Style is a driving factor in a lot of indie games. From Braid in the early days to the upcoming No Man’s Sky, indie developers have used unique visual and storytelling styles to set their games apart. The challenge, then, is to have gameplay worthy of the aesthetics. Some games succeed with flying colors (so to speak), while others serve as nothing but a beautiful mess. Onikira: Demon Killer, a game currently available through Steam Early Access, is another one that grabs players with a striking visual style. Whether it has the gameplay to match is harder to decide.
Onikira plays like a classic side scrolling beat-em-up. It follows the typical formula: move forward, fight a bunch of enemies, move forward, fight a bunch of enemies, etc. Fortunately, there’s more to the gameplay than that. The main character is a samurai, and he has the moves to prove it. You can launch your enemies into the air and unleash big combos, switch between a few different weapons you’ll find as you progress, and use a number of skills connected to those weapons to mix up the combat a bit. The gameplay is actually quite reminiscent of the Devil May Cry series, but transplanted into a 2D environment.
It all works fairly smoothly, but there are a couple of issues. First, even with the variety of moves available, things get dull pretty quickly. The environment and the enemies don’t change enough to satisfy the average player. In short, the game represents both the best and the worst of the genre. The second issue is the difficulty; for a while, I couldn’t even get past the first level. A player with more skill and experience in the genre probably could have done better, but I hope the final version has multiple difficulty settings. Dying just brings you back to the last checkpoint, which is usually not too far away, but I would still prefer for it to happen less.
Where the game really shines, of course, is in the aesthetics. The graphical style is a unique blend of traditional ink drawings and anime, with a seriously dark tone as the basis. The foreground is full of dark, muted colors. Erupting through the darkness are bright, luminescent colors that give the game an almost neon look. It’s a beautifully striking contrast. The graphics remind me a bit of those coloring sheets with the black stuff that you’d scrape away to reveal color, and I mean that in a good way.
Character design, while basic, fits the style very well. Protagonist Jiro’s red armor stands out against the darkness, and the color frames him perfectly. The enemies, meanwhile, are dark and appear very alien and almost unsettling. All of the animation is smooth and detailed, with each swing of Jiro’s sword looking organic. Even the music plays its part exceptionally well, mixing traditional percussion with haunting electric guitar riffs.
Without diving too much into what Early Access entails, it is important to remember that the game is currently in alpha. That means there are a lot of bugs, some of which make parts of the game unplayable. I’ve had things simply not load, animations stay on screen for too long, my controller vibrating uncontrollably, etc.
Speaking of which, it’s also worth noting that the game assumes you’re using an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller, and it doesn’t even show what the keyboard controls are. These are all things that will most likely be fixed when the game is finished. So, my assessment is going to be based on whether it’s worth supporting the game through Early Access rather than the merits of the alpha itself.
If you are a fan of the side scrolling beat-em-up genre, Onikira is worth supporting. The graphics and music are one of a kind, the gameplay is smooth, and it seems like there’s going to be a lot added to the game when it’s fully released. If you aren’t into that sort of game, though, you will find Onikira boring pretty quickly. Playing around with the new weapons and related skills will keep the battles interesting for a little while, but the fun won’t last forever. In short, Onikira manages to avoid falling into the category of games that look great and play poorly, but just barely for now. I have high hopes for this game going forward, so I hope it doesn’t let me down.
+ Amazing graphics
+ Smooth gameplay
- Boring after a while
- High difficulty