Onikira: Demon Killer is a 2D side scroller, beat ’em up with a keen art style and smooth fighting mechanics. Before I begin to deconstruct this work of art, I have to say that the game ran pretty horribly on my computer. The game jittered and fluctuated through frame rates constantly and I lost count of how many times the game unexpectedly shut down. This is either due to bad programming or hardware faults in my PC, I have no idea which so I can’t fault the game for this but I will say that my experience of the game was severely hindered. Putting that aside, I still have to say there is more bad then there is good to Onikira.
I’ve played a lot of Beat ’em ups and one thing I would say that they have to do correctly is a seamless and smooth fighting system. Onikira does this very well. The fighting system has enough in it to be flashy and full of options but is simple enough to easily master. The enemies are challenging but their patterns are simple and distinct enough that everything feels fair even in the chaos of the battles, if you screw up it’s your fault and not the games.
Each weapon is mapped to one of the triggers, so you can switch between weapons without breaking the pacing of the battle; setting up the possibility of endless unique combos. This would all be well and good if the game didn’t restrict you to every battle you get into. When you get into a battle, little tentacle guys come out of the ground on both sides of the screen to designate the arena then you are given a bunch of enemies to kill and you can progress. This is a very poorly implemented idea because it breaks the pacing of the entire game. Instead of approaching every situation with care and caution, you are treated to random battles that feel like chores and in-between bits that feel like filler content. Some of the arenas have some kind of added challenge to them which brings some spark to an otherwise dull fight but if the levels would have been designed around the challenges and the enemies instead of having designated ‘fight’ and ‘travel’ points the player would be free to adventure, instead of the game telling you when to have fun.
In efforts to make the in-between bits more interesting there is platforming segments, but the way your character controls during these segments is horrible. One giant flaw I found is that the Y-axis of the left analogue stick isn’t programmed into the game (when titled up or down he just runs in either of the X directions) meaning you have to use the D-pad to jump between platforms, but to switch between targets with your grapple hook you have to use the analogue stick, so you’re constantly switching between them making it all frustrating and annoying. A lot of the animations in these segments are either too abrupt or non-declarative so I found myself falling to my death a lot without even knowing what I did wrong. I did see a lot of potential in the platforming so there’s obviously some heart put into it but the controls make it a painful experience.
One thing the game did right was its art style. Everything feels very passionate with heaps of bold dark outlines and vivid contrasting colours. The drawings and animations are stylish enough to make you really feel like a kickass Samurai slashing through hordes of demons. There are situational weather effects that come and go when moving between outside and inside buildings that gives a lot of the scenes a type of pulse. There is some pretty stunning bloom effects, at one point I found myself just staring at the light beams from the sunset cascade through the area like “wow” and I swear I hadn’t smoked anything that day. Every level had a personality to it that identified them among each other which added a touch of memorability to them.
I feel it’s not even worth mentioning the story because it more felt like an afterthought than an actual fleshed out story. None of the characters were memorable in any way, the main plot was unoriginal and the presentation was basic and uninteresting. The game starts with exposition (as any great story should…) about an endless battle between Hirumo, a power-hungry tyrant and Mizuchi, who fights for peace, both of whom can harness the limitless power of dragons. You play as Jiro, a Samurai descendant of Mizuchi who is destined to take over the fight from Mizuchi and kill the bad guy and that’s pretty much all you do. You go to where the battle is happening and kill the bad guy. On the way you are shown random characters, and I say shown instead of introduced because none of the interactions are organic in any way.
Your side kick dragon, Ryujin just shows up randomly on one of the levels and is like “Hi, I’m a dragon. I’m gonna be following you around now” and Jiro’s just like “Kay”. At no point was I even slightly intrigued by the dialogue as it was completely bereft of personality. As I was writing this review I had to restart the game just to remember what the main characters name was.
There are basic stories with good implementation and there are stories that succeed based solely on an interesting plot; the story to Onikira is neither of those. The game had some good ideas that were self-defeated by a bad execution. Every section of the game just kind of bled together into a bland mess of imperfect implementation. At no point did I feel I was on an adventure or that there were any stakes. Instead of running ahead and having fun I felt I was being dragged along on a leash. I’m not saying the problem lies in linear gameplay, linear gameplay is great when it’s well executed (some of my favourite games are linear).
Overall, Onikira: Demon Killer looks cool and has a rather fun battle system but the only word I can find to define my experience of it is lacklustre. It definitely isn’t the worst I’ve played in the genre though so it definitely deserves some credit. Onikira feels like it was designed by an overly controlling parent.
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