The future, a time of lasers, neon and a samurai sword? Such is the world of Katana ZERO, a side-scrolling pixel platformer with a hint of puzzle to it. You play a samurai war hero, The Dragon, who is now employed to carry out hits against certain individuals. By whom and why are some of the questions that will be answered as you play the game, because more than that would be major spoilers.
As you play each level, your mission is usually to kill everyone so that you can continue to the next one. Use your sword, thrown objects that you pick up, and environmental objects to carry out this task - which isn’t easy. To aid you in this, you don’t actually play each mission, you plan it out. Of course, this is done to the tune of actually playing the mission, but when (not if) you die, it will restart and allow you to take another crack at it. Upon a success, you’re treated to a replay of it as seen through some kind of closed circuit television.
Despite being set at some point in the future, there are several anachronistic elements, such as the playback of each level being via VHS. The level selection is done by VHS too, which would be kinda cool if it wasn’t pretty annoying when trying to choose a level and accidentally picking the wrong one. It is, however, a fun aesthetic.
As well as your sword and half a dozen throwable objects, you have the ability to roll to avoid attacks, and you can also slow down time. This is a limited ability, but the bar does recharge after a few seconds of not using it. You will be using it mostly to deflect bullets back at people, which is pretty necessary against certain enemies.
Speaking of enemies, there are several types. A couple have physical attacks, one has a shield, but most are long-range. You’ll need to learn how quickly each one takes aim so that you can either dodge or deflect the bullets, so there’s a lot of timing to your runs. You have to keep an eye on enemy movements, but that can go out the window if you misjudge and someone lets off a shot, alerting everyone in the adjoining rooms.
I’ve got six hours logged with this game, and most of that was dying to bosses. Plus a little going back to replay some sections for secret things. Only once, however, did I get frustrated with dying so much, which is a testament to how well the game handles difficulty.
Katana ZERO handles its story really well, too. You talk to a bunch of characters, and you don’t always have to let them finish speaking. You can straight up interrupt people, which may very well alter how they react to you, and how they act if you meet them at a later point. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that it’s a really good story.
The last thing I’ll touch upon is the music, which is pretty decent and actually integrated into the game. The Dragon puts on a Walkman at the start of each level, and takes it off when talking to people, which stops the music. The game really is full of nice touches.
Weighing in at over five hours, it’s not the longest game you’ll ever play, but it’s wide open for replayability, and the story is great. I really hope that we see more from this world and this developer, because I had a blast with Katana ZERO.
Katana ZERO (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Weighing in at over five hours, it’s not the longest game you’ll ever play, but it’s wide open for replayability, and the story is great.