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Onyanko Town (NES) artwork

Onyanko Town (NES) review

"It's a simple arcade-style game that would work great in small sessions, if not for its shortcomings."

Onyanko Town asset

Onyanko Town is a tale of parental negligence and nerve-racking irritation. Our story opens with an anthropomorphic-feline protagonist named Milky. Between watching soaps and reading smutty cat romance paperbacks, Milky can scarcely find the time to keep an eye on her son Michael. As such, the curious kitten is prone to sneaking out of the house and wandering the streets of this town without pity. Milky, however, is not a total wash of a parent. She is willing to brave the mean streets of the titular town to find her missing son and bring him home.

The trouble is that the streets are not safe for a humanoid kitty. Prowling the neighborhood is a gang of vicious puppy dog people. These beasts mean business, as you can tell from their adorable floppy ears and unbearably cute overalls. Since Milky isn't well versed in the art of combat, any run-in with a dog-man results in her untimely demise. What kind of demise that would be is unimaginable in such a cute game. The image of a cartoony dog-man knifing a cat-lady to death in a dark alley isn't one that meshes well with such a playful atmosphere.

I could pick at the illogical aspects of the game's setup. I mean, why the hell would a cat live in a town full of violent dogs? Knowing that she's surrounded by dogs, why wouldn't she keep a closer eye on her son? As we all know, the stories of NES games thrive on horrible logic. That's half of what makes them fun to look back on. Onyanko Town's problem isn't the almost lethal amount of Japanese cuteness, nor its holey plot. It's much deeper than that.

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The game takes an overhead perspective. You navigate a maze-like segment of the city in each level, trying to track down Michael. As mentioned, dog-men roam the streets seeking to take one of your lives. Littering the area are manholes which, when opened, become traps to detain the dogs permanently. The only thing is you have to shut the manhole, otherwise any dogs that fell into it will escape. One must take caution when opening manholes, as snakes can spawn at random as a result. As you can tell, the game sounds serviceable so far. It's a simple arcade-style game that would work great in small sessions, if not for its shortcomings.

As you continue to play Onyanko Town, the game becomes more and more irritating. First the game assaults your ears with the grating single-song soundtrack that loops after about ten or so notes. Try to imagine someone setting a synthesizer on the highest possible pitch, then banging random keys with a couple triangles. While trying to assuage your newly gained headache, you'll find your patience wearing thin as you traipse slowly about the city. Who knew a cat could walk this slowly? You'd think this game would have included some speed-boosting power ups, but alas... You're stuck walking at one agonizing speed from beginning to bitter end.

This can be problematic, as many dogs later in the game can out-walk you. Should you find one tailing you without a manhole nearby, you're pretty much screwed. Really, it doesn't take long to find yourself in this position. You could look for a fish, the only true power up, to give yourself temporary invincibility. However, grabbing a fish summons yet another enemy, the butcher. This guy can kill you even with invincibility, and he also walks at a mean pace.

The surest method for victory is to find Michael as soon as possible. Everything else is secondary, possibly even a waste of time. The longer you spend roaming the city, the more likely you'll become tailed by a villainous dog without any means of defense. The thing is there's no skill whatsoever required to find Michael. You just happen upon him. All you really do in Onyanko Town is wander aimlessly and hope you'll be lucky enough to find Michael before the local rabble find you. Since Michael doesn't sit still, finding him isn't a matter of ruling out the various sectors of the level you've visited. You can't see the whole stage on the screen, so you could play a level for a long time before happening upon him. As you can tell, it's an incredibly tedious process.

There's no reward for exploration aside from snagging fashion items to increase your score. Big whoop! The developers tried to include other parts of the city and perils, like a busy street that threatens to reduce Ms. Milky to a greasy spot. Even if exploration were rewarded, there still isn't much to see except the same sprites and buildings rehashed again and again. Every level may as well be the same. The only elements that differ are building placement and color palette.

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Onyanko Town is a title to leave in obscurity. It does its best to capture arcade-era innocence and conventions, but fails in execution. It lacks the fast pace and addictive gameplay associated with stronger arcade titles. It's sad, because this is one of the few NES titles released exclusively in Japan that doesn't require a translation guide to play. The difficult part is not understanding the game, but staying interested long enough to play it for any length.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (June 30, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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