Onikira: Demon Killer is a side-scroller and the first game out of Digital Furnace Games. The animation has a beautiful, yet dark graphic novel style. Set in feudal Japan, you play the part of a Samurai who must fight to save the world from the power-hungry demons, or "Oni," who are coming forth into the world and attacking mortals. While not gray scale, Onikira features a mostly muted color palette, with bright accents here and there, giving it the feeling of an ancient Japanese watercolor. This look works well for the game and the appearance and resolution of the characters and backgrounds reveal that the game is a modern game, while the side-scrolling nature of the game brings back nostalgia and memories of games of yesteryear, such as Rolling Thunder or, perhaps, Castlevania.
Onikira: Demon Killer has two Game Modes: Story and Challenge Arenas, but let's pretend that there is only Story for now... because that's really a fairly reasonable view.
One thing that sets this game apart from other side-scrollers is the fact that every encounter takes place in a set location, from which you can not leave until the encounter has been completed. This doesn't have to be a room, necessarily, but it will be an area confined by a single screen and your progress will be halted by strange demon... vines, I guess, that sprout up on either side of the "arena". When they spring up, get a good look at what the environment has to offer, as you won't be leaving until the fight is done.
As you progress, you will gain access to new weapons, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The original sword does a decent bit of damage but is slower than the less powerful arm blades, but the arm blades allow for a magnificent flurry of attacks at the press of a single button and can keep you and your enemies in the air for a bit, which, if timed right, can keep you out of harm's way on the ground. The pole weapon features some cool crowd-controlling attacks, but what really sets it apart is its ability to fire a ball of energy, giving you a ranged attack, which can be nice. Another ability you'll gain is the ability to throw a hook out and catch on strategically located rings to zip in their direction, allowing you to move across an area that doesn't have platforms that would otherwise be needed to cross.
In addition to default attacks available with the above mentioned weapons, there are places that you can enter a realm that allows you to trade collected souls for new types of attacks with your weapons. This takes the form of a "store" screen, of sorts, where you can unlock new moves. Personally, I found the control complexity to be hard enough to keep straight with what they show you by default as you proceed through the game.
So, as I mentioned, the other mode is Challenge Arenas, of which there are only three. Each on has its specific goal: killing as many demons as you can within the time limit, doing so without touching the ground or getting as high a score as you can within the time limit. Using the "Reset" when trying the Challenge over doesn't reset everything, so if you complete the level with leftover health, it's still there if you Retry the level. This muddies the waters, a bit, if you're trying to compare your score with a friends, so if you want to make it "fair," you might want to require that each player freshly enter the mode before playing to get their best score, so there's not extra health lying around.
Also, I've earned medals on all three Challenge levels of the game, but only the first one retains my score when I leave and come back. I have also noticed that my scores have been wiped in the Story Mode levels other than the first one. If there's any place that high scores should be retained, it would be in the Challenge Mode. I can enjoy the Story Mode and never know what my score is, but the score is sort of the driving factor behind the Challenge.
There are no settings to control difficulty in Onikira: Demon Killer. You are basically left to play through until you get stuck, then keep replaying until you get past the next checkpoint. If you get past a checkpoint and don't want to have to experience a section again, don't turn the game off until you've gotten past the end of the given level, because continuing your saved game starts you at the beginning of the level you were on, not at the last checkpoint; checkpoints only help within a gaming session and the Continue option starts you at the beginning of a level.
That being said, I found the difficulty level and learning curve to be quite reasonable, at least until I got to the baddies with some sort of force fields. Your mileage may vary, of course, especially depending on your gameplay style. For one thing, if you unlock a lot of moves from the different weapons and switch between them a lot, you could find the difficulty different from mine. Personally, I stuck with the sword from the beginning, then later heavily used the arm blades and then later used the pole arm weapon for its ranged attack, which came in handy in whittling down opponents while staying mostly out of harm's way.
While the artistry in the game is good and the different areas in the levels seem to be nicely laid out, there is a lack of polish that hurts Onikira: Demon Killer - especially in the Challenge Arenas which, as mentioned above, are broken enough to not really be worth consideration. I've had the game lock up on my only once, but there is an option in the Menu for committing Seppuku (honorable ritual suicide)... presumably in case you somehow manage to get stuck somewhere. This is a sword that cuts both ways; it's sad that this is a needed feature, indicating that it's possible to get physically stuck somewhere in the game (or in my case, somehow back in the very early areas of the game after falling through some messed up area of a location during a boss fight), but if there are going to be bugs such as these, at least this option allows you to kill your character and pick up again from your checkpoint.
As of this writing, an update was pushed, automatically installed by my Steam client and... it rendered the game unplayable. I attempted to continue my game and it simply crashes and closes. I checked the forum and found a multitude of similar complaints. Since first playing this game, I've seen it change in various ways, seeing the health gathering dynamic go from something that is the result of your character being changed when he defeats the first boss, to it being due to a wisecracking dragon who joins you on your adventure, only to disappear every time there's going to be a fight. It's good to see a game getting updates to improve it, but it makes it really difficult to try to form an opinion of this constantly changing thing.
The last time I successfully played the game, it had been improved and the Story Mode was enjoyable, but it's important to also point out that these changes are unpredictable. I can share with you what my experience was with the game, but I can't pretend to feel confident that your experience will be similar.
While large and well-established developers can (and have) released updates that render a game unplayable, this might be more common with a nascent game developer, such as Digital Furnace Games. In a smaller dev house, you aren't likely to have fully developed and in-depth quality assurance and testing in place and that makes you more likely to see an update that improves one thing, but breaks something else. What Digital Furnace Games does have going for it is a following of excited fans that they listen to, which is getting them feedback that's necessary to be able to fix these kinds of issues.
If you're considering picking up Onikira: Demon Killer, I would definitely suggest watching for a Steam sale, but I would also advise going to the game's forum on Steam and checking out the latest posts to make sure it's working before making your purchase.
UPDATE: I read on the forum that they determined that much of the issues were due to a Video frame syncing issue, whereby the display could get out of sync and couldn't get synced back up, causing the crash. By unchecking the "VSync" option in the Options Menu, I was able to play the game again and the developer is working on an update to fix this issue. As I said above, your mileage may vary.
Windows Vista SP2/ Windows 7, Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8GHz or AMD Athlon X2 64 2GHz Processor, 2 GB RAM Memory, 256 MB ATI HD3650, 256 MB nVidia 8800 GT, or Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics, DirectX Version 9.0c, 2 GB available HD space, DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound card