Oniken is a stylish 8-bit action-platformer which recreates the brutally difficult aura of iconic NES games such as Contra and Ninja Gaiden. The combination of tricky platforming and dastardly enemies trip you up at every opportunity and caters to players of a masochistic nature. There are 6 fiendishly challenging levels designed to test veterans of the genre and provide a sense of nostalgia. Gaming has expanded its appeal over the years to a wider audience which had led to easier difficulties and a more accessible approach. It is refreshing to play a simplistic title that harkens back to gaming’s historical roots and its progression over the decades. Recently, there has been a trend to create demakes or retroesque 8-bit clones. However, most of the time these tend to be poor imitations of existing games you can play via emulation. Oniken, on the other hand, has its own identity and feels like a retro classic from the 1980s.
The story is based on the quintessential tale of humanity’s last chance for survival against a villainous military corporation called the Oniken. This nefarious organization has almost eradicated the human race apart from a small pocket of resistance. The rebels have little chance of survival until a professional mercenary joins their ranks to give them a glimpse of hope. This ninja who goes by Zaku is ready to decimate the evil overlords and reclaim control of his home planet. Zaku has been blessed with some extraordinary fighting skills which give him the impetus to quickly evade enemy strikes and slice opponents using a ninja sword. He is also extremely agile and capable of dodging a barrage of bullets heading in his direction. Zaku can propel himself onto high ledges and unreachable areas. Throughout the game, Zaku will often collect grenades to disembowel stationary enemies from a safe distance.
Obaintable upgrades grant you a myriad of additional powers. For example, it is possible to increase the reach of your sword and attack foes from further away. These power ups don’t last particularly long as one mistake will revert your skillsets back to their original state. Another option relies on the ability to exchange your newly acquired upgrade for a sudden burst of energy. This is described as the Berserk Mode and heightens your invulnerability against AI bombardments. It is virtually impossible to run past enemies or avoid confrontation which maximizes the need for a skillful playthrough. Every bullet fired thrusts your character backwards and makes each hit count. You need to keep a sense of momentum and predict the path of your adversary’s firepower. Being struck once can easily exacerbate the situation and make you more susceptible to enemy onslaughts. Personally, I find this mechanic refreshing as you have to embrace the difficulty and tackle combatants head on.
Oniken’s level design is impeccable and features a wealth of perilous hazards to deceive unsuspecting players. There are radiation spikes, gun turrets and falling grenades in strategically placed locations. Each level is fraught with danger and requires you to memorize troublesome sections. Dying is inevitable so you must learn how to tackle a level in bite sized chunks. Once you have mastered a small area, it becomes almost second nature as you have already replayed this section on multiple occasions. Despite this, I cannot emphasise enough how difficult this game is. Don’t expect to even finish it unless you are extremely skilled or exceptionally patient. There are 18 Boss battles to sink your teeth into and make your blood boil. The bosses pose an absolute threat to your survival. You have to defeat flexible snakes, acrobatic ninjas and even gargantuan-sized cyborgs. This is where the game can become unfair and overly frustrating.
One battle in particular revolved around an alien snake who slithered along the ground and depleted my health until I noticed there was a small ledge to climb on. Annoyingly, this ledge had merged into the background and was incredibly difficult to spot. Other bosses revolve around pure luck instead of reaction times. The most notable example involves an altercation on a portable platform. It is almost impossible to freely move and attack the boss without falling off. The game imposes a strict failure state which means falling off this ledge will send you back to the beginning of the level. This adds to the hardcore difficulty level and creates a perception you are playing an old school game. However, this may be a little too much for modern audiences.
If you manage to miraculously finish the game, there is an additional challenge in the form of a Hardcore mode. You must complete the entire game with only 1 life whilst your opponents inflict double the amount of damage. Your health doesn’t even replenish between stages so you must tread carefully and keep an eye on your HP. Finishing the game via this additional mode is frankly impossible. I only just managed to complete a few levels under the normal difficulty after hours of retrying. As a result, I cannot fathom a way in which I could even beat this extra mode.
From a technical viewpoint, Oniken is well equipped and performs admirably on the PC. I didn’t encounter any bugs or performance related issues. There is an external graphical configuration tool which includes options for Fullscreen and Windowed modes. You can disable the sound effects or music at will but I would strongly advise against this as the soundtrack is a wonderful fusion of synth leads. The keyboard and controller can be fully rebound to a user’s preference. Playing the game with a keyboard is possible but it feels like a hindrance due to the fast response times needed for a title of this difficulty. In contrast to this, the controller is responsive and reacts to your input in a seamless manner.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Oniken is a terrifyingly difficult action platformer which beautifully honours games from the NES era. The experience as a whole is punishing, frustrating but also rewarding. Level memorization is key as you need to be aware of pending attacks so you can easily evade dangerous adversaries. Many games of late have attempted to encapsulate that essence of the 8 bit period and have for the most part failed. Thankfully, Oniken succeeds where other games have failed. If you’re a glutton for punishment or simply enjoy retro inspired games, Oniken is a must buy for the low price of £4.99/$7.99/€5.99.