Oniken. Oniken definitely feels and plays a lot like the old NES Ninja Gaiden games. Oniken was released for Windows back in 2012, so like Odallus this is a port to the Nintendo Switch of a rather old game. If you didn’t know that this was a Nintendo Switch game, it would feel like an unknown NES game.

Gameplay:

As previously mentioned Oniken plays a lot like Ninja Gaiden, Zaku’s main attack is with his sword, and he also has a limited number of grenades which can be replenished throughout the level as pickups. One thing that is noticeable from the start is the control scheme. In an effort to keep the game true to it’s retro roots, the controls are set-up like you’re using an old NES controller and it doesn’t take advantage of the extra buttons on the Switch controller. The game uses A & Y to attack and jump, and to throw a grenade it’s Up+attack, this scheme is to emulate the two-button and d-pad setup on the old NES controller. There’s no option to re-map the controls either, so it will take a little time to get used to a very non-traditional control scheme. I also found that using the joystick made the game so much harder, I highly recommend using the d-pad for the precise movements that are necessary.


Zaku’s sword can be upgraded a couple of times with the final form adding a ranged attack, the sword itself has considerable range so combat doesn’t feel sluggish or slow. The primary use of grenades is to hit the enemies that are placed on tough to reach platforms, as some enemies are placed in strategic locations where taking damage is almost impossible to avoid if you were to attempt melee attacks. The levels are the same each time through so you can learn enemy placements, platform timing, and the easiest path through the levels. The levels themselves are broken into 3 segments each with a checkpoint at the beginning of each one so if you die you can restart at the checkpoint, however if you lose all your lives you have to start at the beginning of the level. I never felt like a death was unfair or cheap due to level design or controls, the levels are built in a way that is meant to be challenging but taking the time to play through carefully nothing was too tough especially after seeing it a couple of times. Some level sections have Zaku running on foot, doing his normal ninja things while others have Zaku riding some sort of jet-ski/boat type device. The boat sections are quite entertaining, there’s something that’s quite satisfying when you’re zooming on a boat and can bunny hop all over the level.

One of the game’s bosses showing off the platforming required for some

The bosses are well-designed and typical of the genre, have a few scripted attacks that have patterns that can be learned and avoided. One bad thing is that if a boss or a mini-boss is especially challenging and beats you, you have to play through the level between the previous checkpoint and the boss encounter.

Graphics & Sound:

The curved screen and scan-lines on display

I don’t doubt that the graphics are of a higher quality than the NES or Sega Master System could output, but the game does feel right home with the retro 8-bit library. What JoyMasher has done with Oniken and equally well with Odallus is re-create a new game that doesn’t feel like it’s styled after the NES games, it literally feels like it IS an NES game. The scan lines and faux curved screen look offer a more authentic looking experience as well. There was a little slowdown when there was a number of enemies but nothing that seriously impacted the game and honestly added to the experience.

Sharing the sunset with a cybernetic friend

The enemies and backgrounds are very nice to look at, the colors are very vivid and bright, but they never come across as being garish or cluttered. There never was a point in the game where I felt like an enemy or an effect was hidden by the background.

The audio in the game fits the theme of the game perfectly, the synthesized soundtrack fits the 80’s vibe and the sound effects when you slash the enemies is satisfying. It’s especially nice that whenever you kill the basic enemies their heads go flying and then they explode, over the top effects like this make you feel like you’re in a cheesy action movie, and that’s a very good thing.

Wrap-up:

I found it very hard to separate the review of Oniken from my review of Odallus. Both games from JoyMasher are excellent throwbacks to the NES-era of video-gaming. Similar to my initial reaction towards Odallus, I didn’t enjoy Oniken. The game felt needlessly difficult, getting hit and dying was much more common than any actual success or progress. After taking a step back and understanding what the game was trying to be, it became much more enjoyable, using the d-pad instead of the joystick improved the gameplay tremendously. Every time I died, I used it as a learning experience and the next pass through the level was frequently much more fruitful.

In a market that’s saturated with games that advertise their retro or pixel graphics few actually achieve was JoyMasher has managed to create. Oniken is much more than a retro looking game, it is a retro game, JoyMasher could’ve released the game on a big gray NES cartridge and it would have fit into the NES library perfectly.

Oniken should take most people around 6 hours or so to beat, there are a few options to extend the gameplay as well, so for the price it’s a great value

Pros:

  • Replicates the feel of an NES game perfectly
  • Tight, responsive controls work great for the platforming and swordplay
  • Great attention to detail to replicate the look of an NES game

Cons:

  • Unconventional control layout – no custom control mapping available
  • Dying causes you to restart and replay the same sections multiple times.
  • Overall fairly short game

Overall: 4/5

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