"Yeeaaaarrrggh!" Our hero screams as he cleaves through the neck of reaper, its severed cyborg skull bouncing down the metallic coridoor leaving a trail of undead blood in its wake. "Nnggaaaaarrrgh!" He thrusts his sword aloft and roars with triumph as the giant death cannon aimed at his comrades collapses into a heap of smouldering junk. "Grrrruuhnnnaaaayah!" Zaku growls back at the giant robotic polar bear, hurling yet another grenade into its snapping maw. "Yeeeaaaa...shiiit!" I exclaim, as I rage-quit after losing my last life in the perilous ice fortress boss battle yet again, seconds from victory.
Time passes, my nerves settle. I load up Oniken for the eight time this evening. It's going to be a long night.
I haven't sworn at a game, nor had my hands sweat this profusely whilst gripping a controller, for a long, long time. In fact, the last time I recall being this equally enthralled and enraged by a game was when I was a teenager playing the stupidly hard imported Contra games on the NES. And believe it or not... it's actually a good feeling. I was fortunate enough to have early access to Oniken and over the past couple of days I've hugely enjoyed being lost in its dystopian, violent faux-8-bit world, massacring evil cyborg aggressors whilst simultaneously leaping from one insanely hazardous environment to another like a hyperactive 80's action hero on PCP. To those of you who are new to Oniken, I am sincerely jealous of the first-time experience you'll have playing this story-rich, NES-hard action packed game. Regardless of the temptation, don't spoil it by watching playthrough videos - trust me when I say that I wish I could go back and experience each surprise encounter from a fresh perspective again.
Much like Team Meat did with Super Meat Boy, I very much suspect that Danilo Dias and Pedro Paiva created Oniken with the basic goal of making a game that themselves as kids would have gone nuts over. Oniken has it all; a small human resistance at war with a gigantic robotic army, ninjas, hoverbikes, mutants, giant battleships, over the top gore, breasts... it's a hormone-laden teenage sci-fi action-fantasy of epic proportions in physical form.
Sure, it's a little inappropriate to compare Oniken with Super Meat Boy - Oniken is targeted at a far smaller hardcore-retro market and doesn't match the design, polish nor innovation of Team Meat's opus. Neither will Oniken meet up to everyone's expectations; avoiding the common trend, this is no exploratory Metroidvania - instead its very much an arcade-style linear hack'n'slash platformer with a strong focus on boss encounters.
Equipped with a sword and a fistful of grenades, the player must guide Zaku through each mission, collecting power-ups from destructible containers and decapitating anything that moves. The game design may be nostalgic and formulaic, yet it is still incredibly fun to play. Smashing your way through waves of enemy soldiers whilst in 'berzerk' mode (activated by sacrificing a weapon upgrade) is immensely satisfying, and although undeniably challenging (with the old school tradition of limited lives), Oniken is one of those games where you progress a little bit further every time you play - and every time you fall you'll restart the mission even more hungry for a taste of sweet victory.
The collision detection might be a little bit too ungenerous and the game too unforgiving for the new-school indie crowd, but every other aspect of this brilliant release shines. The authentic chip soundtrack and gorgeous low-colour count pixel art, clichéd 80's storyline, tongue-in-cheek cut-scenes and memorable missions - it is all put together with fantastic attention to detail and obvious love for the genre and era. Then there's the boss-rush mode (that I've yet to unlock) and score leaderboards. It's all pretty much perfect... except for one, small yet insanely annoying detail.
Ok... I stand corrected (thanks Scotoma). Having not used Desura before, I'd assumed that to play my purchased copy of Oniken I needed to press the 'play' button on the Desura page (which prompts the user to install the Desura client). But no - on the right hand panel halfway down the game page there is a download option that works as you'd expect.
It's still a shame that the game isn't available to buy in a standalone format direct from Danilo and Pedro's website (although you can request to do so via email and they'll probably oblige). Regardless of the distribution platform, Oniken deservedly receives full marks from us at RGCD.
Download the demo here (from the Oniken website).
Buy the game here (from Desura).