Set in a post-apocalyptic future, humankind has been completely wiped by a global war. A few groups of humans have managed to survive, however they do so under the oppressive thumbs of a cybernetic armada known as the Oniken. General Zhukov leads a small resistance group who attempts by all means necessary to defend themselves against the Oniken, but they easily overwhelmed by the cybernetic army. Zhukov recruits a legendary ninja mercenary, Zaku, who everyone believes he’s the only one capable of taking down the Oniken.
Oniken is a 2D action platformer akin to the famous Ninja Gaiden series from the 8/16bit era of gaming. Players must run, jump and slice n’ dice their enemies as they progress through progressively harder levels. And the game can be brutal. Thankfully, players start up with a full health bar and three lives. You can also come across destroyable boxes which will give you either grenades or sword upgrades. Additional lives can be found (explained below) and the game has some leniency to it as when your health gets low, instead of getting additional grenades or sword upgrades, drops will be health refill; not a generous one, but better than nothing.
As I mentioned, the game provides players additional bonuses to help them get through the hordes of enemies, however, will the sword upgrade lets you hit a bit further, sadly, if you get hit, you lose it. So this adds a layer of difficulty and forces players to track carefully and not just try to run and slash. The game’s checkpoint is iffy at best. Thankfully, there’s a mid-level checkpoint, however, die at the boss and you’re dropped back to the mid-level checkpoint; depending on the level you’re at, this can be insanely frustrating as the difficulty spikes pretty quick.
Oniken’s enemy design is one of the game’s strongest point. Each level will introduce a new enemy type, whether it be a simple crony or a mid-boss with their own patterns. Some are predictable, others less more so which keeps players on their toes. Bosses are a whole other beast (more on that below) and mid-boss are challenging but most of the time easy to grasp… and some mid-boss can you think it’s the level’s final boss… when it’s not.
The levels are pretty straightforward as they require players to get from point A to point B with a bevvy of enemies and death-defying obstacles in their path. There’s a bit of incentive to explore as each level includes a secret item to find; but considering the levels are pretty linear, it’s not that hard to find most of the time.
And this game is hard; both properly challenging hard, but also frustrating hard. It’s not necessarily the fact that the screen can be filled with enemies à la Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, but it’s due to the enemy design and placement. Furthermore, enemies do a lot of damage. While it might like you have a decent amount of health, more enemies will take off about 3 health bar per hit.
One of the game’s strength and subsequent weaknesses are the bosses design. While of them are genuinely inventive and hits that challenging balance, others are designed straight from hell and comes off as nonsensical in the sense that they were designed for the sake of being hard, but frustratingly hard; not challenging hard. Obviously, like classic platformers, the goal here is to observe enemy patterns and memorize them, but some have random patterns where you can’t really time things perfectly.
The game looks and feels great. It’s visually and overall presentation feels like you’re playing a brand new NES game, albeit an improved one as today’s technology allows developers to things a step further than before. It’s also bright and colorful as well. The story is told via storyboard done 8bit style which is a great nod to a classic era of gaming. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is a different thing. The first level’s track is ear-grating annoying. While it does get slightly better as you progress further, it’s far from a classic score.
Oniken is a great love letter to classic games from the 8/16bit era such as Ninja Gaiden, Contra, Shadow of the Ninja; and al. While it is a fun and challenging game, sometimes it can be too challenging for its own good, mostly because of the sometimes insanely over the top difficult bosses. Old school gamers will revel in the challenge while others might be put off by the difficulty and stiff checkpoint system.
- Classic old school gameplay
- Some nonsensical bosses
- Abrupt difficulty spike