Version tested: Xbox 360
The opening cut-scene tells you all you need to know about Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad. The title tells you all you need to know actually, but anyway. A bottom is having a shower. It's all rosy and rounded and pert, like two boiled eggs wrapped in a velvet handkerchief. Steam rises as the bottom sways gently under the cascading water. The aesthetic is only ruined by a dirty great tramp stamp, which is probably supposed to be the Celtic symbol for peace or serenity or dolphins but looks more like a Rorschach test for whether you're likely to kill dogs.
Cut to another room in the same apartment. A pre-pubescent girl in a school uniform is watching a news report about zombies. She shouts something to the bottom, which turns out to be attached to a hot chick. The Hot Chick races into the lounge, her modesty protected only by a pot plant in the foreground, where she pulls on a pair of microscopic pants and prepares for battle.
What would you equip yourself with in this situation? A kevlar vest, perhaps? Camouflage gear? A nice pair of sensible shoes? Don't be ridiculous. The most suitable attire for fighting an army of flesh-hungry mutants is a bikini, thigh-high boots, a feather boa and a cowboy hat. For everyone knows that zombies have no fear of military operatives, but are terrified of strippers and Venga Boys.
So yes, you'll probably have the measure of Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad by the end of the first cut-scene. If not, you'll have the measure of it within five seconds of playing the first level. This is how long it takes to work out what you're supposed to do for the entirety of the game (kill all the monsters) and how you're supposed to do it (mash all the buttons).
It's good fun, for the first ten minutes. Slashing enemies to bits is easy and enjoyable, and the visuals are satisfyingly spurty. It's possible to sever the torsos of several enemies at a time without difficulty, and watch as their bottom halves wander helplessly about. It's not long before Hot Chick is covered in blood, great big splashes of it dripping off her feather boa and pooling in the brim of her cowboy hat.
But it's also not long before you notice the game features the kind of rotten clichs that ought to have been outlawed ten years ago. There are invisible walls everywhere, so even though your character is spectacularly acrobatic, she can't jump over a foot-high fence. Enemies are pitifully slow and thick. To stop you just racing past them to the next exit, you're regularly trapped in confined areas by fences which magically appear out of the ground. You can't jump over them, as they're a whole three feet high, so you just have to keep slashing away at enemies until the fences disappear. Sometimes you'll need a key to access the next area, but it'll be nowhere to be found. Once again, it's a matter of mowing down zombies until the key magically appears.
The combat is similarly hackneyed and repetitive. Most enemies can be dispatched with a single button press, but hold down two buttons at once and you can perform a supremely effective combo move that stops time and takes out all enemies in the immediate vicinity. Fun at first, dull after the 1587th time. Even the first boss can be defeated just by performing this move again and again. He won't get the chance to take a swipe at you, and you'll topple him without sustaining a scratch.
If you want to mix things up a bit - and you undoubtedly will, more than, say, you've ever wanted to have sex with anyone in your life - you can use the left trigger to switch control between Hot Chick and Pre-Pubescent Schoolgirl. They each have special moves and combos, but are equally good at decking zombies. I'd go with Hot Chick for preference. This is because the way the Pre-Pubescent Schoolgirl's skirt flies up at the slightest provocation, revealing her tiny white pants and very nearly her Coco Hernandez, makes me feel uncomfortable.
Though not quite as much as the animation of her in the costume-customisation tool, where she jiggles up and down in just a bra and knickers, and you can rotate the camera underneath her so... Yeah. You can call me a prude or a miserable old dried-up feminist lesbian if you like, or just a lesbian for knowing you can do that with the camera. But this girl is not so much "barely legal" as "barely eligible for the key stage 3 assessment exam".
Besides, Hot Chick has bigger tits, and they waggle about in a way that makes the Dead or Alive girls look like they're wearing sports bras. The tits move independently from Hot Chick's body at almost all times, as if they have not just a life of their own but a job, a mortgage, a long-term relationship and a Facebook account.
There's also a third character you can play as, called Busty Policewoman. (Actually her name is Annna. Sic.) Unlike Hot Chick and Pre-Pubescent Girl, who are armed with samurai swords, Busty Policewoman is equipped with guns. Two pistols, an Uzi and a shotgun, to be precise. She's not brilliant at firing them though, even if you've got a lock-on, so you probably won't be too bothered about her after a while.
In fact you won't be too bothered about anything, as you'll find yourself running round the same old dull, cramped environments, killing the same old shambling zombies using the same old button presses. It's all so monotonous and effortless I started to wonder if I was missing something, so I turned to the instructions sent with the game. (Yes, perhaps I should have done this earlier. Or, perhaps the game should have provided me with some helpful guidance as I went along, as has been the custom since 1993.)
It does indeed transpire the combat system is much more complex than it appears. There are upward slashes, jumping kicks, taunts, counter attacks and all manner of other moves to perfect. There are combos with names like Chaotic Luster Maelstrom and Energy Wave Ecstasy Attack. Most of these are insanely complicated. The Cool Combo, for example, billed as "the toughest combo to perform in the game", is explained over the course of three pages, seven paragraphs and 650 words. Though from what I can tell it could be summarised as "keep pressing X ".
Then there's Rampage Mode, which characters enter when they are totally covered in blood. It makes them move twice as fast and deliver double the damage. Great, except they also take double the damage, and their health meter drains constantly. Which makes it one of the more rubbish berserker modes ever invented, especially when you consider the only way to stop Rampage Mode is to finish the level, die, visit something called a Goddess Statue, or use a Goddess Statue Fragment (of which you can only carry three at a time).
The instructions are full of nonsense like this. Take this excerpt from the section on Ecstasy Attacks: "Additionally if the Ecstasy Meter of any character, other than Annna, fills and they do not use an Ecstasy Attack, then the inactive character's Ecstasy Meter will also begin to fill. The inactive character's Ecstasy Meter will fall if the active character is not attacking enemies." Aaaa.
I tried. I went back to the game and attempted to perform some of the combos, to apply some of the knowledge, to give a toss about Yellow Orbs and Vitality Points and the fact that the duration of Clear Sight Mode can be lengthened by the use of the Clear Sight Bracelet. I failed. Because why bother, when the level of challenge is so low you can get by with button-mashing anyway?
Perhaps because you're the kind of person who loves getting to grips with complicated control systems, working out flashy combos and deciphering pages of poorly-written instructions. Even so, why bother when all you'll get for your trouble is yet more boring environments, thick enemies, pathetic bosses and stupid cut-scenes? This game looks and plays like it was made 15 years ago, and fans of the genre have had much better titles to choose from since then.
Many of those have had better co-op modes, too, than the dreadful split-screen offering in Onechanbara. Just navigating your way around is painful, thanks to a camera that's terrifically slow to rotate. There are also some fundamental design flaws; for example, when you pull off that oh-so-useful combo move that stops time for your enemies, it also stops time for your partner. Whatever manoeuvre they might be in the middle of, they have to watch and wait until you're done.
Even if you're playing on your own there's an awful lot of watching and waiting, as the loading times are appalling. The developers must have been aware of this, as they turned the loading screen into a funny little mini-game. You control a 2D cartoon version of Hot Chick, who runs around slashing up cartoon zombies. It's all quite cute and engaging, the first time round. When it's 90 minutes later, and you've spent what feels like 87 of those minutes staring at the loading screen, it's not so cute. You just want to feed cartoon Hot Chick to the cartoon zombies, feet first, so they can see the whites of her eyes as they lick out the insides of her knees.
There's nothing wrong with a good, solid hackandslasher that doesn't pretend to be anything else. But this game is fundamentally flawed, from the daft control system to the bizarre difficulty curve to the appalling presentation. Yes, it's got semi-naked ladies in it, but is that really enough to make it worth playing? The internet is full of naked ladies these days, and you can see it going in and out, and most of them are old enough to remember a time when Princess Diana was alive.
Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad might have been enjoyable, in a silly, disposable way, if the gameplay was halfway decent. It isn't, and not even the nicest bottom in the world can make up for that.
3 / 10