OneChanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-03-02 Wii Action M (Mature) D3P / Tamsoft

Chicks running around in bikinis killing zombies - a surefire formula to draw in most male gamers, but what about women? As one could probably predict, it takes a pretty open-minded female gamer to appreciate what OneChanbara has to offer, and luckily I'm one of them.

OneChanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers (along with its Xbox 360 accompaniment Bikini Samurai Squad) brings the cult favorite from Japan to North American shores as players are sent on a zombie killing journey as sisters Aya and Saki. In the game's Story mode, players can initially choose from either Aya or Saki as their playable character, and then make their way through each character's eight chapters.

As you begin each chapter, a scrolling wall of English text accompanies a Japanese language voiceover with the text attempting to explain the reason for the seemingly spontaneous appearance of the legion of undead, why Saki and Aya are the only ones who seem to fight them, and what (if anything) can be done to stop them.

As the current story really starts in Bikini Samurai Squad, players who opt for the Wii "version" of the game are unfortunately going to be quite confused. Chapters come in two forms: longer "city-exploring" missions that have you running around hospital corridors, through underground industrial complexes and subways, and even deserted city streets as you face off against the undead scourge, and "boss" levels, that see you locked in single room, like a chapel or cave, facing wave after wave of zombies until eventually one of the game's three other characters (including the sister you are not currently playing as) force you to battle them.

The other two characters, Misery and Reiko, are unlocked as you complete each sister's story, and can then be chosen at the character selection screen, to round out the title with 32 playable missions (eight chapters for each of the four girls). As you play as Reiko, the game's story starts to make some bit of sense, but is never truly explained in the way you would traditionally expect, not to mention that the fact that you have to play the game at least once before getting to any sort of explanation is a big negative.

In a bit of a nutshell, something called the Baneful Blood has the power to apparently (that is, from what I could gather from such a jumbled presentation) control not only the undead army, but also all four characters within the game. Once each playable character is covered with enough blood (an inevitable outcome from killing dozens, even hundreds of zombies in some levels), they enter into a Rampage state that increases their attack strength, but in exchange, causes them to slowly lose health and receive greater damage from attacks.

In Aya's case, the Baneful Blood's effects are left simply at causing her to become enraged, but for characters like Saki, who has a weird fetish with having her body covered in blood, and Misery, who is literally kept alive by drinking the stuff, the Baneful Blood's overarching effect becomes more noticeable.

Unlike the other three characters, Reiko is less susceptible to the Blood's power, and thus takes longer to enter into Rampage mode, presumably because she is a clone of the scientist who first discovered its power, and the fact that the undead seem to be created by a chemical reaction underground caused by man's over-pollution of the world, and as a clone, she does not suffer from the same weaknesses as humans "born from the Earth". If any of this has you scratching your head, you're not alone, as it took all four character playthroughs for me to understand as much as I do, and I still feel a bit lost.

The other big difference between the characters concerns their basic fighting styles. Each girl comes equipped with a sword, which will easily see you through to the end of gameplay, but can also engage in a character specific combat mode. In Aya's case, she trades out one sword for two, Saki switches to hand-to-hand combat, Reiko equips a couple of guns, and Misery's sword extends to a staggering length, allowing you to damage faraway enemies much more effectively than you could otherwise.

Even with this attempt at variety, the gameplay itself is incredibly repetitive. Swinging your sword is entirely motion based, and sees you flinging the Wii-mote around like a lunatic as you attempt to slaughter everything in your path. Movement is achieved via the nunchuk's control stick, with the shaking of the nunchuk itself allowing your character to kick at foes, a necessary technique when facing zombie police officers or soldiers, who often guard themselves from your attacks.

No matter which character you play as, the story leads you through the same eight environments, albeit in a different order for each girl or with reversed layouts for specific levels (that is, where you finished the level with one character is where you begin it as another), and you are faced with the same types of zombies, each of which poses little to no threat to your safety, and in fact can be avoided entirely until you are forced to battle them in the aforementioned "locked in a room" sequences.

Even with the game providing multiple difficulty levels, your ability to madly swing the Wii-mote, often attacking every zombie within range at the same time enables you to make quick work of your foes, without taking so much as a single hit. Boss battles become a bit more complicated, as each girl is far more skilled in combat than any of the undead enemies, but even then they are a walk in the park, easily defeated by rapidly swinging the Wii-mote, and bashing on the A button to dodge their attacks.

All of that being said, it's probably no surprise that the game is short, in fact really short, with each story being easily completed in around an hour, even if you take the time to kill every last zombie that shows up on screen. Luckily, there are other modes with which to occupy your time, including Free Play and Survival modes, which send you back through the same environments, killing the same zombie foes, but this time allow you to complete quests (like finishing a level without taking a hit) in order to unlock new costumes for the girls.

While all of this combines into a very shallow, repetitive experience, there is something strangely addictive about the entire package, addictive in the way that most bizarre Japanese games tend to be. For guys, there's the definite draw of scantily clad females, but in my case, there's a weirdly satisfying feeling that arises after slicing dozens of zombies into pieces, or cutting off their heads or entire upper bodies and watching what's left aimlessly wander through the environment.

However, where the gameplay has its fair share of fun moments, the graphics themselves aren't so hot. Sure, covering your screen with arterial spray is a nice touch (even more so since you can pick from a variety of blood colors), but the zombies themselves, along with basically everything else in the game, are a bit of a sloppy mess, and not just sloppy because they're covered in blood and sinew.

Additionally, the sound effects could have used a bit more thought, as the game is filled with the same dozen or so sounds for swords clashing with flesh, and the grunts and moans of the girls as they run or are attacked. Conversely, the voice acting is quite nice, and even though entirely Japanese, does a nice job of conveying emotion. Walking the line in terms of quality is the soundtrack, which is a weird collection of J-pop tunes that is outwardly a really odd fit for the genre, but somehow works, that is, if you are willing to experience the game as the strange "so absurd it's great" package that it is.

Even though it's been said before, it wouldn't hurt saying again: OneChanbara is a pretty shallow game, even by my incredibly open-minded standards. For those who see Zombie in the title and expect something along the lines of Resident Evil 4, you will find yourself incredibly mistaken. However, for those who can accept the game for what it is, without comparing it to other games that do the "zombie thing" in a much better way, OneChanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers is not a terrible way to spend some time.

Special thanks to Gryphon Ward and D3P for providing a copy of this title.