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Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers (Wii) artwork

Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers (Wii) review

"Slaying is such a guilty pleasure. Really, it is. You might deny it, claim that you derive pleasure from something more intellectually stimulating. Something nicer. But once youíve gotten a taste, itís hard to stop. Itís beautiful, mesmerizing in its own disturbing way; the blood doesnít just seep out, but gushes forth in a glorious fountain of gore. The dismembered limbs donít just fall away, but go flying across the room and leave splattered trails in their wakes. The heads are especial..."

Slaying is such a guilty pleasure. Really, it is. You might deny it, claim that you derive pleasure from something more intellectually stimulating. Something nicer. But once youíve gotten a taste, itís hard to stop. Itís beautiful, mesmerizing in its own disturbing way; the blood doesnít just seep out, but gushes forth in a glorious fountain of gore. The dismembered limbs donít just fall away, but go flying across the room and leave splattered trails in their wakes. The heads are especially fun; even if they can be cleanly lopped off, itís so much more satisfying to cleave right through the face and uncover the spongy matter beneath the skull. You get used to the smell of rotting flesh. How your victims scream in agony even as they fall to pieces. The way the blood runs so thick that itĎs literally dripping off your fingers, and you can never wash all of it off no matter how much your conscience urges you to.

Remorse is for the weak, anyway.

Aya and Saki donít have that kind of luxury; theyíre too busy trying to stay alive. Their existence is defined by violence; thanks to their cursed bloodline, these sisters are doomed to fight the never-ending legions of the undead. At least, thatís what the butchered translation offers. Thereís nothing particularly interesting or deep about the storyline in Onechanbara; you might get a little monologue about how the women ponder their ancestry, or how they grimly approach their impending battles. None of it in English, though; youíll be cringing at the high-pitched Japanese voices as you glance over the subtitles. But thereís very little into which you can read. This game is exactly what it appears to be about: young women brutally slaughtering evil zombies. Nothing more, nothing less. If you can accept that, perhaps you might forgive the bland characters, lazy storytelling, and all the other half-assed plot elements.

Besides, youíll be too busy hacking and slashing through the undead to care. The structure of the game is as simple as its plot; you get stuck in a room, dice up whatever shambles in your direction, move onto the next area, and rinse and repeat until you finally reach the end of the stage. Your characters can level up by collecting orbs dropped by slaughtered foes, though there isnít much explanation in terms of how stats affect the slayersí abilities. Despite being utterly repetitive, the combat is surprisingly entertaining. Each of the zombie slayers come packing their own unique weapons and fighting styles. You could use the Wiimote and Nunchuck to dual-wield Ayaís katanas or balance out Sakiís swordplay with her devastating punches and limb-tearing throws. Youíd never think that a cute little schoolgirl would be capable of ripping out hearts right of their surrounding torsos, but itíll happen with some of your foes. Itís entirely possible to knock a zombie into the air and butcher it before it hits the ground. Even if you slash off all the vitals, you might have to deal with a pair of possessed legs. Youíll eventually shed so much blood that itíll coat your weapons and make them less powerful, forcing you to take the time to clean it off. Needless to say, the combat is as unapologetic as it is gruesome.

Itís not shallow, though. There are several ways to carve through the mindless hordes, ranging from stylish sword combos and guard-breaking kicks to quicker evasion techniques. Learning all these moves is half the fun; youíll have plenty of opportunities to test your strategies. Inept gamers wonít need to learn many of the higher-end techniques; only a few types of foes require more than a few basic WiiMote-waggles to get the job done. Thatís one of the many aspects of Onechanbara that comes up short; aside from the challenging boss fights, the difficulty is practically nonexistent. Yes, youíll get to dice up dozens of targets at once, but itís not as fun if theyíre just walking into your attacks. Unless youíre intentionally walking into the zombiesí punches, chainsaw thrusts, gunshots, and other feeble attacks, youíre rarely going to be in trouble. The only problem youíll have will be the slayersí super-powered forms. Your characters will even transform into blond, glowing killing machines (with no defense stats and dwindling health, of course) if they get enough undead blood spattered on them. When that happens, youíll be forced to fall back on whatever restorative items you have in stock or desperately search for a save point to get you back to normal. Itís ironic that your biggest challenge doesnít come from an enemy, but from a broken powering system.

The game compensates for your foesí ineptitude, though. You might be capable of serving up epic bloodbaths and gory beat-downs, but youíll have to get the controls down first. The attacks and combos are based on the basic movements of the WiiMote and Nunchuck, but the system is hardly refined. Youíll find that some of your maneuvers will be misread at every turn, leaving you to watch your zombie slayers dish out the same combos over and over again. Your most epic attacks might just be flukes or mistakes, and most of your enemies wonít last long enough for you to enjoy them. The controls are as mismatched as the moves; while the button mapping for kicks and other secondary attacks is well-placed, youíll fumble a bit with inputs for the menu screen and special moves. Thus the majority of the gameplay involves you frantically shaking the controller and praying that the resulting attacks look cool. While they certainly do, itís no excuse for shoddy programming.

At least you can take solace in all the violence and brutality. As nasty as it sounds - and make no mistake, Onechanbara is the most gruesome game in a long, long time - youíll be spared most of the visuals. It wonít take long for you to figure out where the priorities lie in terms of graphics and presentation. Youíll get to mow down zombies by the dozens; thereíll be so many bodies packed together that youíll lose track of how many are actually coming at you. The awkwardly shifting camera doesnít help much, either. But if you take a closer look at your foes, youíre not going to find anything particularly fearsome. Youíll hack through businesspeople in gore-stained suits, grenade-flinging soldiers, and chainsaw-wielding Resident Evil 4 rejects. They have practically identical animations, all of which are wooden and ridiculously slow-paced. The stages are as bland as they are linear; youíll wander through a downtown district, clear out a hospital, and fight through an entire cemetery. Thereís nothing in terms of interactive objects or atmosphere. The game even uses the same stages for the charactersí different storylines; youíll come across the same hallways and deathtraps time and again. The only remotely detailed aspects of the game are the slayers; the sheer amount of jiggling chests and minimal costumes ensures that youíll have plenty of eye candy. Thatís assuming, of course, that you can see whatís going on beyond all the blood thatíll constantly splatter onto the camera.

Itís kind of sad. Onechanbara reeks of laziness and wasted potential. Itís a brutal, fast-paced brawler for a system that desperately needs a good action game. Even if there isnít a translation, the storytelling could have been executed and explained far better. Each character comes packing tons of devastating combos and moves, and there are more than enough zombies on which you can try. The problem is the utter lack of challenge and the poorly executed motion controls; itís hardly the engaging and grueling crusade it could have been. What little it does do right, however, it pulls off well. With so many enemies on the screen at once, itís easy to forget about all the crappy stuff and get lost in the guts and body parts flying everywhere. Itís fun, chaotic, and unbelievably bloody. But itís just not enough to make up for the other glaring flaws; gratuitous violence in video games is only as good as the gameplay that backs it up. Think about it.


disco's avatar
Community review by disco (March 03, 2009)

Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.

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bloomer posted May 18, 2009:

I saw this going for AUS$44 today, which brought me to your review. Hm, I don't know if I'm prepared to risk aggravating RSI for a kind of fun but average hack-em-up.
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disco posted May 19, 2009:

There's no way in Hell that's worth 44 bucks. In *any* currency. Maybe half that at most.

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