On paper, Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad is the perfect videogame. It has zombies, blood and boobs, a veritable Holy Trinity of things that get gamers hot. Of course, what works on paper does not neccessarily work in practice, and with this budget game from D3 has an incredible amount working against it.
So the question is this: Do zombies, blood and tits make up for sickening graphics, confusing gameplay and badly designed environments? Can a game so cheaply made that they didn't even translate the voiceovers justify its existence with little more than B-movie salation?
One of us thinks so. One of us does not. So join Conrad and myself as we review Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad.
Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (Xbox 360)
Released: January 10, 2009
Believe it or not, Bikini Samurai Squad actually has a story, but if you have no desire to revel in the very worst that anime sub-plots have to offer, you'll want to give it a miss. The game -- a prequel to the Wii's Bikini Zombie Slayers -- revolves around two sisters who are cursed with baneful blood, and are harrassed by a number of villains who want to lick it and become powerful ... or something, and it actually takes itself seriously. Also, zombies!
The premise is absurd, more than a little embarrassing, and should be thoroughly ignored. However, if if you find the plot confusing, just wait until you get to the gameplay. On the surface, Onechanbara is a shallow hack n' slash, no more evolved than Golden Axe. However, underneath is a "combo" system so convoluted and well hidden from players that most of them will never know it's there.
The fact that most players won't ever discover the "depth" of Onechanbara is not their fault, either, as Onechanbara simply demands more patience and practice than it could ever deserve. Neither the three-page manual nor the rather lame "practice" mode ever really equip you with the knowledge you need in order to get the most of the game, a problem made worse by the fact that sometimes you need to be killed in order to understand how to play the game properly.
One particular enemy needs to be killed by slashing three times, waiting for the third attack animation to almost finish, then jamming the left stick forward while attacking again. This is something you could never guess on your own, and you need to die before being told (or wait for Conrad to die, then have him tell you). The "tips" section of the pause menu only gives you advice after you've been killed in a variety of ways -- this kind of trial-and-error bullshit is simply unacceptable.
The various levels are also terribly designed, and stages are repeated to a farcical degree. Many times you'll be left wandering around stages lost, helped in no discernible way by an awful map system. This is to say nothing of the motorcycle stages, which will either be frustrating or boring, depending on how successful you are. There is so much in this game that simply should not be allowed, regardless of how cheap it is.
One of the worst parts of the game is the "rampage" which can affect one of the sisters at the worst possible time. As you continue to dole out punishment against the undead horde, you'll be building up your "splatter" meter and once it's full, you'll transform into a quicker, more powerful version of yourself. That sounds good, apart from the fact that it also diminishes your life at an excessive rate. Also, the only way to stop the Rampage is to hope you are carrying a Goddess Statue Head. Using one of these will end the Rampage, but with a maximum of three of any item to be carried at a time, this quickly becomes a frustrating scenario.
To the game's credit, the one interesting thing the combat does is in the way it uses blood. Rather than simply being there to give teenagers erections, the blood is also an important gameplay factor, as it clings to your sword with repeated attacks. The more zombies you carve up, the more soaked your sword gets until it eventually gets stuck in zombies, leaving you prone. A simple button press will have your character swing her sword to clean it, but the real trick is in incorporating sword cleansing into your combos, which sometimes threatens to be an enjoyable experience.
There is a leveling system, where you get to distribute points to improve your zombie slayers' vitality, strength, and skill. You can also unlock clothing items by performing "Quests" which are simple tasks you can perform at any point in the game ("kill a lot of zombies" is one of them, for example). If the game was worth replaying, these extras could have added to the replay value. There is also a local two-player mode, but it's a cruel person who forces their friend to come along for the ride.
Graphically, there are PlayStation 2 games which look prettier, and that's not hyperbole. The visuals are unbelievably bad, and D3 even saw fit to throw in screen flickering just to make sure your eyes are having a completely terrible time. In a game that uses sex as one of its main selling points, having characters that are simply hideous to look at really doesn't help the marketing department.
The game does have one saving grace, and that's with Survival Mode. Removing the piss-poor level design, abhorrent story and motorbike rubbish to simply pit you against wave after wave of zombies helps the game to become playable, and if you ever find yourself in possession of a copy, it's recommended that you simply play this mode and forget the rest.
Outside of this one play type, however, Onechanbara is a horrible experience, but one so thoroughly awful that it's actually worth a rent. You simply have to give this game a try, just to see how bad it is. However, its budget status does not excuse just how bad the game is, and it's not worth a purchase even at the lower price. For some reason I imagine that a number of players will be able to extract some sort of ironic enjoyment from this, so to those people I definitely advise them to give it a look. This game is a piece of history -- a game so awful it could be this generation's classic failure.
Rent it, laugh at it, take it back. It deserves no more of your time, energy or money.
Some weeks ago, I read an article on a gaming blog about how there is no real analogue to the B-movie experience in videogames. I can't seem to find it now, or I'd pass it along as it was a pretty decent read. The author's argument was that, because of the interactive nature of videogames, the sorts of technical issues and low-budget shenanigans that exist and can even thrive in the medium of film would merely frustrate and annoy game players instead of charming them. I really wish I could remember who wrote it so I could send them my copy of Onechanbara. This game really is an example of something which is, "so bad it's good."
There are a ton of things wrong with Onechanbara, traits which I'll merely footnote as Jim has already covered them admirably. The quality of the graphics are generally poor and range from being mediocre for the character models to downright ugly in the environments. The lack of differing locales (there are, essentially, two large-ish environments in the whole of the game) is annoying. And then there's the near total absence of direction given to the player in terms of objectives or gameplay mechanics.
Part of the reason I'm willing to let much of this slide is that there's a certain amount of charm present. The interactive loading screen where you control a super-deformed Aya chopping up adorable zombies brings a smile to my face during what is normally the most boring part of any game. The over-the-top plotline which makes no excuses for itself and the variety of enemies that escalate in their weirdness as the game progresses are quite entertaining also, provided that you are willing to look past the downright absurdity of the whole thing and just have a good time.
In a way, that's part of the challenge of Onechanbara, to be able to see beyond its many, many faults and simply enjoy oneself. Killing zombies is fun and it's fun to do it in this game, it's merely a matter of getting out of it what you're willing to put in. The leveling system offers a thin veneer of customization but, when it really comes down to it, the more you play, the more fun it becomes as combos become ridiculously lengthy affairs consisting of flying limbs and spurting blood.
Should you have to do this to enjoy a game? Of course not. At the same time, I believe that there is a place for entertainment in which you turn off your brain for a bit and just engage in some utterly mindless, wholesale slaughter. That's what the game delivers.
To its credit, the controls are really responsive. It's a good thing, too, as the surprisingly deep combo system relies far more on the timing of your attacks than the chosen combination of slashes and kicks. For a novice player, this design results in unexpected maneuvers and hidden surprises. The more experienced who have an interest in mastering the game will have a significant challenge in tamping down the timing of an optimum combo, a feat absolutely necessary for completing the game's two highest difficulty settings.
I will never argue that Onechanbara is a "good" game. It isn't. It is a mediocre title at best and one which revels in that fact. A sticky, filthy little pleasure that I have had quite a bit of enjoyment playing. I agree completely that it is a title that should either be rented or dug out of the deepest depths of a bargain bin. The vast majority of players will take away from it what Jim has. Those people are absolutely right to feel this way. The rest of us will simply have a good time killing zombies.
Overall Score: 4.5 (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)
reviewed by Jim Sterling