There was a time before games were “cinematic”, before games were strong story telling devices with interactivity. They were simple “Move to the right and sometimes left, and of enemies get in your way, try to handle them” experiences. But slowly, games began to have stories that unfolded as you played. I remember the first time I played Ninja Gaiden on the NES and felt awed seeing that actual cutscenes were in the game. OniKen is game that clearly wants to be just like that with it’s own sense of style. It’s a game that tries to tell a story and relive the glory days of a bygone era. While it’s clear there was passion put into the guts and steel of this game, it ultimately under delivers.
OniKen takes place in the year 20XX. After a devastating World War, a dominant and violent violent armada known as the OniKen emerges. They use advanced technology and brutality to reign with an iron fist. A desperate and distrusting resistance hire the lone wolf mercenary, Zaku. Zaku is what would happen if you took Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star and blend him with Guts from Berserk. As Zaku you make your way through a series of levels, hacking and slashing your way through the OniKen in an effort to end the madness.
This is where the decidedly old school style of the game rolls in. At the start and end of each level there is a custcene that moves the story forward. While novel at first the gleam of what the game wants to be dulls a bit. The control in OniKen is reminiscent of the greats it imitates. There is some technical skill required for sure. There are numerous occasions where it’s better to short hop then full on jump, situations that require both quick thinking and decent reflexes. The sprites, while limited to a 8-bit style, have thought put into them. The levels have a decent amount of variety to them and you face all manner of different enemies throughout.
All of this could have been a wonderful package together, but ultimately the experience is lackluster. I’ll start with the gameplay. As Zaku you have five actions you can do five things, run, jump, slash duck and use the Berserk Ability. The want to be a part of the 8 bit era slavishly drives the gameplay in the right direction. While Zaku handles responsively enough, the limitations of his standard movement can lead to issues with platforming in some of the later levels. Jumping is decent in terms of height and how far horizontally you can get. During the missions you can find grenades that do a lot of damage and blade extension power ups that gives you more room to fight from. I haven’t really found any issues with the blade extension, but it is required to use the rage mechanic. The power boost it offers is not worth the sacrifice of the extra reach. Grenades do a lot of damage but their throwing arch is incredibly awkward. There are a lot of choices that should have stayed in the 8-bit era. Knock back when getting hit is NEVER enjoyable especially when tight platforming is involved. Enemy respawn patterns that have never been considered good game design is also present. They show up at awful times and it really detracts from the other aspects of the game that are genuinely cool.
One thing I will give a lot praise to is the art direction. Oniken feels like it could have been a late 80s anime with its aesthetic and themes. I love the cutscenes, the set pieces, and some of the enemies look freakin’ rad. The color palette is also nice with use of blues, reds and oranges. I love some of the set pieces Zaku goes through, if only the levels weren’t mired with so many old design drawbacks. The third level has mines that are blended in to much with the snow and are hard to avoid unless you employ rote level memorization. One other thing that I feel is a bit lacking is in the sound track. There are a couple of tracks for the levels that are catchy, but there isn’t enough energy or melody to keep you interested.
Oniken has a lot of love for an important era in gaming. There are some great ideas, but there are also just as many failings of time proven poor design. However, if you’re willing to overlook those issues (or actively seek them as some do) give Oniken a whirl.
Oniken: Unstoppable Edition Review
Oniken has plenty of passion put into the game. The 80's action film styling are cool but the game design itself is sadly stuck in a time where gaming was still feeling itself out. There is fun to be had if you can stomach the rote memorization required.
Colorful sprites and locations
Awesome 80s action movie style
Dated level design and enemy placement.
Soundtrack feels disconnected through most of the game