The video game industry’s move to digital distribution has sparked an indie game movement the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the garage development of ‘80s – early ‘90s PC gaming. JoyMasher, a small studio located in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributes to contemporary indie game rebirth with Oniken, a $4.99 throwback title that recalls the action-platforming of the 8-bit era.
Oniken, currently a Windows-only title that will see Linux and OS X releases, is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the large military force oppresses the remaining populace with mechanical beasties. The ragtag group approaches Zaku, a ninja mercenary with a penchant for slaughtering the Oniken robotic and cyborg warriors, to join its cause. And thus the action begins.
This 2D game, as stated, is one seemingly plucked from the days of pixels, chiptunes, side-scrolling shooting, huge bosses, and well-timed platforming. This is both excellent and frustrating. Oniken, thankfully, does far more right than wrong.
Basic combat consists of you slicing enemies with Zaku’s blade, but there are also a limited number of advanced attacks designed to help you get through missions. Scattered sword icons extend the length of your blade, a berserk mode that greatly increases damage output, and bombs let you toss explosives from a distance.
Throwing a bomb requires that you press up and attack simultaneously, an action that I haven’t performed since the original NES Ninja Gaiden trilogy. Considering that Oniken supports game controllers (I used the Xbox 360 controller while reviewing the game) the inability to map each action to specific buttons is a huge head scratcher. That’s a shame as Oniken‘s take on the input doesn’t feel quite as effortless as Ninja Gaiden‘s, particular when jumping. This is due to Oniken‘s animation being not as smooth as Tecmo’s title.
But Oniken‘s biggest flaw is the lack of respawn points. That’s not to say that there aren’t any–there just aren’t enough. When Zaku dies, the game sets you pretty far back, which means that you need to retread lots of ground (and hope that you don’t die again). This proves particularly frustrating when you go head to head with a boss that absolutely obliterates you.
Still, the graphics, in all of their 8-bit glory, are very well done. The sprites and backgrounds aren’t as detailed as NES greats such as Battletoads or Super Mario Bros. 3, but they’re good. There are some truly large and menacing enemies (like ol’ skull head above) that fill the screen. Unlike NES games, Oniken doesn’t slowdown and flicker when the graphics kick into high gear as it leverages contemporary computing power. JoyMasher splices cutscenes between levels that forward the story and displays nice graphical punch that looks more 16-bit than 8-bit.
Oniken, with its $4.99 asking price, is a fine purchase. You get six missions with three stages each, 10 mini bosses, 11 big bads, and an unexpected modern feature: leaderboards. And if you buy Oniken from Desura, you get a digital manual and original soundtrack (that features tunes that range from average to catchy) . Oniken is an excellent throwback as Mega Man 9, but it’s a very solid entry in the indie/retro movement.