Release Date: February 10, 2009
I would've paid good money to see developers bandying about the idea of the Onechanbara video game. The concept is just so hilariously awful and juvenile that it bends the mind to think that not only did this game see the light of day, but that Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad for the Xbox 360 is actually the third offering in the series. Although the franchise is just making its U.S. debut, the games have already been out in Japan for several years. If the quality of Bikini Samurai Squad is indicative of what we should expect from the rest of the series, then it's proof that sex sells because there are very few redeeming qualities about this title.
If you haven't already figured out the ridiculous concept behind Bikini Samurai Squad, I'll spell it out for you: scantily clad women run around and kill zombies. The protagonist and her sister have some sort of blood curse that essentially makes them superheroes, but they'll go crazy if they get covered in blood. After she turns on the TV, the younger sibling realizes that the city is being attacked by zombies. Without exchanging any words, the sisters come to the logical conclusion to suit up, grab swords and kill the horde. It turns out that "suiting up" is a relative term, though, as the main character's battle armor consists of a bikini and a cowboy hat. Her sister dresses up like a schoolgirl, and a third playable character, who you encounter later in the game, looks like a stripper cop.
What ensue are 20 levels of bland and uninspired hack-and-slash gameplay. The zombies attack so infrequently and are generally willing to sit there and take a beating that simply mashing on the three attack buttons will get you through the majority of the combat. There is a reasonable combo system hidden behind the button-mashing, but most people will never know it exists because there's almost no need for it. Later levels introduce more difficult enemies with ranged attacks, but most enemies are complete pushovers.
This lack of difficulty is pretty standard for hack-and-slash games, since the entire point is to effortlessly kill thousands upon thousands of enemies by the time you reach the finale. What little charm you've managed to find in the game quickly wears off, so by the time you reach the fourth level, you're already repeating large environments and boss battles. Most of the boss battles are aggravating and not fun to play because of the vast differences in difficulty level. Some bosses are pushovers and have exploitable weaknesses, while other bosses are so tough that they make you want to throw your controller against the wall. The boss designs are also pretty bad, ranging from women with bloody clubs to a muck monster and several instances of fighting men in suits. The only boss battle that I enjoyed was a fight against a killer whale that had somehow become a zombie, but even that skirmish managed to overstay its welcome.
Bad boss fights are pretty standard fare for the hack-and-slash genre, but it was the frequent and numerous bad design decisions that kept bothering me as I played Bikini Samurai Squad. This title cut corners everywhere it could and even in places where it was a bad idea. It's as though the game were pushed through with all of the development attention being given to the main characters' looks and breast physics. This doesn't mean that the characters look any good, either. As was the case with many early 360 titles, Onechanbara suffers from characters who look like they're made of plastic. Sure, there is some decent detail when the characters get covered in blood, but it's nothing remotely impressive, especially given how much the game falters on a technical level.
Bikini Samurai Squad isn't a good-looking game, and it didn't even look good when it was released in Japan two years ago. Environments are bland and uninspired, animation is far from good, and there is a decent variety of zombies (though none of them are very good-looking zombies). Consistent frame rate issues plague this title; frequent screen-tearing, both during gameplay and cut scenes, drags down the production values even more.
The sole highlight of the game that stands out as reasonably well done is the implementation of blood. Every time you hit them, zombies are going to spew more blood than their bodies could possibly hold, but that factors into the gameplay in a significant way. You see, your sword will not perform as well in combat the more blood it has on it. As the sword gets more blood on it, your character will become slower with attacks and eventually with one hit, the sword will get stuck in the enemy for about 15 seconds, leaving you wide open as you attempt to pull it out. Cleaning the sword requires a quick button press, but it's something that you constantly have to keep in mind as you play. As you slay zombies, you'll slowly become covered in blood; if it gets to be too much, your characters will enter a rage mode where they deal a ton of damage but suffer from a very slow health drain. The only way to remove the blood is to use a restoration item that's frequently dropped by enemies.
Onechanbara is one of the plethora of Xbox 360 titles that boasts co-op play. Not every mission can be played in co-op, but most of them support it. During missions that can be played cooperatively, you'll either be playing split-screen with a friend, which makes the already-abysmal camera system even worse, or, if you're playing on your own, you can swap out the active character with the touch of a button. This tactic can be useful in letting your characters regain some health as they rest, but not a lot of thought needs to go into choosing characters because two of the three have very similar controls.
Bikini Samurai Squad even manages to implement some RPG elements. As you play each character, she'll gain experience and level up, allowing you to spend points to increase four different statistics. With this RPG aspect and several difficulty levels, there's a ton of replay value to be had if you can find enjoyment in the title. You can replay levels and the various game modes to level up characters to the point where even the hardest difficulty seems approachable. You'll find that certain levels work better than others for leveling up your character; I found the motorcycle level to be a very easy way to quickly level up one of my characters.
The final few nails in the coffin are the game's initial length (about five to six hours) and its presentation. Clearly every expense was spared when detailing the menu systems and story. No English voice acting is present, which is probably for the best, considering the quality of everything else with this title. As a result, most of the story is delivered with a static background, a poor English translation and Japanese voice acting.
If Story mode isn't your deal, there are a couple of other modes to toy around in. Freeplay lets you replay levels you've already beaten in the story. Survival pits you against wave after wave of zombies until you die, which can be a nice way to level up your characters. Finally, there's a laughable practice mode that lets you test out your moves against a single enemy. Perhaps the game's biggest selling point to many of the 12-year-old boys interested in bikinis and killing zombies: Dress-up mode. Here, you can create custom costume for your characters, change their skin color, hair color, and all of the options you'd expect from those "dress up" Flash games on the Internet.
Even at a budget price of $40, Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad for the Xbox 360 is fighting an uphill battle. It doesn't have very many good qualities, the gameplay isn't very impressive, it isn't up to snuff on a technical level, and whatever charm it manages to muster runs out of steam in a hurry. This is a bland, uninspired, sub-par hack-and-slash game that will only be remembered for putting women in bikinis and zombies into a single title. If you must satisfy the thirst for hacking and slashing, the Xbox 360 has better options — several Dynasty Warriors games and even Ninety-Nine Nights — that are probably more affordable than this sub-par budget title.
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