Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad

Year: 2006
Alternate Title: Onechanbara: vorteX (Japan)
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: D3
Developer: TamSoft
Genre: Action
Review Date: 2/21/10
Rating: **

Having reconciled their previous blood feud, sisters Aya and Saki are now working together against a common foe. They share a cursed bloodline that an evil organization wants to get their hands on, and the organization decides to lure the girls out of hiding by unleashing a horde of zombies on the city. Responding to the news, Aya grabs her sword, dons her feather boa and cowboy hat, and races out the door to quickly put an end to the threat. Too bad she forgot to put on the rest of her clothes...

This is the fifth game in the "Onechanbara" series, and the first one to be developed for the Xbox 360 and released in the US. Unfortunately, it's pretty much identical to all of the previous PS2 versions, and the gameplay has hardly evolved at all. Why tweak an established formula, right? The graphics look better than the PS2 versions, but the game still looks bland and ugly. Fortunately, the chase camera has been improved so that it doesn't induce nausea, but it's still fussy and not always helpful. The controls are still a bit sluggish, but improved slightly. The gameplay consists of your scantily clad protagonist kicking and slicing her way through endless hordes of undead, collecting keys, and looking for a way out of a particular area. Because of their baneful blood, if Aya or Saki get covered in too much zombie goo, they go into a blood rampage which slowly sucks the life out of them. Their only salvation lies in finding the end of the level as quickly as possible, or finding a goddess statue to heal themselves. Of course, none of this is documented, and the instruction manual is one of the most useless things I've seen outside of "Kakuto Chojin" (2002). It's literally two pages long and doesn't actually tell you how to play or what the objective of the game is. Thankfully, Aya provides some clues here and there with her long-winded expositions, which attempt to flesh out a back story.

Joining Aya and Saki on their latest blood fest is an American police officer named Annna - that's right, it's spelled with three n's for some reason. She carries a gun and is unaffected by zombie blood, so she doesn't run the risk of flying into a suicidal berzerker rage. Unfortunately, her guns aren't very effective, and it's not intuitive how to reload them. I also learned after about 20 minutes of punching and kicking that the girls' melee attacks are effectively useless. They don't actually incur any damage, and instead just push enemies out of the way. The game really is a journey of discovery, with the goal being how to actually play the game. It's exceedingly frustrating for the first couple of hours and comes across as a random button mashing marathon, but persistence and experimentation can eventually yield results. What? There's an inventory screen? That's handy. Hey, look! Here's a map that shows me where I need to go next! That's extremely helpful. Wow, check this out! Certain enemies can only be killed with an counter attack! That's nice to know... Later on in the game, you learn that the useless melee attacks you stopped using can force certain enemies to drop their guard, allowing you to land a killing strike. If you're willing to sit down with the game for 2-3 hours and really learn the controls and gameplay mechanics, it can start to be an entertaining journey instead of a tedious and frustrating one. However, that seems like a lot for a game to ask for, especially one as uninteresting and repetitive as this one.

Sadly, nearly everything about the game betrays its low budget roots, and it's not particularly fun to play. It boggles my mind to think that a couple of scantily clad girls slicing apart zombies with blood splattering all over the place could be so dull and lifeless. The game offers some replay value and incentives in the form of quests, which unlock items that you can use in the game's costume editor. Or, you could just run around in your underwear, which is the default. The editor boasts that you can change the eye and lip color of the characters, which is laughably absurd because you rarely even see their faces. And when you do, you certainly don't see them closely enough to determine eye color. These customizations aren't used in cut-scenes either, so it's all rather pointless. But clearly the developers thought it was an important feature that their target demographic would be interested in. Ultimately, while this may be the best "Onechanbara" game to date, it's difficult to recommend and it still fails to rise above mediocrity. At best, it's a time waster and a guilty pleasure.