Onion Assault review: beast-mode mama

When it comes to describing Bertil Hörberg’s games, one of two clichés immediately pop into my mind. I either call them a love letter to a classic game that he is obviously paying homage to, or I simply compare it to comfort food, because even though it doesn’t do anything particularly new, it is well-crafted and satisfying because its familiarity. I’m trying my hardest to not go down either route when talking about his new joint, Onion Assault, but I can’t help myself – it takes everything you know about Super Mario Bros. 2 and distills it into a gratifyingly solid interpretation that feels familiar enough to scratch those itches you don’t realize you have until you revisit certain concepts.

Why bother changing a good thing?

For reasons that don’t matter, you play as a shirtless farmer or his mom as they try to chase the (presumably) evil Croquetto Empire from the weird-ass land of Onionia for… reasons. Obviously we don’t need a moral dilemma to get to the business of platforming, but I do like that Onion Assault‘s loose plot gives us an excuse to explore disparate worlds with incongruent enemies. It seems like everything plus the kitchen sink was thrown into this game, and for the most part I think that’s the type of thing that made classic run ‘n jump games so memorable. If you can smash floating bricks and stomp on sentient fungi, then you should be able to pluck vegetables and throw them at caricatures of soldiers without batting an eyelid. The babushka mama is easily in contention for my character of the year.

But I digress.

Unlike its inspiration, Super Mario Bros. 2, Onion Assault eschews any meaningful character style choices and leaves you with a fast-paced hero that I guess would have a move set most analogous to Toad’s. Which is fine – I always use Toad anyways. While that might perceivably limit the avenues you can take or the joy of grasping a certain playstyle, what it does do is make the whole game overall a much tighter experience, in which mastering the mechanics leads to maximizing what you can accomplish. Onion Assault isn’t necessarily hard, but it’s less forgiving then a lot of games of its ilk. Checkpoints are spread a bit further out than your average platformer, and health pick-ups are much sparser. While I appreciate that kind of old-school approach, some might find it a bit off-putting.

Where Onion Assault deviates in fascinating ways is in how it integrates small puzzles into each level. It’s nothing overly clichéd like pushing blocks or anything, but you will find yourself having to suss out how certain elements of the environment or even enemy movements can get you further in. As is customary in Nintendo’s mascot games, they can also lead you to out of reach or secret areas, wherein you can nab one of three coins strewn about each level. Furthermore, the boss battles totally lean into the things you can do while picking up object, including but not limited to jumping on projectiles to hurl them back, looking for attack patterns and even picking them up to carry them somewhere else. Even though it follows the tried-and-true ‘phase’ cadence, they’re all satisfyingly clever.

I wouldn’t deign to call Bertil Hörberg an auteur by any stretch of the imagination, but much like Gunman Clive, Mechestermination Force and Super Punch Patrol this game has his fingerprints all over it. Which is absolutely a good thing – his games take a concept and just run wild with it while still maintaining a quality and consistency that makes me excited to play each and every release. Although he has done platformers before, it’s really nice to see someone give the stylings of Super Mario Bros. 2 a second chance, especially considering its own publisher won’t. Come for the tank-chucking, coin-nabbing hop-n-bopper; stay for the head-scarf-wearing mother who goes beast mode.

Onion Assault was developed by Bertil Hörberg, and it’s available on PC and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Onion Assault was provided by Bertil Hörberg. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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