"A fun game, if you work at it..."

Oni is available on several different platforms, and the most popular is probably the PC version. I've never played any of those, so keep that in mind as you read this review. I'm judging the game from it's own merits, and from what I've seen in similar games in the same genre.

Oni is a game that people either love or hate. I saw a forum once where there was an almost equal split in ratings, with half giving a 9 or 10 and the other half giving 3 or lower. I think it's a decent game, and it has a lot going for it, but it takes some time to really discover what it has to offer.

Gameplay:
This is the real issue with this game. The controls are awkward, to say the least, and most people who hate this game just can't get past the control scheme. The D-pad is used for forward and backward movement and strafing, while the right analog stick is used to look around. You can change your attack/item use/activate commands in the setup, but the movement keys are unchangeable. This is unbelieveably frustrating at first. There's a whole training level right off the bat designed just to get you used to these controls. In the early levels, you constantly strafe on accident when you mean to turn. I think the fact that EVERY third-person action game before it (Syhpon Filter, Soul Reaver, Spider-Man, Medieval, even Spyro) used the D-pad to turn throws you off. The game designers maybe should have realized there was a reason everyone else did it the other way. Anyway, I think it was done because of the PC version: most people who play PC games set up their keyboard commands in a similar way. It's also helpful when looking up and down.

If you keep with it, the controls will eventually start to work for you. It took me until about half way through the second mission to really get the hang of it. The hand-to-hand fighting is almost second nature once you get used to the controls. The shooting is still difficult however, because the sights on all the guns are not conducive to the analog controller. The laser scope on your pistol is very exact, but the jerky, clunky way the controller moves it around makes it pretty much worthless. You'll be much better off just pointing in the general direction of the bad guys and emptying your clip as fast as you can. It's not the way the game was designed to be played, and you get shot up a bit doing this, but it's a lot more fun if you ignore the programmers' intentions.

All in all though, the strategy involved in the missions, and the combination of fighting and shooting, all come together in a pretty good way. The game is FUN once you get past the controls, and that's all that really matters in a game.

Level Design:
I feel I have to mention this, since the developers went to all the trouble to have professional architects build the levels. They can be pretty bland, visually. There are a lot of open spaces, and not much in the way of cars, furniture, machinery, or anything else. One level takes place on an airport runway, and another starts in a parking garage. The thing is though, even though it looks kind of bare, you need the room once the action starts. With bullets flying and people trying to get in close enough to punch and kick, the characters make you feel claustrophobic, even though the walls are pretty far apart. You appreciate the room when someone has a rocket launcher.

Graphics:
Pretty good, but not outstanding for the PS2. I think most of the time spent on the game was used on gameplay elements and character design. The ninjas and other bad guys look just as kick-ass as Konoko, because the game was originally planned as a multiplayer game. I noticed a considerable lack of quality in scripted scenes though, especially with moving vehicles. The game engine wasn't really designed for that, so when something big moves, it looks pretty fake. The character animations and designs are all pretty decent though. There are some clipping issues though, where characters pass through walls when they fall over.

Audio:
Explosions sound like explosions, punching sounds like punching. The voice acting is passable, and so is the music (even though it's certainly not memorable).

Replayability:
Multiple difficulty settings and a truckload of cheat codes make this a decent game to play again. The story is virtually nonexistant though, and almost all of the ''surprises'' can be figured out by the end of the first mission, even if you don't pay much attention. The action and gameplay are the only reasons to play this game, and they're the only reasons to keep coming back.

Buy or Rent?
If you do decide to rent it, make sure you have time to really get into it. At first glance, the controls just make you want to scream. But in the end, it should at least be entertaining, and if that's not the point, I don't know what is.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/10/01, Updated 05/10/01


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