Oniken, created by Brazilian developer JoyMasher and published by Digerati, is a throw back to the 8-bit days of ruthless 2d action-platforming. It has the gameplay but is it too old-school for it’s own good? Thanks to a review code provided by Digerati, I played through it to find out…
The Story of Zaku
The game tells the story of a group of mercenaries fighting against an army of robots, hell bent on destroying earth. There are animated cutscenes in-between the levels, that help flesh out the story. Still, the narrative never rises above your typical, genre tropes. The story didn’t hook me, and I found myself skipping through the vast majority of the cutscenes to get back to the action.
Playing as Zaku, you’ll fight your way through six levels of hardcore platforming action. Breaking up the on-foot segments, are sections where your character rides a speeder bike equipped with mounted lasers.
Gameplay is King
The gameplay in Oniken is the game’s crowning achievement. Beating down enemies and destroying bosses is satisfying, with each stage including at least two boss fights. Many of the boss encounters are extremely challenging. They each require a tremendous amount of skill, and precise timing, to complete.
There’s an upgrade available for your sword, that gives your blade some much needed extra reach. There are grenades to collect that make certain foes a lot easier to take down. Other time’s, you’ll be cursing them because they can be awkward to throw. Health refills are also scattered around, and you’ll be thankful for every one of them. Even minor enemies can take your seemingly long health bar down by over a 1/4.
Zuku has the ability to sacrifice his power-up in order to go into a berserk mode, where he deals much more damage and suffers less. Berserk mode can turn some of the game’s more difficult boss encounters into 15-seconds of button mashing. I considered these moments to be justified payback for all of the times the boss wrecked me in seconds. You may think it’s a cheap mechanic.
Patient players, who plan their movements, will have the most success. It would have been nice to see a few more power-ups and items to add more variety, and depth, to the game. The combat in Oniken, while enjoyable, wasn’t enough to overcome the game’s shortcomings.
Controls & Extra Modes
The controls in Oniken are adequate, but I did have issues trying to grab onto branches and beams. Turning around in mid-air, was another area where the controls were less than ideal. This made some of the boss fights particularly frustrating for me, as well.
Fortunately, each stage is divided into multiple segments and, when you inevitably die, you return to the beginning of the segment you were in. Unfortunately, when you see the game over screen, you have to start back at the very first segment of the stage.
There are also Boss rush and Hardcore (single-life) modes that add some much-needed replay value to the game. The problem is, you have to complete the game to unlock them. Due to the game’s difficulty, and lack of difficulty settings, not everyone is going to be able to finish the game.
The developers could have (and definitely should have) had these modes available from the get-go. The lack of difficulty settings is too big of an issue to ignore. Especially in this style of game. This is one area where the developer stuck too close to the source inspiration.
If you turn the game off, it does remember all of the stages you’ve cleared. That way, you can replay old stages or return to the last one you left unfinished. Your score is tracked for each stage, and there’s a total score at the bottom of the stage select screen. These two scores are the only things adding any incentive to replay stages you’ve already completed.
Sights and Sounds
In terms of presentation, The sound and look of Oniken are unquestionably 8-bit, but nothing here is particularly unique or special. You’ll be running and gunning through standard level themes such as forests and the interior of a robotic army base. (Yawwwwwn) The backgrounds have minimal animation and lack the detail found in the best retro, indie games. Still, the artstyle does match the game’s theme.
The game’s audio is a decent sounding take on titles you would have played in the 80’s. Again, this is a stylistic choice, and fits into the developer’s vision for the game. Overall, I’d say it’s in no way grating and is acceptable as presented.
Oniken doesn’t stack up to the best retro titles that the Nintendo Switch has to offer. The developer’s love of hardcore action classics is apparent. It’s a shame then, that Oniken fails to live up to the classics it hopes to remind you of.
The sometimes frustrating controls and lack of any difficulty settings, closes this title off, from a large percentage of gamers. The lackluster story and bland aesthetics, means gamers who do love a challenging action platformer, will pass on it simply because it becomes boring and stale.
It’s an obvious passion project. Because of that, I wish the sum of these parts lived up to their creator’s vision. As it stands, I cannot recommend Oniken to anyone but the most diehard or masochistic fans of the genre.
4/10 Disappointing 2D Action Platformer
- Stays True to it’s Roots
- Completed stages are saved and can be replayed
- Sword-swinging & Platforming are Mostly Satisfying
- Somewhat Bland Artstyle & Music
- Masochistic Difficulty
- Zero Difficulty Settings!
- Lack of Variety in Power-ups
- Stays Too True to It’s Roots