Friday, 21 March 2014

Whiskey Reviews: Oniken, Onekin, Munchkin... Whatever

Info:
Platform: PC
Release Date: 5 February 2014
Developer: Joymasher
Publisher: Joymasher
Where to get it: Steam
Price: £4.99

The review blurbs don't lie: This game absolutely feels like it came right out of the late 80's NES but with fine tuned controls. Everything about it screams classic from the NES style color palette that neatly separates foreground from background and makes sure enemies stand out clearly to the hard as balls platforming and combat, to the sparse checkpoints and lives and unforgiving boss battles that can crush you in an instant if you don't learn their patterns.

Gameplay feels like a mix of Strider and Shatterhand with swords and grenades as your primary weapons. A power-up item lets you cast a crescent shaped beam half the length of the screen with your primary attack but fails after you've been hit twice, requiring you to not only master the new attack range to keep enemies at bay but also hone your platforming and dodging skills to maintain your elevated attack power for harder enemies later in the stage.

The Terminator meets Vexille meets any kind of robo apocalypse storyline is pure '80's cheese and it's glorious, especially when a dude called Rico calls you on what looks like an '80's portable TV while you're riding a bright green rocket powered jetski. There's even a villain that feels like a pure throwback to the infamous Cats from Zero Wing.

Despite all the homage to action games of the late '80's, Oniken manages to be its own beast. It doesn't feel especially unique but it doesn't have to as it's a masterfully crafted experience that's equal parts nostalgia trip and exciting. Even with the harsh difficulty I find myself wanting to see what the next screen will be, what the next villain will be, what's the next enemy the game will throw at me and what will it do.

The audio feels ripped right from the era too, a masterfully crafted score of synthetic sounding music that perfectly fits the tone and transports you back to a childhood full of bleeps and bloops and incredible ear-pleasure that you're sure your audio chip is having an orgasm to produce.

Controls are tight, responsive and the ability to use the dpad or analogue stick makes everything a bit easier (or more authentic depending on how you look at it). Restricting controls to two buttons (attack and jump, with grenade being up+attack) feels like an unnecessary nod to the NES but it's not restricting or annoying. Neither is the game in general - when you die it's almost always your own fault, you own mistake or lack of attention that causes you to fail. That said, enemies are fast and unpredictable (at least the first time you meet them) and you'll get caught off guard by a rushing machine or chucked grenade more than once.

So do I recommend the game? Absolutely. No other game even comes close to the level of authenticity that Oniken achieves and it's obviously a labour of love from the developers who are very talented. The game isn't perfect though, for all the praise I have to give it the flashing backgrounds in some cutscenes are an epileptics worst nightmare that can't be disabled (except by skipping the whole cutscene).

Score: 9/10 robots stabbed in the faceplate.