March 11, 2014 12:45 PM | Lena LeRay
"It's kind of like a mix of moguri tataki and bingo," game designer Yoshiro Kimura told me in Japanese when I sat down to play Million Onion Hotel at BitSummit.
"What's moguri tataki?" I asked.
"Uh...." He patted his onion hat, unable to think of a good way to explain it. "Well, you'll see when you play the game."
He was right about that. It turns out that moguri tataki means whack-a-mole, and Million Onion Hotel combines it with bingo, cute yet strange Japanese aesthetics, and a goofy story in a way that makes for some of the best raw fun you can have with a touch screen.
Yoshiro Kimura is one of three people on the Onion Games team, all of whom are experienced game developers. Kimura worked on the Romancing SaGa games for Squaresoft and was behind a cult-classic original PlayStation game called Moon. Kazuyuki Kurashima worked on Moon as well, though he also has Super Mario RPG in his background, while Tom Ikeda has worked on games such as Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility. Million Onion Hotel, however, isn't like any of those games.
In terms of story, the Million Onion Hotel has long existed at the border of two countries, not really a part of either. It serves a special "magical onion soup", which has drawn the elite from far and wide to taste it. No one ever tried to describe the taste of the soup to others, though it made them happy. Maybe the soup had a secret power which kept them quiet. One night, though, some of the esteemed guests found themselves sucked into a far off galaxy. Perhaps they drank too much of the magical soup. Regardless, it's up to the player to rescue them.
When the game starts, the player is presented with a time limit and a 5x5 onion patch. The onions pop up from the ground at random, and tapping them nets the player some points and some more time to play. When an onion is tapped away, the space it was in also turns red. Getting five red spaces in a row makes a bingo, netting the player both points and more time. Making multiple bingos simultaneously, however, is really where it's at, activating a bonus mode (in space) with fruit popping up for a great many bonus points each. There's no penalty for letting an onion drop back into the ground if you want to save the space it's in for a combo, though you'll have to wait for it to come back up, which means trying to hard for combos can turn into a race against time.
As the game goes along, you start seeing different things coming out of the ground. Armored onions take multiple hits; bombs take multiple hits and need to be removed before they can explode; asparagus stalks have to be forced out of the ground with a great many hits. The pace ramps up and it's hard not to laugh while tapping frantically at the screen, but just when one's shoulders are starting to get too tense the game gives the player a break to keep them from losing from fatigue.
The BitSummit demo ended right before what looked like a boss fight, and there are a lot of things in the trailer above that weren't in the demo. The demo was a solid taste of what's to come, though, and I suspect that Million Onion Hotel is going to be its own kind of magic soup, bringing happiness to everyone who plays it. It certainly made BitSummit attendees happy enough to take both the audience and media choice awards.
No solid release date or price have yet to be announced, but the game will be an iOS-only release. Kimura is calling it a poem, and as unique and fine-tuned as it already seems, that seems like as good a thing to call it as any.