Review By Neonblue 29th October 2020
Game Developer: Askiisoft
Available: PC, Xbox, Nintendo (Release October 2020)
Katana Zero is a 2d action platform game that sees you cut your way through each level. Each stage is set to the click of a Walkman playing a lo-fi track and ends with the death of your objective. It’s the 80’s version of the future set in the fictional city called New Mecca. And that’s where I thought the game would remain. I could not predict how things would escalate like a Tarantino plot. If your reading this and you didn’t like the first few stages. I had the same first impression. I urge you to keep going.
You play as the samurai called Zero with no past. The story is seamlessly woven into the mechanics of the game. Zero has an altered perception of time and he can slow time in combat or see the future. In game, his future sight enables him to essentially redo each stage. Learn to understand enemies, environments and work out solutions. Usually I hate repeating stages because I can foresee my whole time is being spent bashing my head against the wall. But in Katana Zero, it never feels punishing because it’s so quick to restart. I didn’t feel the hulk like rage building as I wait for a painful load time. It feels more like exploring different possibilities and experimenting with new strategies. Its fun.
The level design is constantly evolving and its punctuated with an interactive plot. This is where the game really shines. Its a hectic tale that is told with the sensibilities of a 90’s action film. Sometimes scenes skip or are played out of order as Zero is failing to perceives his life chronologically. The story and dialogue feels as dangerous and dynamic as the combat. There’s a timer on your dialogue reply and you have to be on the ball to respond. Don’t let the cute pixels fool you. The dialogue is filled with subtext and the character’s motives are grey. You have to really consider your situation. If your quick, you can choose to be hasty and cut in. Its rude but maybe you wanna be rude. There’s a roleplaying element in that mechanic. Sometimes in order to gain more information, you have to share what you know and you can feel the risk involved with that exchange. But its all an illusion of choice. The decisions lead to the same place but the way it develops feels organic and consequential. I’m impressed. I’m listening to NPC’s spout violence like characters from Breaking Bad. It isn’t Shakespeare but it’s able to elevate 2d sprites into menacing characters.
As you tangle yourself in the intrigue and violence of the story, you will begin to reach boss encounters. Usually I find boss fights to be anticlimactic but Katana Zero had some memorable moments. The game hones your skills with the blade and by the time you reach a boss you know your options. These are well choreographed battles that really let you show off what you’ve learnt. I found myself hooting every time I was able to reach a little bit further in a battle before I had to restart. They’re thrilling and each one have very different designs.
The whole structure of the game is a roller coaster ride. I was happily surprised by how the game turned my expectations on it’s head. It can be challenging at times but highly rewarding. Grab your blade and hit the streets of New Mecca, this is a great addition to your list of games to play this year.