We’ll save you the search: there’s no Super Onion Boy 1 on the Xbox. The original was a browser hit on the PC which didn’t make it to the black box. But now we get the privilege of playing the sequel, and – you know what? – it is a privilege. Super Onion Boy 2 may be a low-thrills platformer, but it polishes the few thrills it has to a pixelated sheen.
The story of Super Onion Boy 2 confuses the hell out of us. Drones carry away all of Super Onion Boy’s vegetable friends, and he’s determined to get them back. But hop into the levels and he’s fighting… vegetables. You can try to hand-wave it by saying that the big-bad has psychic powers over those vegetables, Ratalaika, but we’re killing our friends. It’s as if Sonic went on a forest-creature massacre.
Not that it matters much. Super Onion Boy 2 is one of the best looking and sounding of Ratalaika’s many platformers. There’s nothing particularly detailed about the pixel art, but it’s so relentlessly colourful, consistent in its art style, and well-designed in a knock-off Super Mario 3 way. So many budget games feel like they’re trying to capture an earlier time but come off as cheap. Super Onion Boy 2 feels like a true throwback.
As with platformers of that period, Super Onion Boy 2 has a gimmick. Open a chest, and there’s a roughly 50/50 chance that a potion will drop out of it. These potions are Mario-like suits, offering new powers and effectively an additional health pip (get damaged and the powers disappear, leaving you as you were before you drank the potion).
As gimmicks go, it’s neither new or particularly deep. There’s a ninja suit for double jumps and shuriken-throwing, a wizard that can throw projectiles slightly further than the ninja, a bubble for floating, an invincibility star and, well, that’s it. With the wizard and ninja feeling like riffs on the same theme, it’s not that big of a wardrobe. On a more positive note, there are plenty of other platformers that don’t shift things up at all, so these few outfit changes at least kept us on our toes.
The controls are dirt simple, and force us to invoke Mario again. Jumps are low or high depending on how long you hold the jump button for, and enemies are defeated with a bottom bounce. Many of them have two or three hearts, so you are bottom-bouncing in a sequence to get rid of them. The outfits let you fire missiles, so you don’t always have to rely on your butt.
The levels do just about enough. The best in the genre tend to toss in a new idea every level, but Super Onion Boy 2 can only manage one every few levels or so. They’re linear to a fault, too, rarely giving you reasons to explore, travel up or down, find hidden sections or jump down pipes. There are examples of each, but – we repeat – they are rare. But while the levels are more repetitive than we would have liked, without many nooks and crannies to explore, they’re still tightly constructed. It’s something to do with the combination of strong controls and well-paced levels: they offered a baseline level of enjoyment as we trundled through a level, and it made the lack of innovation easier to swallow.
On the controls front, there are a couple of niggles that are worth airing. Super Onion Boy 2 struggles when things get high tempo. Play as the ninja or wizard and attempt to fire rapidly, and the missiles stutter. Onion Boy doesn’t seem capable of firing weapons consistently or at speed, making the rate of fire a little unpredictable. In boss situations, that gets noticeable.
The bosses themselves are pretty decent, actually. There’s a Dr Robotnik pacing to them, as they crop up after a clutch of seven or eight levels, and they find a sweet-spot of three or four phased attacks, without being overly punishing or complicated. If we were to tune them, we would have preferred to see a visualised life bar, and Super Onion Boy 2 has a frustrating habit of putting checkpoints well before a boss battle, meaning that you have to do some platforming makework if you die.
With 30 levels all-in to play, and those levels registering at about ten minutes each, Super Onion Boy 2 feels like good value for the £4.99. Like most Ratalaika games, you will notch 1000G after about 30% of the game’s play time, and – for once – we wish it didn’t. Some Gamerscore bloops spread over the course of the entire game would have been a nice carrot, as Super Onion Boy 2 was well worth playing to the end. Squint a bit and set your expectations a little lower than the comparison might imply, and it feels like some Super Mario 3 lost levels.
While Super Onion Boy 2 doesn’t have a huge number of layers, it consistently outstripped our expectations. If you’ve got a hankering for some old-school, 8-bit platforming thrills, without any concerns about bugs or quibbles, then Super Onion Boy 2 is cheap and plenty cheerful.
You can buy Super Onion Boy 2 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S