If you’ve played Bertil Hörberg’s Gunman Clive and its direct sequel on 3DS, Wii U, or Switch, then the developer’s latest effort, Onion Assault, will look immediately familiar to you. But while the former two titles were undoubtedly inspired by the Mega Man franchise, Onion Assault instead feels like an homage to Nintendo’s own Super Mario Bros. 2 (originally Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, of course). It’s a well-made game that shines in all the right places, but it also proves to be an occasionally frustrating experience and, sadly, one that probably won’t be quite as memorable as the developer’s previous efforts.
Onion Assault stars two playable main characters: Pelle Lok, a topless brute of a man, and his mother, Mama Lok, who wears an apron and a pair of oven mitts that double for boxing gloves. Both characters sport a similar stocky stature as those in Gunman Clive, along with the same bushy eyebrows that Mechstermination Force’s main character boasted. There’s no difference in how the Loks control, so your choice here is purely based on which one appeals to you aesthetically.
At the start of the game, Pelle and Mama’s home is invaded by a bunch of soldiers with curiously square-shaped heads. While the soldiers fail in their endeavour and gain their fair share of bumps and bruises, this doesn’t stop Pelle and Mama from setting off to get their revenge and rid the world of this dangerous force. As far as the plot goes, that’s pretty much all there is to it, but like the retro platformers from which Onion Assault takes inspiration, you really don’t need much more context than that to appreciate what comes next.
Once you’re done choosing your character (and you can switch between stages, by the way), you’re off to make your way through a total of 16 levels across four main areas. Each area contains four levels, and when you get to the end of each area, you’ll come face-to-face with a formidable boss character to test your skills. It’s not a particularly lengthy game — you’re probably looking at around 2-3 hours from start to finish — but you can revisit previous stages to pick up any coins you might have missed.
In terms of the core gameplay, Onion Assault feels very similar to Super Mario Bros. 2. Your only method of attack is to jump on top of items (mostly onions, of course) and enemies, haul them up, and chuck them off the edge of a cliff or into other enemies. It’s straightforward and easy to understand, and the mechanic is used creatively in certain parts. For example, you can pick up mounds of snow and chuck them on top of one another to allow for a makeshift ledge, letting you reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
For as simple as the gameplay is, however, it can feel quite imprecise. There will be frequent moments where you’ll need to jump and throw an object at the same time to get a bit more distance on your attack, but your timing will need to be impeccable; we missed our targets more times than we’d like (often by a mere sliver), and although there’s nearly always another item or enemy just waiting to be picked up, it can be frustrating to have your progress momentarily halted due to the smallest imprecision your aim.
Basic platforming is solid for the most part, but there are undoubtedly moments where the physics feel a bit off. One of the later levels includes structures that breeze back and forth in the wind, and this movement also affects how your character jumps. Logically, it makes sense, but when you try and leap across to an adjacent platform only to have your momentum halted and your character stop in mid-air before dropping, it feels less enjoyable than it perhaps could with a minor tweak or two.
These gripes aside, however, Onion Assault is pretty slick, and once you get used to how the physics behave and how to tackle each enemy type, you’ll be racing through the stages in no time. The boss characters also present unique challenges that we absolutely loved, including the requirement to throw bombs onto a spider’s web, causing them to bounce up into the air and smash into a robot crawling on the ceiling.
Looking at the overall presentation, Onion Assault is exceptionally charming, though there are some minor drawbacks. On the plus side, the visuals are bold and colourful, and certain environmental objects like flowers, clouds, and coins will bop along to the beat of the music, which is a lovely little touch. Conversely, the cel-shaded visuals definitely lack detail in certain areas, and a lot of assets, from enemies to environmental objects, are repeated frequently throughout, causing an undeniable sense of repetition.
Despite stumbles, Onion Assault does a heck of a lot right with its basic premise. It’s oozing with creativity throughout and does a great job of reminding us of simpler times when games weren’t overloaded with optional systems, endless skill trees, and upgrade mechanics. For the low asking price, you’ll have a good old time with this one.
Onion Assault is a worthy purchase if you’re looking for a short, breezy platformer that pays homage to an off-the-wall Nintendo classic. While there are some annoyances sprinkled throughout — some imprecise platforming, finicky physics, and repeated visual assets — there’s enough here to provide a couple of hours’ worth of enjoyment, at least; maybe a bit more if you’re looking to grab all of the collectible coins. Onion Assault may not prove as memorable as the developer’s previous games, but it’s worth playing nonetheless.