JoyMash’s Oniken is an absolutely beautiful love letter to everything that made games of the 80s an absolute delight to play, but unfortunately, suffers from an unbalanced scaling in difficulty and a lack of being able to change it. Here’s our review for Oniken: Unstoppable Edition for the Nintendo Switch.
+Feels as if it’s a love letter to everything retro
+Stages that are completed can be replayed at any given point
+Platforming and combat are fun, albeit downright challenging
-Lacks difficulty options or a way to control the unforgiving challenge it has
-Certain bosses and levels are almost impossible to complete
-Lacks power-up variety
Since I grew up in the 1980s and truly saw games peak in the 1990s, I can already tell you, there are only a handful of side-scrawling games that have captured my attention over the years. I grew up to some of the most influential titles in the history of gaming ranging from classics to Ghouls n’ Ghosts, Rygar, Mega Man, Castlevania, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, and even my personal favorite – G.I. Joe: The Real American Hero.
While the latter didn’t have staying power as the aforementioned titles, it was a personal favorite, one that really pulled me in among some of the classics of my childhood leading into my later years. But now, here we are, and it seems that going retro is the brand new fad that many studios like to enjoy. Personally, I’m all for it, which very quickly put Oniken: Unstoppable Edition on my radar from the very moment I began to cover it just a few months back.
Originally launched in 2012 for PC, Oniken has made its way to the Nintendo Switch
When it comes to retro games, I can’t help but find myself drawn towards retro-styled games that have found their way on the Nintendo Switch. Already knowing the game was drawing a heavy amount of inspiration from Ninja Gaiden, the questions began to emerge rather quickly.
First, I had to ask myself, what would the Brazilian developer JoyMasher do in order to help make their game feel as if it was pulled straight from the 80s era of gaming? Would they fix past issues and modernize them to play even better than they would back then or would they leave them alone, allowing Oniken to feel just as it would have thirty or so years ago?
The answer was quite astounding. First off, for that question, they didn’t fix much to be quite honest. They left it almost like those games of my childhood were. Granted, I didn’t have to deal with flickering terrain or a headache-inducing tube TV to play my games. I also didn’t have to switch my TV to channel 3 or 5 to enjoy the game, but rather, just open the app on the Nintendo Switch and let it do its job.
Secondly, I was curious: I’ve seen the screenshots, hints of a story, and even dabbled a bit with online streams, but did the game live up to gameplay expectations? Well. Let’s talk about that first.
It’s a retro game and its story is just as they were back in the 80s.
Now, games of that era had a very unique approach that helped bring those action titles to some form of life. They had very thin plots, ones that were so thin, you’d swear they’d torn apart if poked with a spoon were they a damp paper towel. Oniken is much the same as its plot is rather simple.
You take on the role of Zaku, a Ninja Mercenary (shinobi anyone?) who has been given the harrowing task of being humanity’s very last hope against an evil corporation who has taken over the world itself. Well, that’s it, literally, that’s your plot and the game sticks to it with a rather cookie-cutter story and narrative that’s doled out as a bunch of scrolling text between each and every rage-quit inducing level.
Unlike retro games of yesteryear, Oniken takes things a slight bit different than those that came before it. Unlike them, the game isn’t scared to let players carry on from each of the six levels that are tied together through numerous set pieces that feature their own unique design and encounters to match each and every one of them.
Just like Ninja Gaiden or Revenge of Shinobi, you’ll find that Zaku wields a sword, and with his sword, it can be upgraded to dish out more damage as you go. Along with his sword, he can equip grenades, these grenades can dish out serious damage to enemies both near and far if you time them right and have an aim that’s right on the money.
Unfortunately, Zaku’s slow. He’s slower than slow really and it takes away from the fact this guy’s supposed to be a ninja. Due to this, making your way through each and every level is a task in its very own right, provided you are great with timing, good at learning patterns, and not throwing your Switch across the room after going through a single level for the one-millionth time, even on what’s considered the “Normal” difficulty.
Just like Ninja Gaiden, you’ll rage quit, and you’ll rage quit quite a lot
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a patient guy. I’ve put up with games like this for well over thirty years. I worked my way through Ninja Gaiden by the time I was five, before that, I’d already conquered Bowser’s Castle in Super Mario Bros. at the age of four and even made Ganondorf bend a knee by the time I was three.
But here I am, thirty years later reliving the challenges my childhood once provided. A slow-moving protagonist, stages that try to kill you between every screen, and enemies who are quite a bit more powerful than you – yourself actually are. While completing levels and defeating the bosses that call them home is quite satisfying, there’s plenty of frustration to be had as you play through the game.
Even with a hint of mercy, Oniken doesn’t hold back its punches even when you use ‘Berserk Mode’, which allows Zaku to dish out more damage for a limited time, but consumes your power-ups you might have saved for an upcoming encounter that’s harder than the one being experienced at the time of us. While it’s a brief respite, it’s one that players shouldn’t rely on when moving from stage to stage, assuming that the challenges they’ve experienced are the hardest yet and it’s a downhill ride from there.
The level designs are actually rather nice, compared to the difficulty scaling Oniken has to offer
Just like the games that inspired it, Oniken‘s challenge is one that is easily offset by each and every level that you get to experience. Each level has its own unique design, each one offering its own version of the futuristic dystopia Zaku calls his home. Unfortunately, even with its difficulty, Oniken won’t give you much to see in means of sites and sounds.
Most players may find the games challenge a bit too hard, even with the eye-candy 8-bit level design presentation JoyMash has put right before us. Even with its impressive 2D side-scrolling antics, Oniken is a challenge on every front. Whether it’s the tube-TV filter or the options to make it aesthetically as pleasing as they can, keeping true to the 8-bit era, it’s hard to appreciate what Oniken has to offer in terms of design and the overall experience.
Even the sounds, as few as you’ll experience in your first few hours with the game – trust me, it took me a month to beat the game – you’ll only get to experience a minute amount of what the game has to offer. It’s a game that’s truly based around muscle memory. It’s one that requires you to remember each and every little cheap and nasty trap it has to offer that might wipe you out and proclaim itself as a piece of the larger “challenge” you’ll undoubtedly want to experience.
There’s tons of room for improvement
Now, whether or not I want to admit it, a part of me absolutely loves what Oniken has to offer. When I wasn’t getting rage-induced swearing out of the way, I actually enjoyed the challenge itself, and the ability to learn each and every pattern that encounters might require.
Even with that bit of enjoyment, it doesn’t mean that I wished there was some patching getting underway or added content in the works. As much as I love a good challenge, I like a good challenge when there’s risk versus reward in that very situation. While you might point out I’m a Dark Souls junkie, you’d also have to believe when I say this: There’s balance in the challenge, even in a Soulsborne game.
Here, there is none. There isn’t an option to scale the challenge to fit the experience that you wish to have. There’s not even an option to lighten down the difficulty itself. There’s one difficulty and that is it. There’s even a lack of variety when it comes to power-up’s you can use.
Most of the time, you’ll rely on grenades or the ability to make your blade slash a moderate distance ahead of where you are, but only watch it fade as you are pelted with bullets or grenades from a distance. It’s a real shame honestly, as I’d have loved to have felt as if there were some meaning behind my efforts.
Even with this idea, the game itself might suffer from such changes, especially with a new focus on its Boss Rush mode, which sees players see just how fast they can clear each and every boss the game has to offer, which is quite a few to be quite honest. But at the end of the day, I’d still prefer the challenge Ninja Gaiden or Cuphead has to offer.
At least there, I get a slight pat on the back before watching my character’s face get kicked in once again.
It looks great, runs great, but that’s about it – The Conclusion
Whether or not your game is 8-bit in style, or found itself heavily inspired by the 8-bit library that inspired the games of today, you have to take into consideration your design overall. There has to be a cap to just how difficult a game can actually be, what kind of challenge you want those who play your game to actually have, and what kind of enjoyment you wish them to experience.
Even as someone who’s a glutton for punishment, it’s hard to say that this 80s inspired title did anything to justify its claim to challenge, nor does it stand out like titles such as Axiom Verge, Hotline Miami, or even Retro City Rampage, each of which at least offer a balance in difficulty scaling and enjoyability when said and done.
Oniken: Unstoppable Edition
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Available Now
In its current state, even as an 8-bit enthusiast who loves a good Contra or Ninja Style challenge if its put before me, I can’t recommend Oniken: Unstoppable Edition despite the amount of content that it actually has to offer and the fact it’s an absolutely beautiful game.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.