Bertil Hörberg has become one of my favourite developers ever due to how he works with minimalistic ideas. Utilising limitations in order to make something spectacular is always going to be more my cup of tea than introducing a massive world where any task becomes a repetitive slog. Because of this, I was curious when I saw him tackling the core concept of Super Mario Bros 2. This controversial reskin of another game had nonetheless a neat mechanic that only got referenced in later instalments. Luckily, Bertil knew how to make the most out of it.
On a hill in nowhere, Pelle Lök (Peeling Onion) and Mama Lök are chilling by their cute hut when an army suddenly attacks them. After beating them out of their home, you take control of either two and set out on a journey to stop their evil plans. I have no clue what they are, but this introduction is merely an excuse for letting you go on an exciting adventure through 16 linear stages, which perfectly functions for an old-school project.
The duo controls exactly the same, meaning the decision of who to play as comes down to visual preference. Both can run, jump, duck, pick up things underneath them, and throw whatever they hold in a horizontal manner. Whether it is flowers, vegetables, enemies, or even giant vehicles like tanks, there is a healthy variety of objects to utilise as weaponry, with them all being satisfying to chuck and unique in terms of power and physics.
Already here there are some clever implementations. For example, foes will have clear layouts of where you can hop onto them in order to grab them, some will have spikes and make it impossible to stand on them, and leaping onto flying bullets can be used as a method for traversing! Even more imaginative are instances where you dig through sand or use snow to make a platform in lava to name a few, adding diversity to the central gimmick of this title that never halts the gameplay.
It is here I believe Onion Assault vastly succeeds; knowing how to use its main mechanic in entertaining and creative ways. Great enemy placements to make you mindful with your jumps is one thing, but you might have to make accurate throws while riding a minecart or ricochet projectiles through using spiderwebs. Furthermore, the opponents are engaging to fight. Be they bouncing soldiers with bazookas, grim reapers casting fire, or goons nonchalantly patrolling, all come together to offer a terrific variety of patterns to learn while dealing with the levels’ innovative designs.
Despite that this might sound simplistic, every aspect is taken into consideration with this minimalism and provides spectacular action. Not to mention, the platforming is excellent by forcing you to be precise with your hops and aware of obstacles, such as falling icicles you have to use as stepping stones in a fast manner. Because of these details, this can be quite a challenging journey. However, it is never unfair, especially since you can see far ahead and easily react to whatever you are encountering.
Yet, you are going to need all the help you can get, no matter how small they are. Extra lives are present and using one will make you restart at the nearest checkpoint, with a game over booting you out of the level. Collecting 50 gold coins will add one more to your insurance number, which can be found laying around or by picking flowers. Hearts to replenish your health of three units can also be acquired from opponents or harvesting blossoms and you can even extend it with two more temporarily if you find a yellow one.
Again, this simplicity makes every item valuable, which I am all for! Even minor details, like how throws are in an arc or how foes must collide with other harmful elements to perish, add to make this title have some neat depths that are easily comprehensible. Finally ending my numerous praises, are the bosses, with each requiring you to avoid their dangerous constructions and use your core ability to take them down. Be it taking out batteries from a machine by jumping on its extending spikes or hurling bombs back at a spider vehicle, there is always great challenges and setups being introduced.
My only criticisms are negligible ones. Knockbacks are light, but still make falling into pits of instant demise annoying. I also believe that the focus on action and a fast pace does come at the cost of evolving the creative ideas implemented, as most are only presented in one or two stages. Luckily, the levels are short enough to make the deaths not a bother and each new concept is exhilarating. With every area being a blast to go through, the two hours of playtime flew by, yet still made for a satisfying run.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
Honestly, the visuals can be a bit difficult to comment on. I do love the notion of figurines going through surreal places, such as jumping between giant windmills while fighting soldiers, surfing on an ocean of fudge using a jellybean, or taking down hockey players on top of snowy mountains with huge popsicles for trees. All are imaginative and make even reused assets fresh thanks to the diverse layouts, with the foes being no slackers either.
What holds it back, can be the lack of texture as it is inconsistent. Some places do have more vibrant usages while others are completely absent of them, making this simplistic style uneven. Although the varied areas and enemies to tackle do help, the graphics could have been better. Thankfully, there are a ton of details to appreciate, such as the effects after smacking opponents into each other or the clouds and stars in the background bouncing to the music’s beats.
Speaking of the soundtrack, it is amazing and once again composed by Arne Hörberg. Every piece contains tons of rhythm and is diverse, be it the foreboding violins inside the castle, mysterious flutes within the treetops, or the tense western piano on top of the canyons. All of these marvellous melodies enhance this project’s world, with the foes taking hits and the exploding bosses being incredibly satisfying to listen to as well.
Presentation Score: 8/10
It is about the quest, not the treasures
Throughout each stage, are three hidden golden tokens that require thorough exploration and creative thinking in order to acquire, all being riveting challenges. What I also love is that the game will save whenever you have gotten one, making it so you are never forced to reach the finish line in order to keep them. Furthermore, every location hints at something odd in the scenery and these trinkets are always placed in your inventory according to where they pop up in comparison, offering subtle nudges to help you in where to look. I just wish you got something for collecting them all, which is sadly not the case. The journey was still fantastic, but a 100% file is not a stellar reward.
Extra Score: 9/10
Similar to Infernax, Onion Assault takes a controversial sequel and makes it into something extraordinary! With a firm understanding of how to make this concept work through excellent level design and imaginative setups, this is arguably better than its inspiration. Hopefully, a sequel will be possible, as there is minor room for improvement, despite that the presentation and replay value are also great! Until then, this is definitely worth adding to your library and spending a cosy day on.