Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers
Name: Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Onechanbara is a long-running Japanese video game series focusing on a bikini wearing, samurai sword-wielding, cowgirl named Aya who fights zombies. The series is so popular overseas, there’s even an Onechanbara movie. Thankfully, this year the franchise finally came stateside with versions for both the Wii and Xbox 360. How it took so long for such an obviously genius premise to make it to our shores is beyond this reviewer. The only question is, was playing a zombie hack-and-slash game where the protagonist is nearly naked worth the wait?
Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers is a port of the tenth game in the series. You would think that this being the first game to come to America, the development team would put a little effort into explaining the story of the Onechanbara universe thus far, but you’d be wrong. Instead, upon starting up the game, players are treated to a monologue from whichever character you choose to start as (there are two), picking up from where I assume the last part of the Onechanbara mythology ended. Throughout the game, the giant blocks of text continually refer to events “happening again,” or “so soon after” some other event that preceded this game. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t exactly expect a life-changing story to come packaged with this game. I did however expect there to be some semblance of a plot to follow. You’re going to tell me you’re not curious how these two girls ended up being the only two who were able to take on the zombie hordes? I just wish there was a little explanation. The lack of information isn’t just limited to the actual plot either.
While many of today’s instruction manuals aren’t exactly chock full of useful information outside of basic button layouts, the Onechanbara manual is an especially sparse three pages long. I wouldn’t be taking issue with the manual if the game wasn’t peppered with tutorials on how to play. There’s not a tutorial level or anything but when the game realizes you’re about to come across something that hasn’t been previously explained, a help window opens up, and gives the simplest of details on what to do. Midway through the third level, a tutorial opened up explaining “Blood Frenzy” to me (it's a power the girls attain when too much zombie blood comes in contact with their skin). Of course, the only reason this opened up on the third level is because that’s when I finally built up enough power in one of the power gauges on the bottom of my screen to activate said “Blood Frenzy.” On another playthrough on a different console, that tutorial opened at a completely different part of the game. I’m no expert, but that doesn’t exactly seem like the best way to explain how to play your game to an entire audience who’s never had their hands on any of the previous games in the series. At the end of the day though, the explanations do their job, so I can’t fault the game too much since it does take the time to tell you how to play - even if tutorials do seem to come at a pretty random pace. Thankfully, the standard combat is pretty straightforward, so drawn out explanation isn’t really necessary.
Since this is a Wii game, there’s quite a bit of remote swinging. So much in fact that even the most physically fit of your gaming buds will have trouble playing this game for more that twenty minutes at a time. Each character has two types of attack styles. Players can choose to play as either Aya, who can switch between fighting with one sword or two, or Saki, who switches between two-handed grapple combat or a single katana. Playing with only one sword didn’t seem to make much sense to me, so I almost always played in two-sword mode with Aya. The actual fighting in the game is pretty simple, and despite not having 1:1 controls, slicing and dicing was still pretty fun. There are some power moves, and better combos, activated by hitting buttons or waving the remote in the right direction at the right time, but I could hardly ever get them to work. I don’t know whether that’s an indictment on the game’s mechanics or my inability to work a Wii controller properly. Regardless, I still had a pretty good time chopping my foes into bits. Saki provided a nice change of pace with her grappling style, and she was nowhere near as tiring to play with since she required much less controller waggling, but her story (and I use the term loosely) just wasn’t as satisfying to play through.
Of course, this being a hack-and-slash game, repetitiveness is the nature of the beast. The game’s idea of changing it up involved placing the main character in a slightly different area to fight zombies. Once in a while, those zombies would be wearing different clothes, and while this game is not going to win any awards for graphical excellence, the visuals were certainly passable. Both Saki and Aya have decent character models, but I’m not sure if my thinking they looked okay was due to them actually looking okay, or the zombies looking so meh. Stages are designed with large areas for you to fight wave after wave of the undead, and vary ever so slightly from indoors to outdoors. The zombie fighting is occasionally broken up with a boss fight, and those range from comically easy to tear-inducingly frustrating. There were bosses that could not kill me despite my being down to one bar of health for a large duration of the fight, to bosses that ripped me to shreds instantaneously. Challenge is nice, but so is difficulty balancing. I know that the Onechanbara name on the front of a game box in Japan probably means gold, but over here, that name isn’t anywhere near as established, and I can’t say if it ever will be if this game is hoping to establish the beachhead.
Having said all that, I had a lot of fun playing this game. I don’t know what it is about running around hacking zombies to death, but it was almost cathartic. Like House of the Dead 2 &3 before it, the Wii has another potentially cult hit on its hands. Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers is not a great game. It’s not even a good game. But it’s fun, it’s cheap ($30), and provides players with some over-the-top action they might be able to enjoy. Onechanbara certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you can manage to enjoy the game for what it is, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.