Some games just seem to have been made ahead of their own time. They push the boundaries of their hardware and create something that people will remember fondly forever. Twenty years ago, Onion Knights by THEM Corporation may have done that. It would have blown my mind back in the days where the mechanics were simple, the graphics were choppy, the monitors were thick, and the towers were beige. In fact, I thought it came from that time at first because this is the "Definitive Edition," so that must mean that there was some sort of call for a bigger, better edition, right? Well yes, when your base game is a freemium game on mobile platforms, any direction is technically bigger and better. So, given its background, the game's title is saying "we are just a little better than the worst we could possibly do." Onion Knights has competent core gameplay and decent RPG elements, but the backs of those mechanics are broken under the weight of choppy graphics, repetitive music, an uninspired story, the leftover freemium mechanics, and the constant repetition of all the things that could be salvaged.
The Onion Knights – Definitive Edition can be purchased on Steam for $9.99.
The age of harvest is over, the age of gluttony is nigh. The other kingdoms have fallen to the Curry Kingdom, and only the Onion Kingdom remains. There are three knights, four counting your character, the Knight Captain, who need to defend each fortress from waves and waves of enemies. There is no writing aside from the prologue, so that's all you can say. I wouldn't think much of it were the game not convinced it was somehow funny. No, for that you need characters and clever writing or at least some slapstick. I just saw a creepy dog with a magic wand and went "Okay. Is this something that regularly happens? I'm confused." It's hard to tell jokes and poke fun at the world when you don't have much of a defined world to begin with.
The base gameplay is okay, nothing to write home about but they're just fine. You play as a knight manning a turret trying to stop enemies from getting across the screen. You have the aid of a brawny knight, a female gunner who bears slight resemblance to Yoko from Gurren Lagann, and your typical cooky old inventor. You can also use a decent assortment of items and mercenaries to aid in your defense. The controls are easy and the concept is simple to grasp. I hope that you enjoy the gameplay though, because it does not change all that much. After playing it I couldn't tell you any defining traits of any levels. Aside from that, there isn't much wrong in the core of the game.
What genre is it anyway?
Onion Knights bills itself as a tower defense game, which I suppose is literally true. You are defending a tower, but I wouldn't necessarily place it in the tower defense category. I would say it's more of a bullet hell with tower defense and RPG elements. See, while you're firing upon the enemies, they're firing back. If you lose your health, you lose the level. You aren't placing towers strategically like in a traditional tower defense. In fact, there isn't much strategy at all. Just trying to dish out all the damage you can so you can go to the next level. The enemies are just as weak to one thing as they are to another, so there really isn't much harm in just finding what you find works and just smashing that until you win. I wouldn't make a big deal out of that, but the game claims to have "Deep Strategy" and I really take issue with that point.
There are three different game modes and none of them really play much differently. There is your standard campaign mode, your hard campaign mode, and your extreme mode. The extreme mode is more of a survival ordeal, where you are given rewards based on how many waves you can survive. Every ten levels it does save so you don't need to do the easier levels, which is nice. The gameplay is still very samey in all of the modes but at least in the one that will have you playing longest doesn't force you to go too far back after failure.
Straggling freemium elements
As I touched on before, this "Definitive Edition" is a freemium mobile game for ten dollars on steam. There aren't any in-game purchases, but it sure feels like there should be. Even though the game just has a buy-to-play model here, it still has the normal and premium currencies. You need a lot of gold to do anything, but don't worry you can buy it with gems. How does one get gems? You pray you randomly get them, power your way through a ton of levels in Extreme mode, or you complete a dwindling list of achievements. These methods range from tedious to obnoxious. This is a mechanic that was obviously meant to squeeze your wallet a bit but there's no reliable way to get them. The gold is used to buy items, and purchase upgrades, but it starts coming in such slight quantities you wish you had some gems to get more. Why not just have gold for your full release and not make people feel like they're getting ripped off by a mechanic that has no reason to exist in this format? You can get and upgrade heroes without any gems, but that takes such a long time.
In this vein we reach the heroes. I bring this up right after the freemium mechanics because for all intents and purposes, this aspect of the game is a Gacha game. You have to cannibalize your weaker ones to feed your stronger ones. Though you do get more heroes randomly as the game progresses, they are all low level and you need to beef them up a tad. It isn't too bad at first, but as you go on they start to upgrade so slowly you almost need to have more gems just so you can get either more fodder or more gold. The heroes are essential too, so if I were to be playing the mobile version I would almost be needing to spend some real money on fake people to defend my fake kingdom.
Each of the Knights has a decent variety of skills that can be mixed and matched with ease. This is actually something the game did quite well, it gave a decent variety without making things too complicated. As you level up, they can do more things. You can even upgrade your turret to deal more damage and you can get a bigger pool of energy so you can use your knights abilities more often. These are decent RPG elements that don't feel haphazardly jammed in the game.
Graphics and audio
These graphics are not the good kind of retro. In the game itself they're passable at best on lighter backgrounds and cringeworthy at worst when you can see the white outlines of the dynamic figures against the backdrop. When you're in the overworld or in the pub, they're almost unbearable. The designs are fine, nothing wrong with those, but the animations are so choppy. The cherub who leads you around part of the map doesn't blink so much as his eyelids suddenly phase into existence for a split-second. Quantum eyelids, if you will. You click on a figure and they're suddenly in another pose for a few seconds. Unless you click on the engineer, in which case he awkwardly rides that goat with about three frames of animation.
The audio is something done kind of well. I enjoyed the combat music for a while, it had a good frantic feeling that also lent itself to some comedic atmosphere. Or at least, it would have if there were any funny slapstick animations anywhere. Then I realized that it was only about thirty seconds of song looped no matter what world I was in, which is a pity because I was hoping to have a bit more variety.
I wouldn't say this is the worst thing I've ever played, but for ten dollars you can do better than a mobile game barely modified to be played on PC. I never found myself seriously offended by anything, I just thought the whole experience was lackluster for the price. The graphics aren't good and the remaining freemium elements really kill the experience. The good parts, namely the soundtrack and the gameplay, are looped and overused so much I can't call them a saving grace. I know it's a casual game, but I don't think that's an excuse for the problems.
Would you like a better experience for the same price? Pick up Orcs Must Die!. It's a true tower defense that actually requires strategy and it has good writing that actually makes me chuckle a bit. Plus the sequel is a great coop experience. Better experience for a better price? Try Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves. It isn't comedic, but the story is phenomenal and they actually lean into those retro graphics a bit more and the strategy is even a bit more intense than in Orcs Must Die!. Alternatively, you could find any number of flash games on your preferred website that can scratch that tower defense itch while also providing a good casual experience without making you spend a penny. As for Onion Knights, I found it to be an experience lacking layers that left a bad taste in my mouth.
|+ Solid core gameplay||– Horrible animations|
|+ Competent RPG elements||– Repetitive gameplay|
|– Barely updated from freemium roots|