is probably the best way to miss the New York City skyline whizz by your window.
December 29 2021
This is the first entry in a column I'm titling "Strange Journeys", where I examine interesting (and often cheap) video games.
The human race works tirelessly in order to break our cycle of suffering, whether to achieve Nirvana or retire early. Everybody probably believes in peace and love deep down, but do they think it's achievable? This is what Million Onion Hotel contemplates when you're not frantically tapping your iPhone screen and when it's not showing you nude 16-pixel-high characters give each other one smooch.
I purchased Million Onion Hotel for 99 cents before taking the Amtrak Northeast Regional to New England, and I played a few rounds on the train. This was my first experience with Onion Games, the cult heralded creators of Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, though it was not my first experience with the Luv-de-lic family tree given that I started Chulip. I can firmly tell you here that Million Onion Hotel is the best mobile game I've played since I first played Downwell around when it came out, and that was the best mobile game I'd played since that app were you pretend to drink beer.
Million Onion Hotel appears before the first-time player like Whack-a-mole; things pop up, and you hit them to make them go away. This occurs on a 5x5 grid, and further whacking reveals creating a row of whacked moles clears the board and rewards you with a time bonus. You have a limited time in this Hotel, and the only way to lose is to run out. What the player may not realize is that it is much better to try and line up multiple lines at once, which will send you to space to get higher scores, more time, and onion knights to use in the boss battles.
These boss battles are the other flavor of game Million Onion Hotel provides. They all work the same. Bosses can lose HP when you tap an onion (pathetically weak), or an onion knight (pretty nice), but can only do so when their shield is down. During the boss fights, your timer freezes, but goes down when you are hit. This transforms it into your HP, but it follows the same rules if it reaches 0, game over. Bosses can smack you with an unstoppable move, so the best strategy is to stock up on time and onion knights before the fight.
The rules, which themselves are simple, play off one another, producing an arcade-style long game where getting multi-matches in the standard mode will allow you to have the time to defeat the bosses. Reversely, defeating the bosses quickly will allow you to have more time, and therefore more leeway, in the next standard-mode segment.
Plotting to create these combos is immensely enjoyable, especially because it gets increasingly easy to fuck it up. You see, if a player pays attention to only the match they wish to make, they may tap an onion that forms a match they weren't intending. The introduction of other enemy types makes this more difficult. You may need to get rid of some creature who will subtract from your time if you let him go unwhacked. However, he may be in a spot that will trigger a single match and destroy your combo set up. It gets complicated!
I have some gripes with the puzzling -- I find the late game so chaotic that although I am able to win, I cannot play with any strategy like I can in the earlier levels. I would normally just say "I'm bad at the game" but I'm not sure how it is possible to make combos intentionally when there are so many dangerous things on screen to get rid of.
Aside from the gameplay, the most notable thing is it's vibes. Smothered on top of this game is a fine gravy of bizarre style. Recalling the weirdo-Japan style of Nintendo SPD 1's Warioware and Rhythm Heaven, the aesthetics of this game shine. Faced onion bulbs and asparagus stalks wriggle their way out of the grid earth and sing when they are tapped. Rolling Thank-You-Bag-Smiley-Face "onion eaters" open their mouths and the horrible sound of laughing babies comes out. Some dude keeps saying "Peace and Love". The onions singing almost brings this game to rhythm game territory, if only because tapping them to a rhythm allows you to be the improvisor to your own personal jazz solo played on the onion. The game is definitely something one can zone into, the way Pac-man is (though Million Onion Hotel, unfortunately, is no Pac-man), with its arcadic frenzy and constant attention requirement. I will never know what landmarks I may have missed looking at this on the train.
In between chunks of gameplay, Million Onion Hotel puts on the kind of action movie plot that appears to be the collaboration between a very old man and a very young child. A mustachioed man takes a young woman to a hotel room. The woman shoots the man to death. His pacer, upon the stopping of his heart, sets off his countries nuclear codes. Wait, hold on, isn't this the plot of "The Garden of Forking Paths"? The plot, spoiler, ends with Peace Robots demanding peace from all the countries in the world, who refuse and blow up the robots, triggering nuclear bomb detonators which destroy all life on Earth. "Now, the world is peaceful," the game says, "Good work; good job; congratulations,".
When the messiah of peace and love comes to us, will we be able to accept them? Will we be able to persuade our governments to not shoot them? I'm afraid the answer is no. I'm afraid "peace and love " has, too, been turned into an empty signifier, and I can't even recognize what it looks like. Is this what Million Onion Hotel thinks? Is this even what it's talking about? Fuck if I know, this game has a moment where rich people drink magic soup and they all suddenly lose their clothes (including the hired mariachi band), kiss their lovers, and immediately get crushed by a falling roof. There are many ways to kill time on a train, and perhaps just as many which involve aligning objects in a row on a grid, but I can assure you with no further research that very few will be anything like Million Onion Hotel.
"Million Onion Hotel" by Onion Games is available for iOS and Android on their respective app stores for $4.49, though as of writing it is on sale on the Apple App Store for $0.99
Next up on "Strange Journeys": Burnout Paradise (2008)