By Mento 4 Comments
|01/12/12 - Ballistic||05/12/12 - Mutant Mudds||09/12/12 - Slydris|
|02/12/12 - Band of Bugs||06/12/12 - Oniken||10/12/12 - Soulcaster|
|03/12/12 - Escape Goat||07/12/12 - Outpost Kaloki||11/12/12 - Squids|
|04/12/12 - MiniFlake||08/12/12 - Reprisal||12/12/12 - UnEpic|
December the Sixth
The source: The July Jubilee Indie Royale Bundle
The pre-amble: Oniken is a deliberate NES-era throwback Indie action game from Brazilian studio JoyMasher. Now, what little I know about Brazil as it relates to video games is this: When the Sega Master System crashed and burned in Japan and the US, in part but not entirely because of the bigger and better Sega Genesis, Sega stopped developing titles for the system in those regions. However, for reasons that aren't entirely known, the Master System then found traction in Europe and South America (Brazil specifically, as the largest and wealthiest nation) and Sega continued to sell systems in those regions long into the 90s. In fact, there were still games coming out for it in South America in 1998 - the same year the Sega Dreamcast came out. So when someone tells me that Brazil knows retro-gaming, I believe them.
The playthrough: Isn't it a peculiar thing that I follow up Mutant Mudds - which I derided for being needlessly difficult - with this particular piece of inhumane interactive entertainment? Oniken specifically evokes a certain type of 80s badassery that was incredibly prevalent for much of the NES's lifespan. Shadow of the Ninja, Strider, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Bionic Commando, Battletoads - the game either borrows major components of its gameplay from these hallowed games of our youth (though I recognize that's becoming less and less apposite with the amount of people born in the 90s we have on Giant Bomb) or at least references them in order to maintain a "lost classic" vibe. Of course, the most prevalent aspect that is carried over from those games is, once again, their sheer difficulty.
I won't harp on about my dissatisfaction with masocore "Nintendo Hard" Indie games again. I pretty much covered everything I needed to in Mutant Mudds' article. But at the very least I will say Oniken's stark difficulty seems far more germane to the overall package; if you're going to recreate NES games - graphics and all - you might as well go the full distance and bring back the bad with the good. Mutant Mudds had no business being as difficult as it was, but Oniken is trying to evoke something specific that wouldn't land so well if the player didn't have a paltry three lives and had to start from "Stage x-1" every time they ran out.
Oniken takes a certain delight in other 80s icons as well; the game feels like one of the violent animes that were just breaking into the west around this time, Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star) being the most apparent. Enemy designs are influenced the Terminator and Alien, like many of the NES classics that Oniken is based on, and the characters are a very familiar bunch of aviator-wearing "dude" pilots and feisty heroines with wild choppy bobs, with the ninja/mercenary/Rambo protagonist Zaku sporting an impressively leonine mullet.
Ultimately, the game neither is nor tries to be anything more than a decent NES game. To do this, it kind of has to ignore many decades of improvements and evolutions to the format which, for better or worse, have changed modern video game design to the extent that it can be tough to return to this older, more deliberately-paced style of gameplay. Specifically, the amount of memorization and trial and error such games insist from their players before they're able to master it. It's not an impossible feat for anyone who retains any modicum of fondness for Nintendo's inaugural console and the wider era of gaming it hails from, but it's a hard sell for anyone without that nostalgia base.
Or maybe not, since it is kind of awesome. I mean, ninjas, robots, goofy localized dialogue, rockin' VGM and effete anime antagonists? How long's it been since we had all that in a game? Since this year's Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, you say? Okay, fair enough.
The verdict: Once it started getting really tough halfway through, I wasn't convinced I had the dedication to see it through to the end. Plus I have so many games - some that choose to stay in this century - to play before 2013.