Friday 30 September 2016

Onikira: Demon Killer review – The strikes are sound but the blade is dull

Published 27/09/2015 | 14:58

Onikira: Demon Killer
Onikira: Demon Killer

Increasingly games have begun rediscovering certain values. The sort of values that allow a NES classic to stand in our hearts alongside the multi-million dollar monsters of recent times. Onikira: Demon Killer is one of many games trying to recapture what was forgotten: that gameplay is king.

7/10; PC; Digital Furnace

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Playing as Jiro, the adopted son of a Japanese lord, you have been trained in sword craft from an early age. One day your land is attacked by demon warrior types and suddenly all those samurai skills become extremely relevant.

The who and why of it all isn’t overly important and this is not a narrative tour de force, in fact it’s probably wise to rush through the clunky dialogue with its ongoing grammatical errors and changing voice. Onikira is all about the gameplay.

Digital Furnace, the Dublin-based developers behind the game, describe the combat as God of War styled, but the Devil May Cry series is the influence that screams loudest, if only for the ranking system used throughout the game. The 2D platforming style strains the comparison, but the gravity defying aerial combo-driven combat rings true.

 

Controls starts with a familiar two button attack system, one for a standard slash and one that lifts the enemy off the ground. The addition of a dash, with combined brief intangibility, is only the beginning of a set of moves that will require ninja like dexterity to properly use. Oh and a controller is recommended. No, that’s a lie, a controller is essential.

The first major flaw in Onikira is the support for your standard keyboard. The game starts with “Controller recommended” but you assume it’s similar to games like Super Meatboy, where the controller helps capture the console feel the developers are after. Nope.

The keyboard issues are many. First, the mapping doesn’t seem to be saved, so the start of every game has the chore of setting up. Next the on-screen control prompts only refer to the controller buttons, which is odd because it should be an easy thing to implement. Finally, and most importantly, you apparently can’t get past the second level without a controller. Game over.

Normally a review attempt would end there, but the combat is actually worth picking up a controller and certainly provides a better experience. While Jiro starts the game feeling a bit over-powered, new enemies are added to crank up the challenge level. Lightning fast reactions are the only way to survive. Swapping weapons mid-fight is more a need than a want as enemies begin gaining weapon specific shields. 

Each weapon is satisfyingly different and comes with additional movement functionality. The developers have done a good job of gradually increasing the challenges presented by both combat and platforming aspects of the game. Here is where the classic gaming values come in, because Onikira gets hard. And damn rewarding because of it.

Onikira - Enemies can be knocked up and killed by the bell ringers
Onikira - Enemies can be knocked up and killed by the bell ringers

Every combat tactic you grow comfortable with is disrupted by something else. Keeping things in airborne works to a point, but ranged and flying enemies quickly cramp that style. There are enough significantly different opponents for each battle to require a strategy above button-bashing. When you get to grips with the enemies, the environment starts to get involved, with fights taking place in burning buildings, amongst deadly steam geysers and pure death traps. To conquer seemingly impossible odds, Jiro often needs to use hazards to his advantage and it's oddly fair that enemies are equally at risk.

There are plenty of collectibles on offer for skilled explorers and they range from pure luck “I’m glad I thought I was falling to my death” discoveries – the sort that keep gaming forums and walkthroughs alive – to those that reward the right amount of skill and insane bravery. 

Onikira draws nicely upon its Japanese theme for visuals. While not fully embracing the watercolour feel of the likes of Okami, there’s a definite soft focus vibe and a hand drawn feel to the levels. Onikira is a distinctive good looking game. Animation is good for the most part and Jiro always looks like he means business. One repeat problem is how easily Jiro gets lost in a crowd of enemies, something a colour choice other than red and black would help, but it only becomes a real issue at the game’s most hectic moments.

 

There are some serious stability issues that should be mentioned, with the game crashing for us on more than one occasion, but the developers are actively engaging with the community on Steam as they produce patches. There’s a greater amount of leeway for small independent developers than the major publishers, but it’s certainly something to bear in mind.

Certain issues damage this release, but persistent players will be well rewarded with a masterclass in the sort of game design that made all those legendary platformers brilliant. There are certain aspects that keep this from being a must-own title, even with a controller and stable build, but this is an excellent example of a 2D combat platformer.

Onikira: Demon Killer is available now on PC

(Version played - PC. Copy Purchased.)

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