OneShot was originally developed as an RPG Maker 2003 title released in 2014, where it garnered a decent following as far as I can tell. To the point where the creative team behind the game chose to remake and remaster their work for a retail release, complete with an updated game engine. With that backstory out of the way, I should begin by stating that I consider myself to be friends with Eliza Velasquez, one of the developers of OneShot, and she graciously provided me with a code for that game. I will try to be as impartial as can be with this review, but it’s best to disclose these sort of things right away.
Developer: Team OneShot
Now then, OneShot is a puzzle-adventure game that centers around Niko, a cute little kid with cat-like features who finds herself in a dark and unfamiliar world. A world that is on the verge of destruction after the loss of its sun, which takes the form of a lightbulb for some reason, and can only be saved by Niko, the prophesied messiah of this realm. However, Niko is not alone in this quest, as they are guided by none other than the player. This is the primary crux of OneShot, and its greatest strength.
As the game goes on, the player is given several opportunities to actively help Niko in their quest, advising them on how to interact with the world, what items to combine, and how to solve puzzles. These can be presented via traditional gameplay where the player is tasked with controlling Niko, but also by acknowledging itself as a game, or more specifically, a computer game. OneShot features some of the most interesting usage of a game’s system I’ve ever seen as it hides secrets away in the documents folder, desktop, or even the game files themselves. It is a novel concept that is well portrayed mechanically, and is tied into a greater narrative about the purpose of both the player and Niko in this world that culminates in a conclusion that severed as one of the more emotionally unsettling choices I recall ever having to make in a game. Which is only because of how enticing Niko, the world, and the ancillary characters they encounter on their journey.
Niko is not a particularly nuanced character, as they are very much just a regular and well behaved child, one with a very cat-like face, but they still manage to prove to be incredibly endearing after spending only a few hours with them. They are kind to all of those who they encounters, regardless of their role, regularly asks the player questions and engages them in conversations, and never lets the messiah thing get to their head. They are steadfast with their adventure, and while they might be frightened, confused, and even remorseful about certain things, they are never whiny or anything shy of adorable.
The secondary characters unfortunately lacks such levels of detail, mostly due to how they are only confined to one or two scenes before departing from the plot after allowing Niko to carry on with their quest for salvation and sunlight. However, they manage to all express a defined personality within that time, feature a design that is well worth remembering, and offer something different to the story, enriching it in the process. They also handle this messiah thing very calmly, never questioning Niko in their actions, or the entire situation, which I just found to be refreshing.
While the world manages to hold a lot of intricacies for something that is so geographically small, and such a background element to the main story. The structure of the society, geology of the land, technological progress, urban development, and even genetic diversity of this world are all explored in enough detail to have grabbed my attention from early on. I actively wanted to explore and learn more about this unnamed nation/planet, and while the story does not fully deliver in fleshing things out, there is enough present here to make the setting of OneShot feel actualized in a way that is sometimes overlooked in other games.
This is made all the more enjoyable and digestible by how the world of OneShot is constructed. Environments are kept small and compact, there are enough geographical signifiers to prevent maps from blending into one another, travel is made easier by a handy dash button, and in case the player doesn’t wish to backtrack, they can easily fast travel to any previously visited screen in the current area. It’s easy to dismiss this as a minor detail, but it serves as a quality of life improving time saver in a way I really appreciate.
As for what exactly is done while traveling around the world, beyond bridging the gap between the game worlds and the world of the player’s computer, gameplay follows the core tenets of traditional adventure games. Using items on objects in the world, combining things, or partaking in a largely unrelated puzzle in order to progress. While none of this is done poorly, it can come across as lethargic at points. It’s mostly straightforward and sensible throughout, but there were some moments where I was stuck, and two in particular where I had to pull out a pen and paper to figure things out. Two puzzles that really did not contribute much of anything beyond fulfilling some sort of puzzle quota the game really did not need to meet.
Moving onto the presentation, the world of OneShot is given a more dreary tone than one might expect. Darker colors are used liberally, though diversely enough to give every area its own defined color scheme. The soundtrack mostly consists of ambient themes that support an oppressive atmosphere. While things are kept disheveled enough to support the narrative that this is a dying world. Which is not to say that OneShot ever feels too foreboding or intense, as the art direction favors sillier and cuter designs, the bubbly nature of many characters prevent things from being dire, and with Niko around, it’s hard to not be a little bit happy.
This distinctive tone is further enhanced by a series of illustrations that represent NIko’s home world, and detailed pixel art images that are used effectively throughout the game, both of which showcase the artistic talent of the artist of the game, Casey Gu, though her talents are clearly better suited to more traditional artwork rather than sprite work. In comparison to some excellent looking illustrations, most of the character sprites either look a little rough, or a bit too simple.
Niko in particular is scantily detailed, with their arms only being a pixel wide, body lacking much in regards to simulated shading, and animations being limited to only a few poses. While not distracting, this sort of thing is very noticeable given the high bar that has been set for modern sprite work and pixel art. Environments fare better, but still have a somewhat stilted look to them, and assume a blocky nature in their construction.
Beyond minor hang ups like that, which I probably only really cared about because I played through the game twice, OneShot manages to be an interesting and compelling little adventure game. One that manages to fit in nicely amongst the kings of metagames that have been on the rise over the past few years, shoulder to shoulder with likes of The Stanley Parable, Undertale, Pony Island, and, at least from what I’ve been told, SuperHot. The characters and world are vastly enjoyable, with Niko being one of my favorite protagonists in recent memory, and the interaction with the game outside of the game itself is a wildly interesting concept I won’t soon forget.