Frustrating boss encounters and an unfair difficulty make Oniken hard to recommend to anyone else other than those looking for a pure NES experience.
Time and time again, developers attempt to create a game that feels like it could have been released on the 8-bit era. Titles such as Mega Man 9, Dark Void Zero and Retro City Rampage are retro style games that immediately transport you to simpler times. Oniken can easily be classified in the same category, since this action platformer has a lot in common with the aforementioned titles, including fast-paced action, retro style visuals and a disheartening difficulty. Not only is Oniken a love letter to the NES era, but also one of the most successful attempts at trying to replicate a true 8-bit experience.
Oniken’s story takes place in the year AD 20XX in a post apocalyptic setting. After a devastating war, chaos ensues and everything is left under the control of a single military organization. This evil organization, called Oniken, has an army of cybernetic soldiers who are in charge of eliminating the opposition. The destiny of the world is in the hands of one of the members of a small resistance, a mercenary named Zaku and the main protagonist of this adventure.
Like most action platformers of the NES era, there’s nothing truly special about the story. In terms of gameplay though, Oniken feels true to its roots. This is an 8-bit action platformer in the same vein as Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden, so you’ll spend most of your time attacking enemies, jumping over platforms, dodging projectiles, grabbing items and learning the boss’ movement pattern.
Undoubtedly, the most appealing part of Oniken is its stylish presentation. The visual and aural portion of the game is a throwback to the 8-bit era and had the game come out on the NES, the action sidescroller would have pushed the console to its limits. No matter how you look at it, Oniken simply feels authentic, since not only does the title faithfully replicate the graphics and sound of classic NES games, but also the experience of playing them. Sadly, this hurts more than it helps.
Most games from the 8-bit era were pretty frustrating and so is Oniken. Checkpoints are scarce and far between, cheap deaths are common, levels are filled with falling platforms, enemies rush towards you without giving you time to react and the list of frustrations goes on and on. For instance, once you lose all your lives, the game forces you to start the level from scratch which adds to the frustration.
The multiple boss fights also have their fair share of issues. Each level has three boss encounters, but your health isn’t replenished afterwards, therefore, finishing a level feels like an achievement in itself. The way in which you should approach boss fights is always the same: first and foremost, you should study their movements in order to recognize the pattern in which they move and shoot. This can be a very tedious and frustrating process, since some bosses are way too tough. They constantly push you into bottomless pits or behave so aggressively that they never give you the chance to react. Dying in these sections forces you to retry them all over again which is never fun.
While the game is a tightly contained single player experience there are some online options , such as the possibility of uploading high scores to the leaderboards, though it’s worth mentioning that this feature is exclusive to Desura buyers. Furthermore, those who beat the game will have access to the “Boss Rush” mode and recently, a couple of exclusive missions have been released as DLC which is great because the game is short and not very replayable.
Oniken does everything it sets out to achieve: the game is a tribute to classic 8-bit action games, it’s challenging and its presentation is spot on. Unfortunately, frustrating boss encounters and an exasperating difficulty make Oniken hard to recommend to anyone else other than those looking for a pure NES experience.