Overall Score 75%
A lone warrior enters the arena. Proficient with an array of deadly weapons, he stands waiting in the arena centre. The gates open. Swarms of deadly creatures emerge, their only goal - destroy our gladiator. Let the onslaught begin!
"Onslaught! Arena" is a retro-style top-down combat game in a similar vein to the likes of Gauntlet and Robotron. Indeed, it borrows the latter's control system - you move around the arena with one set of keys and fire in an independent direction with another set, or with mouse. Your hero is faced with a series of ever more difficult waves of different enemies, each with their own styles of attack and movement, and your task is to destroy them all. Every tenth wave is a "boss" enemy, defeat of which will allow you to continue from that point in future games rather than battling through from the beginning.
Enemies are varied and all have their own abilities and weaknesses. They also have names, though these are not shown in-game. Part of the challenge of each wave is to identify how to avoid and to defeat each enemy type. Contact with enemy weapons drains your health; contact with enemies themselves even more so. Your default weapon is the sword, which can be thrown at enemies to cause damage, but there are limited bonus weapons available such as axes, spears and fireballs. Each of these will give you a set number of shots until they run out, at which point you return to your trusty sword. Different weapons have different traits, and you may find some better than others, but all weapons will damage all enemies. Other pickups include coins and treasure chests, which earn you points, and meat, which restores a little lost health.
Unusually, "Onslaught" is played in a web browser and features some delightfully retro graphics. There's no full screen option, but you can double the pixel size. Bright and colourful, I have no idea what some of the things attacking me are but it doesn't really matter - they all need killing, and telling them apart is the main thing! I had a few moments of lag but that could have been background tasks on my computer - mostly it runs smoothly. Sound effects are also delightfully retro - lots of bleeps and bloops accompany actions, as does an 8-bit soundtrack. You can turn the audio on or off within the game but you can't choose music or sound effects individually.
It took a little time for me to get the hang of the controls - indeed, some people have commented on the developer's support page that the key mapping is awkward for some (especially those who are left handed). Firing diagonally with the keyboard is often tricky. Things improved greatly for me when I discovered I could use the mouse to aim and fire - this is definitely the preferred method, as it allows much more precision. With keyboard, you are limited to the main eight directions. Learning how to defeat the more unusual enemy types was fun - mindless blasting doesn't always work.
"Onslaught! Arena" contains fifty waves, every tenth being a boss fight - defeat the boss to reach the next checkpoint. You can either play from the beginning or continue from the furthest reached checkpoint (so if, for instance, you reach wave 13, you can start again from wave 1 or skip to wave 11). There are global high scores for those out for points - a hint here: don't get hurt. Taking damage loses you points. It's quick to get into and surprisingly addictive. Once you figure out how to defeat that new type of monster, you'll be itching to try out your new strategy.
I've not encountered many issues with this game. It's a very simple concept and it delivers rather well. The biggest issue is the lack of any clear documentation - mouse control, for instance, is brilliant, but I didn't realise it was available for some time. Tutorial style hints are shown at the top of the screen but I didn't notice them at first, having spent the first few runs through trying to avoid enemies! The monsters all have names, but I only found this out when looking for screenshots and it would be nice to see them listed somewhere. The lack of settings, possibly a limitation of the Chrome/web browser interface, is also a disappointment, and having the audio on/off option only available in the main game itself is rather odd. I also encountered a strange quirk when I switched the sound off, then switched it on again in my next game - I had sound effects but no music until the next wave, when the music started up.
An odd little game, "Onslaught! Arena" is a retro offering in more ways than just the audiovisual. No plot, no cutscenes, no complicated levelling systems. Just wave after wave of carnage! It's suitable for relatively young players, as the violence and gore is minimal, but I suspect it will be an older market that particularly goes for this game. Those 8-bit graphics make me feel nostalgic...
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