Friday, May 1, 2009

Onichanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad Review

Title: Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad
Developers: Tamsoft
Publishers: D3 Publisher
Genre: Hack and Slash
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Price: $39.99
ESRB: M (for Mature)

Bikini Samurai Squad? Yes, you heard right, folks, and now that the city has become infested with zombies these provocatively dressed beauties are donning their cowboy hats and katana in preparation to save the world. The story of Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad revolves…Wait, wait, this can’t be said with a straight face. Since Japanese porn scriptwriters were the most predominant writers for decades in an otherwise dead film industry and have now become the geniuses behind some of the best horror movies, I’d hate to belittle them; Bikini Samurai Squad, however, comes out just as lousy as any typical porn scenario you can think of, but without the added bonus of a climax. The scenario depicts two sisters, Aya and Saki, who see a television report of zombies unleashed on the city and find themselves going up against an evil organization bent on world domination. What may surprise people is that this is actually a sequel to a long line of games in the Onechanbara series, many of which have not been released in the States. But despite its irreverent, semi-humorous anime aesthetics, this isn’t a hidden treasure of Japan like Katamari Damacy or even Bullet Witch.

Onechanbara plays as a hack and slash game similar to the Dynasty Warriors series, where in most battles it’s you against hundreds of zombies that act more like cannon fodder than a challenge. The characters’ moves are somewhat limited by the lack of combos, although you do have several attack modes to use, which offer some variety. Aya, the protagonist, has the option of using one blade with shurikens or two blades in tandem. Saki, Aya’s little sister, can use a katana or taijitsu (“body arts” or hand-to-hand combat). Both sisters also can go into “rage mode” from being splashed with too much blood; rage makes you faster and stronger, but also has the adverse side effect of draining your health. You don’t really need these enhancements for the most part, but the game forces you to use them occasionally with specific enemy types that cannot be killed otherwise.

Additionally, a third playable character is revealed a few chapters in, named Anna, who’s a part of an American Special Forces unit called ZPF (Zombie Prevention Force). Anna diverges from the melee gameplay by letting players use two kinds of ranged weapons, dual pistols and an (unlikely but fun) pairing of a tactical shotgun and Uzi. These weapons seem to further simplify an already simple game by distancing the “threat.” Although eventually zombies in police uniforms start showing up brandishing pistols and rifles. Their slow movements, however, still make an uneven playing field.

With a horde so massive, the shortage of enemy character models becomes overwhelmingly repetitive. For the most part, enemies are composed of normal zombies that amble toward you with only their bare hands or a melee weapon (chainsaw, knife, etc.). Things start to get mixed up as you go along and new species are introduced—many of them seem like cheap rip-offs of better games—but variety only seems to drip in a little at a time. The more “advance” zombies include the gun-toting types, dogs, troll-like zombies, mutant frogs, and something that looks like it was spawned from a liaison between Swamp Thing and the creature from Alien.

The boss battles that come at the end of almost every chapter are a welcome variation that requires a slightly more tactical approach. While most of the bosses are almost easy as their underlings, a few of them present a sharp spike in the difficulty level of the game, and sometimes frustratingly so. For instance with Reiko, at one time a friend of Aya’s but now a member of the evil organization: She was obnoxiously strong in the first phase, but then in a Matrix: Reloaded-esque sequence you’re bombarded with hundreds of clones equally as strong.

The graphics in general are very dated considering this is on the Xbox 360, which is most apparent when you look at the environments used in the game. Much like the plot and the character models, the level design lacks complexity and presents a rather angular rendition of a Japanese cityscape. It really doesn’t seem like Tamsoft took much time formulating these levels, which come out clearly as just a maze and not a real setting. Decorative objects, a bit of texturing, and even sizing down the corridors would have gone a long way in this department. Additionally, levels repeat themselves— you have to pointlessly backtrack quite often.

Other than the story campaign, the game also features “Free Play Mode” and “Survival Mode.” The former allows you to play through the story levels without any real goals except to dismember as many walking corpses as you can. The other challenges you to stay alive in a confined space as long as possible through wave after wave of zombies. The game also touts a “Dress Mode” where you get to change the characters’ clothing, but it only comes with three sets of clothes and a very finite set of makeup and hair colors, severely limiting character customization. Post-release downloadable content expands the options slightly (as well as gives you three new characters to choose from), but it seems like this stuff should have been in the game already instead of asking people to shell out more money.

Maybe this game’s only saving grace is that it’s $20 cheaper than other games for this console. (Well, that and the massive amounts of T&A, which seems to be a big sell to fans online.) But while $20 less might seem like a bargain, you could definitely find a better deal by just buying a used game.

3 ‘Xs’ out of 10

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